Saturday, June 04, 2011

In with the new, out with the old.

We picked up three new hens in Faribault a few weeks ago. A Buff Orpington, a Black Australorp, and a Rhode Island Red. They are almost four months now and should begin laying brown eggs in July. The are all pretty shy and seem to like staying together. That may have something to do with being introduced into a well established backyard flock. Our original four hens were close to four years old. Were? Past tense? Yes, the old hens are gone.

When we decided to get chickens we talked about what would happen when their egg production was no longer... productive. Well that day came. We have not had an egg from our hens since October. Chickens egg production falls off considerable after the first thee years. They still lay, but less often and with longer periods of absolutely no eggs. That said they eat more than ever and the risk of egg binging (getting an egg stuck!) increases. So judgment day has come and gone. At this point some of you may want to stop reading this post. I'm going to explain how my friend and I slaughtered and ultimately consumed the hens.

First I researched local butchers to see if I could forego doing anything myself. Near the Twin Cities this was not really an option. Once I realized I was going to be involved I started researching things. The internet is an amazing place; youtube and blogs specifically. I'm not a hunter and I've gutted perhaps a fish or two in my whole life. I needed help. My friend Aaron jumped at the chance. He is an avid hunter and had some experience butchering chickens as well. He even offered up his enormous backyard outside of the city. So on a rainy weekend day I boxed up our four old hens and drove over to his house to, shall we say, send them to the freezer.

I'll save you all the details. We basically cut their throats, tied them up by their feet, skinned them (avoiding a messy plucking ordeal), gutted, then cleaned them.

Voila! Just like you'd see at the meat market. Left to right: Dutchess, Marie Antoinette, and Camilla. Queenie had been acting strange for a few days prior and was noticeably weak when I wrangled them all for the trip to Aaron's house. Well, she was no longer alive after the 15 minute trip. I was sad at first, until I realized I was about to kill all my chickens. The whole experience was very interesting and, I have to admit, took a bit out of me. I'm glad I did it. Raising hens is primarily to be more sustainable, and understand and appreciate where our food comes from. Mission accomplished.

As for eating them; slow cooking was a must. Chicken you get in a store or at a restaurant are 6 weeks to a few months old when slaughtered. Our hens were almost four years old. Old hens have tough meat, and in our case they also had more exercise so they were fairly lean and muscular. For this reason they're known as stewing hens. One hen, two quarts of water, salt, pepper, and parsley in a crock pot on low for 10 hours made a wonderful and flavorful stock. I took the chicken out and removed most of the meat, then returned the meat to the remaining broth and added potatoes, carrots, and celery. The soup was tasty, but everyone who tried some agreed the meat was still pretty tough.


Jodi said...

I came to show Joe the picture of Harriet with the puppies and this is what I found. Good Job, nonetheless!

Becca said...

Way to go, Stephen! Glad you had the opportunity to do it yourself (she said having never had the guts to drop the ax personally). Thanks for sharing the process. :D

Anonymous said...

I'm impressed! I've always thought the plucking would probably be the worst part, and I suppose with a "stew hen" like this there's really no point. Good to know.