Today was another day of processing chickens. While it's not my favorite job, I feel ok about it as our chickens, living a life on grass and in the sun, have a far more comfortable existence than those in factory farms. I feel better about selling & eating it too, as store bought chicken is injected with 20% of its weight consisting of nothing more than salt water. So not only are you getting more salt from an unexpected source, $1 of every $5 you spend is nothing but salt water! So I've gotten used to the idea of butchering. We have until this point been using Cornish-Rock hybrids, the same bird the commercial places use. They are bred to basically do nothing more than eat and grow at an accelerated rate, mostly in the breast since Americans are so fond of white meat. They are usually no more than 8 weeks old when processed, a very short life. They grow so fast that they would literally outgrow what their legs and heart can support and would die before reaching breeding age.
As I've learned a lot in the past few years about farming, I was shocked to discover many breeds of livestock are just as endangered as wild creatures. Other kinds of chickens once raised for meat birds have gone by the wayside in favor of hybrids or other fast growing breeds that can stand up to the confinement of industrial agriculture. One of the breeds we use here for laying hens is the Delaware. They are nearly white, with black barring on the neck and tail feathers. For a time they were the #1 meat chicken in the country, but they don't grow at nearly the rate of the hybrids and have fallen out of favor. The American Livestock Breeds Conservancy, an organization devoted to saving these endangered breeds, puts them at the critical rating, estimating that there may be as few as 500 of these birds left. Total. I feel so fortunate to have a small flock, and this spring decided to keep a few roosters as an expirement, to see how they rate as a meat bird. The ALBC recognizes that to bring these animals back in larger numbers, they have to be economically viable. So that means in order to save them, we need to get people to eat them! We butchered one this morning, and I was suprised that it bothered me far more than the usual broilers. He seemed too pretty to be put to such a fate, even though I have too many roosters and they are starting to beat up my hens a bit, as well as fight with each other. I was afraid that plucking would be hard because the broilers are bred to grow less feathers, both for easier processing but also so their bodies can devote more energy into making meat. Although so thick that the feathers were dry near the skin, even after being dunked repeatedly in hot water, they came off with no problem. (We do this by hand and it's my job, so it's something I noticed readily.) While a much leggier bird, there was not nearly the amount of breast meat. It was definately an obviously different bird, even once the whole process was finished and all the birds were in the fridge. I plan to cook him up soon, and I'll share with you the final result of this experiment!