January 5, 2011

Chickens :: specifically, old hens and young roosters...

When hens get old and stop doing what they are fed to do, what is a girl to do? When too many roosters are making the young hens a bit nervous, what to do?

Well, off with their heads!

It sounds harsh I know, but it is reality on the farm. If you don't want the dirty details, you may want to skip this next part. 

Hubby and sons do the gross stuff outside. As soon as we had children old enough to help, I bowed out of that job as gracefully and quickly as I could.  My children have been raised knowing exactly where their food comes from and generally help in the procurement of such food. They know that good food comes from hard work, plain and simple. 

Back to the abundant rooster and lazy hen problem. My husband has an utter disdain for animals that eat and don't "put out". So, he decided Saturday afternoon that we would butcher some chickens. 
I tried to warn the hens, but they refused to lay. 
It didn't take them long to butcher, skin, and ice down about fifteen of the fowl. It is extremely important to cool your meat completely. We ice ours down at least overnight.

The process of cooking and preserving the meat is really straightforward and somewhat satisfying. I chose to bake some of the chickens and boil the others. I like the dark, rich broth I get when I bake the chickens but I like to get it all done at once, so I fill my biggest roaster and my biggest cookers with chickens and start the cooking. "A chicken in every pot..", literally.  

Even if you don't farm and butcher your own meat, this part may help you to eat healthier. Stock up on meat like you do dry beans, pasta and rice. Preserve meat like you do tomatoes, corn, and green beans.

If you have boneless chicken you can skip the cooking part. Just stick your meat in a jar, season if you like, and process. Our chickens have bones, it helps them walk!

The meat is easier to pick off the bone if it cools just enough to handle but not cold. For some reason when it gets completely cold it becomes difficult to remove from the bone. 

You should remove all jewelry before you begin this part because the only real way to separate the meat and bone is to use your hands. Yep! You need to use your hands. Even then a few bones will make it into your jars. It's inevitable, I don't know how it happens but it always does. I just tell people lucky enough to find a bone while eating some delicious dish that this is how they know it's real. You never find bones in chicken nuggets!

Be prepared, your hands will smell like chicken. If you are married to a farmer, he won't mind too much because you don't mind too much when he comes in smelling like the barn. It's just part of life. You might even wake up in the middle of the night and wonder why your bed smells like chicken! If you aren't married to a farmer, you might want to try lemon juice or working together so you both smell chickeny. Sort of like when you are out on a date and one of you has onions - not a good idea, you should both eat onions. 

After you have all of the chicken meat separated from the bone, chop it up if you like a uniform look. I don't bother. Put it in big buckets, bags or other container that can be sealed up and put it in the refrigerator. 

Mix the broth from all of your pots together. Then put it in a refrigerator or outside if it's cold enough and you can keep animals out of it. You want to thoroughly cool the broth so the fat floats to the top and hardens. In the morning, take a spoon and lift the cold fat from the top of the broth.

A side note here, if you are freezing the meat and broth you can skip this step. If you are canning, as I do, you will want to get as much of the fat off as you can. The fat is the most likely part to go rancid after canning. 

Why can instead of freeze? Personally, I like to see what I have available, it's already thawed out, it takes no energy to store after it's canned, and I have more shelf space than freezer space.

In the morning, stuff your jars with the meat and then cover that meat with broth. You can estimate one quart jar for every chicken. It takes a long time to process meat, so don't fill all the jars at once or they will be hanging out with nothing to do but get warm. Yuck! 


I have to recommend pressure canning meat. Most people say it isn't safe to water bath meat or low acid foods. I will admit that until two years ago when a freezer died and I had hundreds of pounds of meat to process, I didn't own a pressure canner. I canned everything with a plain old water bath canner. Yikes! Meat, beans, everything you shouldn't can that way we did. Processing time is three hours at a full rolling boil, but you didn't hear it from me. 
Follow your pressure canner directions. Mine is 11 pounds of pressure for 90 minutes for quarts of meat and 11 pounds of pressure for 25 minutes for quarts of broth. 

Now, back to the extra broth you will have. Put it back on the stove and reduce it until you have a nice rich stock. You can throw some garlic, onion, celery, carrot, herbs, whatever strikes your fancy into the pot too, or you can just keep it plain. 
Then can or freeze it. Easy.

Since I don't like to run canners half full, I also canned some ham stock, northern beans, kidney beans, and ham-potato soup. I did the soup just for fun. It held up really well, so I think it will be a good option when I make a huge pot of soup and we don't eat it. Leftovers are always better when they don't come the next day. 

The northern beans had been soaked overnight earlier in the week, the kidney beans were dry. 

The fruits of our labor:
canned chicken and chicken stock

ham broth, ham & potato soup, kidney beans, great northern beans, chicken

And one hen is wiser! 

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