For the past nine weeks, my mornings would start with stepping out the back door to be greeted by a cacophony of anxious, hungry, chirping from the 15 Cornish Cross chickens in the large domed coop that I built out pallets, PVC piping, tarps, and hardware cloth. Every morning I would wake up with the sun to feed them, refresh their water, and rake up all the manure from the previous night. In just nine weeks they grew from chicks that fit in my palm two at a time, into six-pound, on average, tiny dinosaurs. And tonight, after just nine weeks, I have one roasting in my oven. Processing day was long and emotional, but also educational and rewarding.

Good help is hard to find, and priceless.

After our two bird dry run my partner and I knew that having at least one extra set of hands could be a huge help. Unsurprisingly people were not tripping over themselves to volunteer to help in this process. Luckily I do have at least one like-minded acquaintance on FaceBook who jumped at the opportunity to learn about and be part of putting food on his own table (Thank you, Alex!). Alex was a great help, eager to learn, and participate in every step of the process which was also a good opportunity for me to hone and test my skills by walking someone through each step. Alex learned quickly going through each step processing his first bird, which would also be his payment for the morning’s work, and was quickly working without needing much guidance at all.

The Setup v2.0

Having gone through the process once before we were a little more prepared this time around. We kept our set up mostly the same with the biggest changes being the addition of ice chests, the chicken plucker, and an easy up. We made sure to keep a very close eye on the scald water temperature and refreshed the water completely after each pair of birds, and the addition of the plucker was a huge productivity boost. Where previously our birds had torn skin and more pin feathers than we would like, the combination of a more accurate scald water temperature and the plucker produced beautifully and cleanly plucked birds. We also made sure, this time, to have a knife sharpener handy to keep our blades working efficiently. All of these small improvements made a significant and positive difference.

The Process

We largely followed the same process as before, but with two birds at a time.

The whole process from setup, processing 13 birds, clean up, and bagging took all day, but now with an additional person trained up, and our skills honed we are hoping to significantly reduce our time spent processing. Even though it took significantly longer than I had hoped, seeing the 11 birds that we kept (we paid Alex with two) processed and ready to chill over night in the fridge was an amazing feeling.

What the future holds

It’s a bit surreal, and tugs a bit at my heartstrings, to not hear the chirping first thing in the morning, and not having to feed, water, clean them, but I believe in what we are doing. We started doing this because we wanted to feel good about the food we are consuming, and reduce our impact on the planet, and hopefully to inspire the people around us to at least think about where their food comes from. Knowing where your food comes from is a great feeling, knowing that it comes from local sustainable sources is even better, but nothing beats putting the food on your own table through your own efforts and getting to share this experience with my partner, our families, and now Alex, makes all the work that goes into this worth it. And because of that, this weekend I’ll be setting back up the brooder for the next round of chicks that are scheduled to arrive next week, this next time around I plan on being much more diligent about recording the whole process from start to finish, tracking feed, and growth, so as to better understand what impact my actions as a chicken tender have on the chickens, as well as on the environment. This is all a learning process, and I want to share that learning with anyone interested, so stay tuned for more, and feel free to reach out if you want to chat about chickens. 🐣