Yesterday, we butchered all 13 geese and 14 chickens (12 cockerels, 2 hens). Our friend Marcia brought her three poultry-butchering cousins from South Dakota (Daryl, Carol, Linda) and we had a very busy day. Donna, who bought 50 of the 100 chicks we picked up from the feed mill on April 20, supplied tables, chairs, tunes and she and Linda did the final cleaning and double wrapping preparing the birds for the chest freezer. Daryl and Carol did the actual butchering – quickly, cleanly, mercifully with a very sharp knife. We did the geese first as they were larger and noisier.
You may remember we lost chickens -- some to puppies and then more during the summer to disease because they were not vaccinated at one day of age – so there were only 24 chickens total that remained alive to butcher and we chose to winter hens, as they are also brown egg layers. We’re relocating them to what was the goose pen in the barn, as it will be much warmer with the horses in the cold winter months. It should be easier to find eggs too.
On Saturday evening Ian and I collected all the chickens we could and put them in the coop. The best time to handle a live chicken is in the evening hours when they are roosting. Ian and I went around the property, flashlight in hand, collecting chickens and putting them in the coop. They had not been going into the coop for some weeks because we had been trying to deduce what and maybe even where was making them sick. Many were in the barn and were easy to relocate; others were in an oak tree and presented a challenge. It must have been funny to view from afar because you’d see the flashlight and then hear disturbed clucking, sometimes mixed with human profanity! Only two missed out and we caught them the next morning using Daryl’s home-fashioned chicken catcher.
Butchering is pretty straightforward – the heads are cut off and its body hangs for a bit to drain. The biggest job is taking off the feathers. Ian built a campfire in the driveway and boiled water in a 30 gallon galvanized trash can. Holding its feet, the freshly butchered bird is dipped in the soapy boiling water for about 60 seconds, just long enough to get the feathers to loosen. The goose feathers and down was tougher to come off and we said more than once we were glad we did them first. Chicken feathers came off in bunches and we did the 14 chickens in a quarter of the time it took us to do 13 geese.
Daryl handled the gutting and setting aside the giblets (e.g., liver, gizzards, neck, heart) from other uneatable things like intestines. Throughout the rainy fall day, Carol entertained us as we worked in the pole shed with her special brand of chicken dancing antics and rewrites of CD lyrics.
Lady and two of her puppies that belong to Donna (Agnes and Bernie), were seen happily gnawing on goose heads and I’m sure buried some for later enjoyment.
Reah came up in the afternoon and visited as we put a wrap on the day. She’s off to London on Tuesday to rejoin her husband and their expatriate lifestyle and may not be back until after the New Year.
I thought it would bother me to butcher my geese, but I realized I bought all the birds with the idea they’d be food one day. Besides, as I said, this was handled mercifully.
Ian and I are not sure whether or not we’ll get more goslings and/or chicks to raise in the spring. I’m not sure whether or not Donna and I can live through the emotional trauma we did of having so many die from various mishaps. I guess we’ll see how we feel after enjoying them roasted, baked, boiled, fried and fricasseed. I’m planning on making cassoulet (a thick French country white bean, poultry, sausage soup) from the geese. I’ve got livers set aside for pâté and sauté.
If someone had told me a year ago I’d be butchering my own homegrown poultry I’d have said they have a screw loose. Never say never. EIEIO!
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