Caution: the following post contains photos that some people may find objectionable. Viewer discretion advised. I'm serious; there is chicken bodies and blood.
Even though the garden is pretty much out of commission right now and most chores associated with that, there is still plenty to do around here where food is concerned.
Cool weather is historically the preferred time for slaughter and I agree with that myself. The yellowjackets are just too bothersome in the warmer months to do something like this outdoors. So, Sunday we finally got to the task and harvested 10 of the meat birds. That is a good number for us to do in one day it seems. We usually pick a nice sunny, cold day. I do this for me and for the chickens. Nice for us because you don't want to do this in impending bad weather. Better for the chickens because they are running around outside enjoying themselves and have no clue what is transpiring. We only bring down 2 at a time so they don't see anything going on and are happily oblivious. I don't like to have a bunch sitting in a cage waiting their turn, you know? Jack and I don't enjoy this at all and a lot of people can't understand this part but I do not wish to participate in the abusive, industrial food system anymore, where chickens and other animals are raised in horrible conditions out of sight and no one cares. It's hard to walk these guys down to the awaiting table but I know they had a good life and enjoyed running around outside in the sunshine. If I'm going to ask for their life I should have the cahoonies to do it myself. So, we both 'do the deed', so to speak and as quickly as possible. Me holding and Jack wields the knife. Then, after they are bled, he scalds them and we both pluck and I do the dressing out while he plucks more.
I was very pleased at how well developed these were. Very plump all over, no scrawny legs and such. After they are completely dressed out and washed very well they get packed in coolers with ice and salt and aged for about 3 days. This draws any last bit of blood out so you don't get any gamey taste. I then divide them up and freeze some whole for roasting and then cut up the rest for stir fries, frying and so on. We had let these get bigger than most do just for lack of time and such to deal with it. Christmas had me so busy we just couldn't find the time. As a result, the hanging weight (after dressing out) of these were all around 6 lbs.
So, what did the other chickens think about it all? I have to admit, they kinda gross me out. They always come down to see what's going on and end up scratching around for bits and pieces. Yes, you got that right...they eat whatever they find of their brethren. I even chopped up a little fresh liver for them, just to see. They fought over it. Almost knocking each other down to get to eat it. I have to say in their defense though that Runt, the rooster there, was very upset when we caught the first 2 meat birds to process. I slipped in and picked them up gently but they are not used to being carried and so squawked a little. Runt came running let me tell you! He sensed something and went into protector mode, even going after Jack. We shooed him off finally though and he ran back to his girls. Most people would never believe a chicken will eat meat but they love it. I used to have a good frog population here. Used to. Frog is a great delicacy to them, apparently. I even once saw Big 'Un, the Barred Rock rooster we raised, down a small field mouse whole. I didn't think a chicken's mouth could open that wide. He flipped that thing up in the air and 2 gulps it was gone!
So, anyway, on to brighter things... I am running a bit of an experiment this winter. My land is inundated with Red Maples so I have tapped a couple to see what I can get. Up north the maple season is usually in February and March and I waited that long last year only to see the temps go up too high and stay. See, it must be cold enough to go below freezing at night but get above freezing in the day for the sap to flow. For us, that's January. So far I only have about 1 1/2 gallons of sap but I've only had the trees tapped for a couple of days now. I may tap one more as we are supposed to go back into cold weather this week. So, we'll see. I just wanted enough to be able to see if this would make good syrup. The sugar content in Red or Black Maples is not as high (obviously) as Sugar Maples but it is still supposed to make good syrup.
It's fun anyway! These buckets are quite large. They would probably hold 3 or 4 gallons of sap. I think I'll just use plastic buckets or such for any more. I collect the sap every day and pour it up into 1 gallon jugs that are BPA free and rated for water storage.
It takes 10 gallons of sap to make 1 quart of syrup. That is quite a lot of sap but you can get about 1 gallon from one big tree each day.
The sap must be stored around 38 degrees and only for up to 7 days before it is made into syrup. At first I had no idea where I was going to be able to store that much sap. You really need to have several gallons to start with or it's just not much worth all that work. Finally, Jack remembered a small refrigerator he had stored out in the tool shed we built adjacent to the chicken coop. I had kinda griped about him keeping it but it turned out rather handy I must admit. The chicken coop/ shed has power already so we just had to plug it up and clean it out a little. It should work great for storing 10-11 gallons of sap easy and will only be turned on for stuff like this. I can't imagine that our syrup season will last long so it won't be running for weeks on end.
I had to include this picture of Chigger with her buddy Ramona. Ramona is the only chicken that will play with her and Chigger is just beside herself! She loves her chickens! They do this staring contest thing a lot and Ramona always wins. That chicken don't back down from anybody! She is a great hen, very personable and chatty. If Chigger gets a little too rambunctious Ramona will peck her on the behind to show her who's boss!