Back in the 1980s when we lived on the land we had very little money. We used to purchase “end of lay” hens for $1 each and would slaughter and dress them so we could afford to eat chicken twice weekly. These old chooks were tough so needed long cooking as a stew or cooking them in a pressure cooker, but they were a valuable source of protein for our hard up family of six and the price was about a third of what they would have cost already dressed.
In the first season, killing and dressing the chickens was a long drawn out affair over weeks. In the second and subsequent years we set up an assembly/disassembly line.
Here are the 5 steps:
- First we had the chickens in boxes ready to kill. These were alongside a scaffold which had 10 cones in two rows of five. When my husband wrung their necks he put them upside down in the cones with the heads through the bottom until they stopped moving.
- From there I picked them out and dunked them into boiling water in the old copper that our forebears used to heat water and wash clothes in. I held on to their feet as I dipped them in the water.
- Then onto the plucking table where I started on their wings, down their legs onto the chests and worked around to the back. The hot water loosened the feathers. Sometimes they needed an extra dunk in the boiling water, but I was careful not to start it cooking as that meant the skin would tear as I pulled the feathers out. The feathers were swept into a bucket which was then buried deep in the compost.
- After de-feathering, the animal went to the gutting table where my husband cut off the head and feet and took out the guts and any half developed eggs.
- A quick wash and the chook went into a plastic bag and into the fridge.
We set things up so we could deal with 25 chickens before breakfast, 25 before morning tea, 25 before lunch and 25 before afternoon tea. Then we cleaned up before dinner. 100 killed, plucked, gutted and into the freezer before night fall with all the tidying up done.
Ideally the animals would have been hung for a couple of days to tenderize, but we didn’t have the facilities for that and with the heavy fly population, it was better that they were first refrigerated and then frozen as fast as possible. By the time we had done the first 25 however, the amount of time they had in the refrigerator was minimal. Both fridge and freezer worked overtime that day and night.
We ate egg yolks for the next three days and chicken twice a week for the next year. Backyard farming is a big part of self-sufficiency, and just a plain smart idea.
Related: Chicken Doctoring
It’s amazing what we can accomplish when we must, isn’t it, Harriet? You are another “Renaissance Woman” and a true inspiration! Bless you, Dear Lady.
SH, by the time we get to our age we’ve packed in quite a bit of life. Having good systems is what makes the difference to deal with quantity. Thanks for your support.
Oh My Gosh, Harriet, this story is so real I can smell it. Our max for one day is 50. When it comes to the chooks, I save time by skinning instead of plucking. I just stew the whole batch, pick the bones and can the meat. Having it in jars makes for quick recipes and since it’s chopped up and “pressurized” it’s tender enough. As I’ve ‘matured’, I have occasionally allowed my hen house to become a retirement home, after all,’they did give us the best years of their lives’. Or maybe I was a little lazy …
The idea of stewing a batch of 50 chooks at once just boggles my mind. Canning meat is not part of our culture here in New Zealand and Australia so to do that I’d have to import a pressure canner from the US. Its something I’ve had in mind, but haven’t found the $300 + dollars it would cost.
My Dad was a forensic pathologist and he left us with a morbid fear of botulism, amongst other things. And with canning being limited to high acid fruits in high sugar syrups I didn’t get further than bottling fruit.
Oh, my, Harriet! We can EVERYTHING. And we eat from that food supply – including chicken, ground beef, chuck roast, sirloin tip roast, bacon, sausage, turkey, fish, you name it – veggies, fruits, soups, stews. We always have a good assortment of home made “fast food” – and we know exactly what’s in it! I also teach canning classes at the local level. I do not, however, own an “All American” pressure canner – can’t afford one – but I have a good assortment of vintage 50’s, 60’s, and even 70’s Presto/National pressure canners in many sizes for different jobs. Have you tried ebay? Stick with models you can find replacement parts for, such as new gaskets. The parts are coming out of Chin, so get several, because they don’t always fit as they should – but I use all of mine, constantly. I’d recommend a National # 7 (16 quart) as a good starter, because they were so common for the day that it’s easy to find replacement parts. Just make sure it is a newer # 7 with black bakelite (“plastic”) handles, not the wooden handles – those are a nuisance. Also, make sure any you buy comes with the type pressure regulator you’ll need; the older ones have a regulator design that is very difficult to find.
I also “can” water in order to have sterile water suitable for washing out wounds and cuts; this same method, when dry canning (see post on bacon this month) can be used as an “autoclave” for sterilizing tools and instruments, if needed.
If the unit has no damage, if the bottom sits relatively flat, and if you aren’t trying to can with the wrong kind of cook top (such as a smooth cook top), you should have no problem.
Would it still cost that much, sourcing a unit of this type from an internet site?
If I can help you in any way, please let me know.