eat. write. smile.

– three things I love to do. Come with!

Coming Full Circle: My Experience Raising Chickens

During the summer of 2010, I accidentally killed a chicken in my care at the CIA Student Garden. I carelessly left the roof of the chicken coop propped open with a pole, and when the wind started to blow, the roof came crashing down. I felt terrible, despondent even. Yet, it taught me that accidents happen, that farms are indeed places where animals meet their end. It’s how the animals live and die while on that farm that really matters.

In any supermarket meat department, we find a wide variety of descriptors for the kind of life an animal has enjoyed: grass fed, free range, cage free, hormone free, pasture raised, even happy. While these terms can be confusing and often fodder for jokes about hipsters at Whole Foods in Portland, they represent an important step in the improvement of animal welfare on farms. Sure, these products are more expensive. But it’s just like New York City real estate: if you want space, it costs money. It costs money to own the land to pasture, it costs money to tend it. That price pays people to help raise the animals, and to slaughter in a humane way.

I’m not starting a food revolution here. I’m mostly rehashing Michael Pollan points and figures from the film Food Inc. But thinking about this issue- how animals are raised for food- led me to the Deer Park garden to tend to the chickens in the first place, and eventually led to our construction of a new chicken coop and to a larger flock of heritage breed Buckeye hens.

Below I’ve compiled a collection of photos spanning nearly two years in Saint Helena- from the first time I collected eggs, to the slaughter and eventual consumption of our hens. Warning- there are some photos that could be unsettling if you’re not used to seeing how animals go from farm to supermarket packaging. It may make you a little squeamish, but ultimately I hope to acknowledge the fact that an animal has died for my nourishment, and thus honor that animal. If I’m going to eat meat, I don’t want to sweep that under the rug.

 March 2010: My first time collecting eggs
Douglas Hayes’ hoop coop model we followed
The roosting racks across the rear of the hoop coop
The frame built by Chef Patrick Clark and Slow Food Napa Valley Chapter

Our frame in early spring 2011. 
(Look how bare the vines are in the background.)
The hoop coop starts to take shape with cattle panel looped over the door frame
Jack works on securing the chicken wire
Looking west through the coop, past our work shed and the pond
How to transport chickens in the backseat of your car
Happy girls with lots of room
Jack and the ladies 
Much more sensibly dressed than the first time I collected eggs…

The full enclosure, with padlock to prevent theft

A salad for our MyPlate dinner using soft cooked farm eggs

Learning how to cut their necks efficiently 
I learned to first bleed the chicken out…
…once the head is removed, the chicken is dunked in a scalder, 
a hot water bath that loosens the feathers
After about a minute in the scalder, the chicken is placed in a plucker, 
a spinning bin with soft, rubber fingers that remove the feathers. 
Learning how to finish the process
After ice chilling and air drying in the refrigerator. 
Check out how narrow their breasts are- not your average supermarket bird.
A chicken broken down into eight pieces, with the remaining frame
A whole hen Chef Bill Briwa roasted in his ACAP class at Greystone
Bringing it all full circle, thankful for the experience.

Thanks to all the friends who guided and supported us along the way- Douglas, Jorge, Brett and Alejandro; Dianne Martinez and Dr. Chris Loss of the CIA; and Adam Burke and Jack Gingrich, who took care of the girls at their home in Deer Park. And to the next class of students at Greystone: I hope a flock of hens returns to Deer Park next spring!

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This entry was posted on October 10, 2011 by in Uncategorized.
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