The blog of Hope Grows

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Friday, May 13, 2011

The Processing Process in Pictures (and some words)

First, the birds are taken off feed 12 hours in advance (they can only eat pasture salad after that, no carbs) and then loaded into crates early in the morning the day of processing.

The crates are then loaded into the truck. As farmers, we're happy about this. We've been pulling around those pens every day for 9 weeks.

The birds are then unloaded a few at a time into "kill cones" aka road cones.

With feet up and their heads poking out, a sure hand and a sharp knife cut through the main artery, bleeding the chicken out within 30 seconds. Earplugs not necessary. Elliott's just a wimp.

A photo of the entire layout: Kill cones, scalder, plucker, evisceration table, chill tanks. Aprons and sharp knives are a must. Of course all surfaces are sanitized several times throughout processing.

Once the birds are bled out, the heads are removed. In most countries heads are saved for stock. We put them in our compost pile. However, if anyone's crazy about them we certainly can save them next time!

De-headed bird is dipped in a scalder containing 150 degree, soapy water. We improvised and used a brand new galvanized trash can set on top of a propane burner. It requires a bit of monitoring to keep the temperature at the right place, but it works at this scale. We dipped the birds about 7 seconds each, two at a time.

Wet, soapy bird is then transferred to the plucker for lickety-split feather removal. This was the most expensive part of our facility...but the most worthwhile. 15 seconds with those spinning, rubber fingers gets almost every feather out for two birds at a time.

Whirr...the feathers shoot out into a bucket which is dumped regularly into the compost. Chicken feathers are an excellent source of nitrogen.

It helps if you spray with water while the plucker rotates.

Look at that!

Then to the evisceration table. Step 1, remove feet. Then save in ice cooler for stock. This is Maggie, our current WWOOFer, who became a pro after 3 days of processing.

In a neat, clean (and apparently fun) process, the innards are removed. We take care not to puncture any intestines. Edible organs (livers, hearts, gizzards) are separated, rinsed, and then put into a chill tank separate from the feet. Everything else goes into the "gut" bucket which is periodically emptied into the compost. We compost with wood chips.

Evisceration is the linchpin of processing. It takes lot of practice to work quickly and well. It helps to have multiple people doing it at once.

Working with Maggie is Christine, a community volunteer who came out for two days of processing. She got right in there and was impressed by how much she learned. Christine is a mom who values good, clean, fair food fer her and her children. She has a thyroid issue that propels her to be vigilant in seeking out the best food out there. Eating our chicken and other pasture-raised meats is an absolute necessity for Christine and many of our customers, who are also coping with or recovering from serious illnesses such as cancer, heart disease, diabetes, etc.

Eviscerated, thoroughly rinsed birds are then placed into an ice bath in a chill tank. You want to plunge the internal temperature of the bird to less than 40 degrees as quickly as possible...and it's important to be happy about it!

These are food grade barrels. You want your ice bath to cover your birds thoroughly. This is when the ice was getting low and needed to be replenished.

And voila! Fresh, pasture-raised, farm-processed, clean, good-for-you, local economy boostin', good stewardship supportin', community buildin' chick'n.

Thanks again to the Segal family and the AmeriCorps Alums network for providing the funds to make this facility and the community engagement it will inspire possible.


Monday, May 9, 2011

3rd Annual Egg Hunt and Pig Roast

We had an awesome turnout (over 100 folks) for our 3rd Annual Egg Hunt and for the first time we roasted a pig. It was a sight to see all of those kids running through the orchard finding real, boiled and some eggs. (One unfortunately found a fresh one laid by a wayward hen, but no permanent harm was done).

After the hunt we dug into the pig, a big salad, and all of the great sides folks brought and it turned into a big picnic accompanied by Charlie's fiddle playing. All in all, it was our best event yet. Thanks to everyone who came out!

And here's a spectacular video made by one of the attendees. Moms are by far our best advertising agents. Thanks!


Pig Processing/Roasting

The most interesting part of this year's '3rd Annual Egg Hunt and Pig Roast' was the 'and Pig Roast'. We had never killed, cleaned, or roasted a pig before so we were up against a bit of a learning curve. Luckily for us there is the Internet.

The story begins when we ask our friends over at Savannah River Farms if they could catch us a wild pig. They agreed and brought us a small (freshly shot, dead) wild pig early in the week which turned out to be a good warm up for the main event later in the week. Knowing we were going to have a big crowd we went over to their farm Thursday to get a 120 lb pig (if you don't know pigs, a 120lb pig is pretty big and extremely strong.) I don't want to throw anyone under the bus here but Arianne thought it would be a good idea to tie the pig up and bring it back to the farm rather than just shoot it there so that we could all have the experience together. I think this is the sort of thing you think when it is not you who is wrestling and tying up an enraged pig. So anyhow, Charlie and I managed to wrassle this pig, tie him up, and put him in the truck. We rode back to the farm and without much delay, dispatched the pig and got to processing.

Typically when you process a pig at home you have a large vat of boiling water to dip the pig in so you can get the hair - we have no such vat - so we resorted to pouring boiling water on the pig to loosen the hair. Here are our good-natured WWOOFers doing this job:

Eventually we got most of the hair off. It turns out we needn't have been so thorough as accidentally setting the pig aflame in the roasting pit took care of the pesky hair remaining. Next came eviscerating the pig and removing his head which was just as gross as it sounds. Lastly we put him on ice.

We were so busy on the day of the hunt we didn't take any pictures of the pig roasting but here is a picture of Maggie digging our pit:

To roast the pig we followed instructions found here. They worked. Our only addition to these instructions would be to cook a wild pig lower/slower if possible. They have less fat and can dry out/toughen up easily.

Then we hoisted the cooked carcass on a table and let folks get to picking.


Charlie and Stella

Thanks to our intrepid WWOOFers Charlie and Stella - who rode here on BICYCLES from Alabama. They were with us for 3 weeks and great help. You can follow their adventure around the Southeast here:

Here are photos to prove they actually biked, although I think as soon as they turned the corner a van picked them up.


The Chicken Wagon

We have spent 2 years dragging around coops on skids with a system that ancient Egyptians would have found antiquated. This was the old system:

Step 1 - Jack up coop onto wooden rollers using a 2x4 (with a high likelihood of snapping in your face) and a cinder block (with a high likelihood of disintegrating)
Step 2 - Pull coop up 5 feet, add rollers.
Step 3 - Repeat.

Enter our new chicken old timey cotton trailer modified by yours truly into an example of agriculture vernacular architecture. After adding a roof, slatted floor, nest boxes, and doors folks might want to use it for weekend getaways.