Coq au Vin
Last weekend we took a big step in our journey toward self-sufficiency at 5R Farm. You may recall from The Rooster Dilemma post that we’ve had a few too many roosters for several months. Our intent was to raise the four youngest roosters until they were 5 or 6 months old and then “harvest” them, or if that term is too subtle, I’ll just go ahead and say it – slaughter them. The roosters were now 6 months old, and I figured it was now or never. They eat a lot, and since we already have 3 other roosters we plan to use for breeding next year, it just did not make sense to keep these guys around any longer. A friend that I took a class from last summer on how to slaughter a chicken had graciously agreed to come out to the farm last weekend and help us out. Although I recalled the basic process from the class, I wanted to make sure it was done as humanely as possible and so I was very relieved to have the guidance of someone who had harvested chickens many times before. The day before the harvest I spent some time with the boys and said my goodbyes. I had decided upon the fate of these roosters several months ago, and I managed to avoid getting too attached to them. It would be easy to say goodbye to Spazzy and Crooked Toe, who were handsome black and white barred rocks but none too friendly. Lil’ Ramon was a little friendlier, but he was no lap rooster like his father. I was going to have the hardest time saying goodbye to Lil’ Reuben, who was anything but little now that he was as big as his dad Rooster Cogburn (aka Reuben), but he was the friendliest of the four new roosters and a very good looking gent.
I’ll try not to get too graphic from here on out, but if you don’t want to read about the details of the harvest you can skip to the last paragraph. For those of you interested in the process of harvesting a chicken, read on. There are several methods for harvesting a chicken, back in our grandparents day the stump and axe method was commonly used. Today however, in the interest of harvesting as humanely as possible, the method that is frequently used on small farms is to slit their throat. A killing cone is commonly used, which is a piece of sheet metal rolled into a cone and attached to a post, into which you place the chicken, and it keeps the bird and their wings from flapping around. The cone we had ordered had not arrived yet, so we had to improvise with a gallon milk jug with the top and bottom cut off and attached to a saw horse, but it worked just fine. Megan arrived around 4:00 in the afternoon and we got to work. We had the four roosters already isolated in the garage in pet carriers. Megan would demonstrate the process on the first rooster, and she asked which one we would start with. I said the big black one, and she commented that he was a beautiful rooster. Indeed he was, but it was his time to go, and I knew he would be the hardest one and I wanted to get the hardest one taken care of first.
She quickly picked the rooster up by his feet, held him upside down for a moment during which he relaxed very quickly, and then placed him upside down in the milk jug. She then talked us through the steps of locating and slitting the jugular using a single swift pass with a very sharp knife and then holding open the rooster’s beak and using the tip of the knife to pierce its brain to ensure a quick death. It was all over in a few moments and really did appear to be a humane process for the rooster. Once the hard part is done, the next steps are the more time consuming process of plucking the chicken and removing the organs. We dunked the chicken in a large pot of hot water which loosens the feathers and began plucking. It took about 10 to 15 minutes to pluck the chicken, and then Megan walked us through the last steps – cutting off the head, feet, and tip of the wings, and removing the organs, being very careful to avoid puncturing the gallbladder.
Then it was on to the second rooster. Sean dispatched of him, we all pitched in to pluck the chicken, and Megan talked me through the evisceration. By this time it was 5:30 and time to say goodbye to Megan. We still had two more roosters to get through, the weather was getting progressively colder, and it was beginning to get dark – it was time to get a move on! Although Sean had told me I didn’t have to do the actual killing if it would be too difficult for me (I’m sure he remembered all too well how traumatized I was after the class I took last year), I wanted to participate fully in the process. It went much better for me this time around, and I breathed a huge sigh of relief once the deed was done.
By the time we were done with all four roosters it was dark and cold, and we were ready to go inside. It had been three hours of hard work, and once we were finished we both felt a huge weight had been lifted. I also felt a sense of satisfaction knowing that these roosters we had raised had led a healthy and happy life up until the very end, were harvested humanely, and would now provide food for the table. I was a bit worried that the meat would be tough since older birds, and roosters in particular, are said to only be good for making soup. I decided to make coq au vin in the crockpot, and it turned out tender and delicious. I also made chicken stock with the necks and feet – it sounds weird I know, but chicken feet supposedly make great stock. The best part of this whole process is that now we can look forward to hatching and raising more chicks next year, knowing that we have the means to deal with the abundance of roosters that are sure to be running around the farm next year!