On spring chickens

Ah, spring.  The temperatures have finally climbed above the finger-numbing range so I took it upon myself to off a few supernumerary roosters on Sunday.

It seems that March through June is such a fraught time around the place, so much so that I awake at night with worries of “did I do that already?  ohgah when am I going to find the time to do X time-intensive, necessary farm task?” and it’s tasks like killing roosters that I put off and put off again and again.  Usually, things need to rise to near crisis level (read:  they’ve begun fighting) for me to really jump into action.  Let’s face it:  Chores like cleaning out the chicken coop or putting up a new fence, however distasteful, beat chicken killing any day.  But it’s come to that with these birds.  Spring means rooster testosterone flows just as readily as chlorophyll in the grass or lutenizing hormone in the egg chickens.

Life became a lot more cushy for this farmgirl when I found a local butcher to do in my critters for me.  Fifteen chickens takes him two hours, whereas five chickens nearly kills me and shoots my whole day (it takes me four hours, plus recovery for my feather-plucking fingers).  At $2.50 a bird, it beats the heck out of what I bill an hour, and even math-averse me can see that Mike’s skills, though cheap, are priceless.  But I won’t bring him these eight-month-old little bantam roosters.  It’s not worth his time!

Me, on Sunday

Two of the birds went to the freezer, but the last went into a wonderful mild soup called Cock-a-leekie…it’s a Scottish dish.  It’s traditionally prepared with the losing roo in a cockfight, actually!  Perhaps this boy didn’t lose a cockfight, but he lost the game of numbers…a farm only needs a tiny number of roosters.  Caput kaput, which makes me snort.

Cock-a-Leekie:  I harvest a good pound or more each of leeks and carrots out of the outdoor garden, grab a huge hank of thyme from the herb garden and scrounge up celery leaves, parsley, scallions and chervil from the greenhouse.  The rooster, gutted, headless and footless, is in a heavy pot with hot salted water to cover; I start braising him at the barest boil while I prepare the veggies and herbs.  After about an hour, I take the meat off the carcass, pan-sear the leeks and a handful of pearled barley in some butter and then put the leek/barley mixture, meat, bouquet garni (thyme, chervil, parsley tied w/ string), chopped carrots and celery back in the broth pot to cook another hour or so until the carrots are softened…adding spices to taste.  Traditionally served with prunes, this soup is sweet enough without them thanks to the winter-grown leeks and carrots, methinks.  Thanks, little annoying rooster!

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10 responses to “On spring chickens

  1. “…to off a few supernumerary roosters…”! El, I very much doubt that those words have ever been combined in that manner in the whole long history of English prose. Remarkable. Congratulations. Last week I found myself finally dealing with a pheasant and a woodcock, in full feather, that had been in the freezer too long. Do you pluck your birds, and if so, how? All I really know is sit and pluck, pluck, pluck. I tried a boiling water blanch one time but the result was such a godawful mess that it sent me back to the tedious dry pluck. Please advise.

    Brett

    • Hiya Brett. I feel for you, really. In my experience with chickens, the hot-water bath helps but it’s only marginally helpful. You still need to pluck, I mean really pull, to get those feathers off. So yeah, I dry-pluck my turkeys and the bantam roosters; I have them hung up and not in my lap (though I have done that too) but hanging them by the feet works best for me. As long as their bodies are still warm (which obviously won’t be the case if you’re pulling them from the freezer!) it’s easy? not as hard? to do as when they’re cold. But also from my experience, the freezing process allows the feathers to release fairly well too. And I singe off the little hairy feathers (rolled-up newspaper). So, indeed, tedium. Like shelling peas. Lots of effort required.

  2. The graphic had me literally laughing out loud. I have five Light Brahma hens that need to be taken to the chopping block but I keep putting it off. Definitely not my favorite thing to do. Though compared with geese chickens are a breeze.

  3. This is exactly why I’ve got two very geriatric, non-laying hens. It is *so* easy to put off the offing. And while we did take our meat birds in for processing, I’m assuming taking in two hens for processing isn’t an option with our local guy since it’d be a waste of his time.
    As for plucking, our family doesn’t much like the skin anyhoo, so my husband would just cut the skin off (feathers and all) and quarter the birds. We would keep a a handful whole for roasting, but typically we eat our chicken in pieces. I guess some would think that wasteful, but it worked well for us.
    Also want to add that I love your graphic! I know I always wear heels when chasing down my dinner. 😉

  4. no feet?

  5. I love that the quaint quadrilaterals nearly perfectly match your background color.

  6. I’m with Amanda, I run a retirement home for hens until I’m sure they haven’t laid for awhile. There’s just something about killing this bony old broad that’s done such a great job of laying and hatching chicks… When I get to the point in the fall that I can’t justify feeding them through the winter, I suck it up and do what has to be done. Because they are usually pretty tough eating at this point, I skin them, boil them, pick all the meat off the bones and chop it up for soups, casseroles and such. I save space in the freezer by canning the meat and 90 minutes in the pressure canner makes it a lot more tender.

  7. I just stopped by for the first time and spent way too long getting sucked in. A sign of a good blog. 🙂 I will sign up and add you to my bloglog as I enjoyed reading what is here. Thank you!

  8. I am with you…HATE processing poultry. I am sure God had a reason when he gave them so much feathers….but its a pain to clean. Some people actually enjoy doing it…not me. I ignore them and it becomes a liability when they start killing each other, or the Mrs. gets on my case about having too many animals.

    I have 5 roosters and 3 Muscovies to process now…I would rather process a sheep.

    Quick Q. For a Hoop House …does it matter how I position it? N, S, E, W? It will get good winter sun regardless..but wondering if it matters. Thanks and Happy Spring : ) !

  9. Brett, I hope that helped. Either way, plucking isn’t terribly fun.

    Diana, goodness, after doing 3 ducks in one day there is no way I would ever tackle a goose! Too many feathers. Good eating, though. Good luck with those girls, though.

    Amanda, I do have a friend who brings in 2 roosters at a time to the guy. I just think two BANTAM roosters would be a bit of a stretch, you know? Gamey little things. But I will have you know I *am* running an old-hen’s home here. My first chickens and guineas are 4, and bless us with eggs only occasionally. I keep them not only for sentimental reasons as much as they’re polite, and actually are good examples for the other chickens to follow.

    Hayden, you put feet in your soup? I would, but my family would complain. Loudly.

    All about design, Peter. And I didn’t want an *exact* match…

    Pam, good to know, and I admire your ability to do the right thing. I will probably be overrun with old birds before I go that route. (Actually the best chicken I ever ate was an old laying hen (not mine). SO much flavor.) I do can chicken stock with a bit of meat; you’re so right, it saves a lot of freezer space!

    Jennifer! Welcome. I’ve been at this for a few years so I suppose there’s a lot of ground to cover…any questions, just ask!

    Mr WF, I feel bad that there’s no halal butcher out by you to do it for you. Sheesh that’s lots of birds! And ducks, my word! No END to those little downy feathers. As far as the hoop house goes, I hear it’s best for them to run east-west. Mine run north-south. I would say put them where you have got the room!! and just make sure the beds (if you’re doing raised beds that is) are going in the opposite direction. Everything will get plenty of light.

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