I was delighted this spring to learn that our nearby Cenex store would be the keeper of a new set of rental poultry processing equipment, which is funded by the Northwest Ag Business Center. There was a set up at a Mount Vernon feed store, but the drive was far enough that I never bothered to rent it. This new development gave me no excuse to procrastinate any longer on butchering some roosters and drakes I had that were just standing around eating too much food.

I hate butchering poultry, it’s the plucking of smelly birds that I find the most distasteful. Plus, I’m not fast at it, so it’s so much work, and the whole time I keep thinking I can buy a chicken at the grocery store for five bucks. The equipment makes it a lot easier.

I knew I only had a few birds to do, but thought it was a good chance to try out the setup without the pressure of needing to do a big batch. I rounded up the boys the night before to pen them up with only water so they’d clean out. There were 4 roosters and 5 drakes; so nine birds in all.

To reserve the equipment, you have to call the Ag Biz Center on a weekday and get on their calendar. There is paperwork to fill out and bring to the store. You pick up the equipment one day after 4pm, have the whole next day to do the butchering, and must return the equipment on the third day by 4pm. This apparently ensures you have no excuse to fail to clean it thoroughly! Winking smile And it’s a good thing, because if you had a lot of birds to do, there would be time pressure to get the equipment back the same evening before the store were to close. It’s some work to get it all spiffed up when you are done. Lucky for me, one of my nephews was here, so that was his job.

The killing cones work great for keeping the birds calm and non-flappy. The  dunk tank is nice in that it’s thermostatically controlled at the proper temperature for scalding birds; though I suspect it was a couple of degrees too cool, as it didn’t do a great job on the duck feathers. If had had done more birds, I might have monkeyed with the dial a little more to bring the heat up a notch. The plucker works like a dream- you throw four birds in there, turn on the water and the spin cycle, and a minute later, they are nicely plucked. All of the feathers sluice out into a bucket at the back.

I tossed the birds in ice water in our stainless steel barn sink to cool; and then brought them into the house to finish processing. I cooled them overnight in more ice water, and then vacuum packed them for freezing whole. These were “old men” birds, so definitely too tough for roasting. But they do make the most amazing soup- the broth is very dark colored (almost the color of beef broth!) and incredibly flavorful. When it’s in the refrigerator, it gels into a complete solid, which tells me that there is lots of collagen, and other good-for-the-gut stuff. Some say that broth-based soups are very healing for people with all sorts of chronic maladies, they are so rich in minerals and base nutrients, which are easily digested from the slow cooking.

We make bird soup about once a week. When roasting a store-bought bird, we enjoy the legs and wings for dinner, set the breast meat aside, and boil the carcass and some veggies down into stock overnight and through the next day (or sometimes two days!). Then we’ll sauté some chopped veggies (whatever can be found in the fridge), add in the chopped breast meat, and serve noodles or rice on the side to add in (otherwise they get soggy when stored). It’s amazing how easy this is, once you are in the habit of it- not much harder than opening a can of Campbells. And so much tastier. With store-bought birds, I always have to add more chicken stock to the water to get enough flavor. But not with old farm birds, their soup can stand on its own. The meat just needs to be slow-cooked along with the broth, to tenderize it.

We already surrendered one of the roosters to the pot, and I bet we got at least a dozen soup meals out of that bird! Kirk will eat it several times a day, sometimes for breakfast, lunch (maybe even first lunch, and second lunch…) and dinner! So, I guess the labor is worth it- you can’t get soup like that anywhere but on a farm.

I’m glad to be filling the feed hopper a little less often, and my hens are pleased to only have one mature rooster giving them, eh, attention. I was getting a little low on hens due to natural attrition, and so with the roosters outta here, there’s room for more. This time, Plymouth barred rocks.