Chicken Harvest

Reflections on my first chicken processing

A couple weeks ago I participated in my first ever processing of chickens. “Processing” in this case is a euphemism; we killed chickens, eviscerated them, and turned them into food for humans. Saying we ‘killed’ the chickens is very harsh and culturally weighted, but semantics aside, we literally ended the chickens’ lives. This was my first direct experience with turning a living creature into food.

The nitty gritty

The chicken processing took place over two days, a little less than a week apart. We harvested 86 chickens total, with 5-6 people working together on the processing each day. The first harvest day was the longest; another of the interns, a WWOOFer, and myself had never eviscerated chickens before and it was a steep learning curve.

We worked outside, with canopies for shade. There was a huge stainless steel table that we used for eviscerating, several tubs for chilling birds, a large scalder to loosen feathers, and a plucker for the initial/bulk feather removal. The birds were killed by slitting their throat while they were restrained upside-down in cones. We slaughtered six birds at a time, then scalded, plucked, eviscerated, and chilled them before doing another batch of six birds. The only people to do the actual killing were individuals with prior experience, or those willing to learn the process well enough that the birds didn’t suffer.

Personal reactions to the harvest

I wasn’t incredibly disturbed by the chicken slaughter, which was a relief. I have mixed feelings though, about the actual method of killing. My understanding is that it’s preferable to slit the throat and have the bird bleed out while the heart is pumping because that results in a better-looking carcass/dressed chicken. I didn’t like the fact that the chickens were still conscious as they bled out though, and I don’t think I would choose this method of slaughter for my own farm. There are ways to stun animals before bleeding them out, and I would like to research this more.

For me, it wasn’t too bad eviscerating chickens… as long as someone else cut the head off. Once the head was off, I was completely okay cutting off legs and removing intestines/hearts/etc. When the head was still on the chicken though, it was an animal in my mind. Once the head was cut off, it became food. I really don’t have any logical or rational explanation for this distinction, but in my mind it just came down to chicken heads.

As a result of my first experience turning animals into meat, I am now eating less meat. Don’t get me wrong, I have no intention of becoming a vegetarian, but I don’t feel as comfortable eating animals that weren’t harvested in a humane way (which pretty much encompasses most meat eaten in restaurants or packaged in a grocery store). I am also more conscious of wasted food/meat that isn’t eaten, because I have a more personal understanding that an animal’s life was ended to create that food. I feel like I learned a lot from this experience overall, and am grateful that I got to participate in a chicken harvest.

Chicken_harvest

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What Do I Wear?!

It’s been a little over 3 months of farm interning for me now, and this post is way past due. I’m the type of person who always obsesses over what attire to wear… events, jobs, pretty much anything that calls for more than just jeans and a tee shirt. Going sea kayaking with an outdoor school? Yup, I freaked out about that one, trying to figure out what clothes to wear and what supplies to bring. Farming was no different for me. I tried to figure out what I would need by emailing the farmers themselves, doing Google searches, and asking everyone I could think of. About half of the stuff I ended up bringing has been very useful, and half of the things I needed had to be bought up here after the fact.

What I consider necessary

This has been an epic scavenger hunt for me, trying to find the things that I need to do my job comfortably. So here it is, my favorite work-wear and supplies, and where I found them. As a side note, at the time of writing this post I am not being paid or compensated by any of these brands/companies/stores.

Socks — ‘Darn Tough’ wool socks are absolutely the way to go. I have several pairs of ‘SmartWool’ socks, and they work okay, but they aren’t nearly as good as the ‘Darn Tough’ socks that I have. You will absolutely have sticker shock when you see the price of good quality wool socks, but I consider it a great investment because I’m on my feet all day long for my job. I bought my socks at REI, they have an automatic discount when you buy three or more pairs of socks, plus I get a yearly dividend back based on how much money I spend at their stores. Because my socks are so expensive, I’m pretty neurotic about washing them the best way possible. I wash my socks inside out in the washer and then let them air dry/line dry; they have been holding up really well so far.

Shoes — Thus begins the first part of my rant, to be continued again later. It is impossible to find good work shoes in a retail store that are made for women. Tractor Supply Company, Western Wear stores, Boot Barn… none of them carry women’s work shoes. They do carry 100+ different work shoes for men, but if you want women’s shoes the only option the store gives you is to special order them. I tried some women’s work shoes that I bought at Boot Barn, and they ended up being so poorly constructed/designed that they caused blisters and killed my toenails. After running around town going to store after store, I ended up back at REI and just bought a pair of hiking boots. I got ‘Keens’, because they have a nice, wide toe box that is quite comfortable. I tried to find the most comfortable pair that also had the most leather, for ease of cleaning. I’m trying to be good about cleaning and conditioning my boots frequently, but so far I only get to them about twice a month. Sadly, I will consider myself lucky if these boots last as long as one year with the hard use that they are getting.

Gloves — It is impossible to find really well constructed work gloves made for women. Period. I will continue the search, and let you know if I find anything. In the meantime, I wear a pair of fingerless gloves that I got at Orchard Supply. Orchard Supply was pretty much the only store I found that carried a moderate selection of women’s gloves. Granted, I have incredibly small hands, but I still think that there should be more options out there for small-handed women. Are you noticing any trends here?

Hat — Summer is starting up, and that means long hours out in the sun. I am not going to have the time or motivation to apply sunscreen frequently enough to save myself from sunburns, so I bought a hat. I ended up spending the extra money and getting a genuine ‘Tilly’ hat from REI. It has a moderately wide brim, which gives me extra coverage without getting in my way. I’m always on the lookout for good hats, but I do really like my ‘Tilly’ hat in the meantime.

Shirts — Bottom line, on a farm your shirts will get trashed. Thrift store shirts and old tee shirts have been my go-to uniform, until recently. Recently it has been hot and sunny, so I ended up getting several long-sleeve work shirts. I did this for the same reason that I got a hat; there is no way I’m going to apply and then reapply sunscreen all day. I got some lightweight work shirts from Tractor Supply that ended up being about $20 each. In an ideal world, I would buy technical fabric work shirts that screen out the sun better, but I just don’t have that much money right now to spend on shirts.

Odds and ends — Pocket knife/tool, the best ones being those with a pair of pliers in addition to a good knife, I keep my pocket knife attached to my belt loop with a carabiner so that I don’t lose it; headlamp, very necessary during the winter months or any time that you need to work after dark, hands-free lighting is a life saver; sturdy, sport-style sunglasses; rubber boots and rain gear (as needed).

Pants — My search for good work pants was so frustrating that I was about ready to cry. Even worse than work shoes, absolutely no retail store carries women’s work pants. If a work wear store does carry women’s pants then they are either slacks, or they aren’t durable enough for farm work. In my desperation I ended up buying the smallest pair of men’s ‘Carhartt’ pants that I could find. The pants were wonderful in that they were durable and had the vast number of pockets needed for farm work, but they fit horribly. The waist was insanely high and cut into me every time I had to bend over; the crotch rode up constantly, giving me horrific wedgies. I tried to order a pair of women’s ‘Carhartt’ pants online, but when I got them, the sizing was completely off and the way that the pattern was cut was almost as bad as the men’s pants. Women’s bodies are shaped completely differently from men’s bodies, most especially in the hips. I returned the women’s pants and sold the pair of men’s pants I had been using to one of the male WWOOFers on the farm. At this point, I have completely given up on the ‘Carhartt’ brand. I ordered a pair of women’s work pants online from ‘The Duluth Trading Company’, and have been very happy with that purchase. The pants were expensive (about $60), but they fit me well and are incredibly durable. The sizing was pretty good, maybe a tad on the large size (but not too bad).

My rant

I realize that historically farming has been a very male-dominated profession, and that you could (maybe) argue that most farms/laborers are still men. But I think it’s time for the industry to wake up and smell the twenty-first century, the largest growth that I’ve seen in farming in modern times has been a steady influx of (young) female farmers. On the farm that I’m interning at right now, all three interns are young women. We have one more intern arriving in the next week or so who is male, but that’s still a three-to-one ratio of women to men. Shame on the work-wear companies for not making better clothing for women, and major shame on the retail stores for not carrying women’s work clothing at all. I can absolutely guarantee you that if the local Tractor Supply store started carrying a good line of women’s work wear; they would sell it. It should not be this difficult for women to find the gear that they need to do their jobs. I honestly don’t know how to change this segment of the farm industry. The only thing that I can think to do right now is point out the shortcoming and hope that by raising awareness in general, things will change for the better.

Work_gear

My boots and gloves, sunglasses, and visor (I was using the visor before getting a Tilly hat).

 

Fly Spray

Fly season is starting up here, and those little black flying monsters make life quite miserable for the cows during milking. Miserable cows mean miserable farmers. On the farm here we utilize primarily organic practices, so no toxic/chemical fly sprays for us. I scoured the web for natural, effective fly sprays that we could use on food producing animals and came up with this one. I have been using this fly spray on the cows for a couple weeks now, and it is amazing. It doesn’t last as long as commercial fly sprays, so we reapply as needed. Honestly though, it lasts as long as it takes for each cow to finish milking. The recipe is so natural that the cows could literally eat it without worries. I will definitely continue to make this through the summer!

Fly_spray

Fly Spray Recipe and Instructions:

Spray Bottle

1 quart apple cider vinegar

20 drops rosemary essential oil

20 drops tea tree/melaleuca essential oil

20 drops lavender essential oil

*Pour all ingredients into spray bottle, shake well before each use!

Poire_cuteness

Poire the cow says thank you for the fly relief!

Interning

My apologies for the recent radio silence, the only excuse I can offer is that I have been insanely busy transitioning between internships and moving to another part of the state.

Wrapping Up My First Internship

02.09.14

My first farm internship finished this past week. I got accepted to a full year/full season internship position in Northern California, so it was time to move on. I was surprised by how difficult my last day was with Cari and the farm. I was so sad to leave, I hadn’t expected to bond so much with the animals. I know I will visit them again, but it was still heartbreaking to drive away that last time.

This internship was an amazing experience; I learned so much from my time with Cari at White Mountains Ranch. I took tons of notes and drew little diagrams of the farm set-up in my journal. I completely foresee using the skills, methods, and knowledge that I got from Cari.

Sadly (or maybe not so sadly) my shoes and work gloves were completely dead by the end of my internship. Both shoes and gloves got thrown away; I’ll start fresh with the new farm. It was even bittersweet throwing away my shoes… those were the shoes that Ghia the goat peed on when she “welcomed” me to the herd!

Old_farm_shoes

Moving, Yet Again

It seems like moving has become the story of my life, I can’t even count the number of places that I’ve lived in the last 5-7 years. Once again I packed my car up to the gills and drove North. I packed my car so much that the poor Prius thought there was a passenger in my front seat. I had to seatbelt in my backpack before my car would let me drive off into the dark morning.

Interning in NorCal

02.11.14

I arrived at my next farm internship mid-afternoon, this is the farm that I’ll be living and working at for the next 10+ months. There was a bit of a scramble when I drove in to get everything settled. I will have to write a longer post on the living situation, because it’s definitely interesting.

The farm I’m at is mostly animals, lots of chickens and cows. They run a milk herd share, and I’m very excited to learn the ins and outs of dairy.

More to come soon, with lots of pictures!

Baby_Eclair