Tuesday, 22 November 2016

On a Chicken Mission

Liz plucks the final bird. 3 finished birds
are in the background.
This post sees us finally through the harvest of the Hubbard variety chickens. Regular readers will know that the Hubbard is a commercial breed used widely in Ireland by farmers supplying the supermarkets with, specifically, Free Range and Organic chickens. We get them as day-olds and grow them through to around day 90 by which time they have reached 2-4 kg oven-ready weights and are just the most succulent, tender, meaty and flavoursome chicken you will ever put on the table.

The final 3 hens and a cock await jointing and/or vac-packing
These are normally only available in industrial scale batches (10,000 for example) but our friends Mentor Anne and Simon who were once in that business, are still 'in' with a guy who manages one of the big hatcheries and is happy to make up mini-orders to suit we few smallholders. We get a dozen and A+S add those to their own 'few dozen' order. If you like, go back a few months on this blog for some pics of a previous lot newly arrived  (http://deefer-dawg.blogspot.ie/2016/05/hubbard-chick-at-2-days-little-list-of.html ).

Vac packed and ready for the freezer
Those regular readers will also know that the latest batch have now 'cooked' and we have been processing them at a two a day for the last week. That brought us to Saturday with 4 birds remaining. Normally we'd share the load but that day Liz decided she was "in the Zen" for a solid 2-3 hours of plucking and gutting.

Fringe benefit of a Hubbard kill. Lovely fresh paté
She took the laptop into the kitchen, put on an Oz murder-mystery series on download which she is currently "binge-watching", shut the door to keep out the kittens (they are devils for climbing up your back without warning, leaping from the floor to about waist height, then digging their claws in for a scrabble to shoulder height. Poor Liz is lacerated about the nape and fed up with the pain, and was going to be working in the warm kitchen with her shoulders protected only by a tee shirt and apron) and went for it.

Boiled chicken feet? Not your cup of tea?
The dogs LOVE them
My part in this is to bring in the killed birds on demand, supply tea in regular and copious amounts (plus the occasional G+T if the job is running past 'yard-arm') and then, at the end, jointing, vac-packing, finding homes for all this largesse in the freezer(s) and disappearing the bags of feathers, guts, heads and any other unmentionables. I can pluck but I am nothing like as careful or patient as Liz and my birds end up looking a bit like road-kill with torn skin, etc. Liz picks away carefully and gently, busily and efficiently producing lovely looking oven-ready birds. She is very good at it and has found, to her own amazement (Dublin city-girl!) that she thoroughly enjoys it and finds it very therapeutic. I, of course, am not arguing. My job is to hatch (if necessary), rear and 'grow' the birds and then kill them and bring them to the kitchen door and take away any bags of waste. It is a neat and easily worked team effort. We both, of course, thoroughly enjoy eating them!

Sunday morning dawned Hubbard-less but also with a good frost. During my first livestock rounds (which now includes getting 'wet', liquid water out to the birds - the ducks and geese do love to wash their faces and they are unimpressed by that rock-hard crust that comes on the drinkers these mornings. The outside tap is, of course, frozen up, so this involves bringing out buckets of water from the kitchen) I had heard what I thought were a few more Whooper swans flying N-S past us to the West and being called down by more birds on Lough Feigh. I headed down there again with my long lens, hoping to improve on my '365' pics of last week.

No luck on the swans by then (10 am). The Lough is quite low at present and was completely frozen over except among the reed beds, so there was not a swan to be seen, not even the ubiquitous Mute Swans. I had to satisfy myself with a couple of picturesque frosty scenes and a small flock of wigeon zig-zagging about. I'd given up and headed home when I got my best surprise of that day - I put up a snipe. I don't think I have ever seen one before but I know that, in theory, they do live here.

This tiny 'dot' cropped out of the middle of a huge blank
sky is my snipe. First one I'd ever seen, never mind photo'd.
Of course, once it had exploded into flight it was quickly up to a gazillion mph and headed away from me as fast as its little blurring wings could go. I whipped up the 400 mm and fired off a couple pics and thank Heaven for modern "image stabilization" on these fancy lenses. He was outta there. I was relieved to be able to crop this silhouette from the resulting huge, featureless picture of grey sky.

Thawed patch and neat pile of poo tells
the tale of where one sheep slept last night
Finally I have had some fun today helping to clear away the outdoor archery equipment for our Coach, Con who is currently laid up in his bed, too sick to do any hefting and carrying but fretting because all the gear was still 'out there' getting rained on and frozen.

We all laughed at this superb pic of archery
boss-lady, Niamh who had finally nailed that
coffee cup with a superb tight pattern of 3
arrows. Ace shooting Niamh!
Our archery field 'out there', south of Castlerea town is a square with earth banks thrown up all round it like ditches and walls, a copy of an Irish fort (or 'Rath'). In one corner is an access gap for Con's tired old ride-on mower which comes with a handy little trailer.

From shortage to glut. We probably have
'enough' eggs now.
My job, helped by our archery 'boss-lady' Niamh (Brits may need to know this is pronounced "Neave") was to scurry back and forth collecting up all the 3D foam-rubber targets (life-size animals like wild boar, ibex and deer, fox etc), logs, tarpaulins, metal 'tent-peg' pins and pallets, bring them all to dry storage. On Sunday a gang of us will return to demolish the big marquee and then Con will be able to get some healing sleep. Get well soon, Con!

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