Sunday 10 August 2014

The Baker's Dozen

3 trays of Hubbard meat.
Well, that was 'it' for the Hubbard chickens. This is another post where those readers of a squeamish disposition, who don't want any detail on where their meat comes from, might like to look away; click down a few paragraphs. The remaining ladies got to Day 101, at which point they are no longer converting our expensive feed into body weight at a decent rate and, anyway, are getting too big to be useful as whole roast oven-ready birds, so they needed converting into frozen meat. They are over 3 kg at this stage (oven ready or 'cleaned' weight) and we can only really eat a thigh or wing or two at a sitting.

The Buff chicks enjoy some Roscommon sunshine.
I know (or 'know' through Facebook and the internet) quite a few small holders by now and have yet to find one who 'enjoys' killing the stock. I can do it and I hope I am doing the task as cleanly, as painlessly fast, and with as much respect as I can manage, but I absolutely hate the job. I dread the day as it approaches, I get through it as best as I can, and I am enormously relieved when it is all over.

12 of the 13 in the sunshine.
If you are curious as to the mechanics of this, I do it by catching the bird, cuddling her reassuringly as I carry her to my little private 'hole in the hedge' (I prefer to kill birds out of sight of any other birds), then take her by the legs so that she hangs head-down (and goes all quiet and relaxed), then take her head in my other hand, top of the head in my palm, thumb under her chin, then pull down and twist my wrist, breaking the neck at the 'atlas' bone. There is a brief 'explosion' of the wings flapping but you can see that the head is flopping around un-attached, maybe some small amount of blood from the beak and nostrils, and then it is all over. I hang the bird by its feet to bleed out. I always go back and check a few minutes later to make sure it really is dead (I poke the closed eyes to check for no reaction and make sure the legs and feet are starting to chill). Sorry if you didn't want to read this.

The new sheep trying a bit of 'picturesque'
Sometimes it works as smoothly as this and is dead easy, sometimes not so easy. In young, silly, naive birds who gather round your feet as you are just a source of food, it is simplicity itself, and their necks are easy to break. In 101 day old toughies, who have seen their siblings vanish, and whose necks are as tough as old boots. it can be more problematic. Ah well. the dead birds are hung for a while to cool down and then plucked, gutted and jointed. I am relieved that this part is all over for another year and I am not even sure we are doing 'meat birds' next year; Mentor Anne was a bit concerned at the huge size achieved by this year's birds and has rather lost the love for the Hubbard as a variety.

Red, white and 'golden' onions drying in the car port.
Meanwhile, our 'Baker's Dozen' of Buff Orpington chicks are thriving as you can see from the pics above. Yesterday and today, with the weather being sunny and warm (all be it with the occasionally shower) we have risked letting them feel the sun on their backs and feel the herbage and genuine ground under their feet in the rabbit run in the yard. They are still on a mix of finely mashed hard-boiled egg (incl shell) and chick crumb for now and they love picking the bits of egg out of the mix, but we need to wean them off the egg and get them onto chick crumb. We rescued them from the run last night as it seemed a bit chilly, but left the IR lamp turned off as their crate is in the spare room, the warmest room in the house. We were planning tonight they stay outside, in the rabbit run 'bedroom' with the door closed off with a chunk of plywood and a load of hay to bed down on. It is August, after all and the temperatures, even outside, were due to stay above 8 degrees, in their huddle in the draught-free house they would be fine. In a late night conversation with Mentor Anne, however, we changed our minds. Anne advised that they are far too young yet for this kind of adventure and might chill down and die from hypothermia; wait till they are at least 3 weeks old and have some secondary feathers (rather than just chick fluff), she says, so they were rescued again. Better safe than sorry. This morning they are fine and will go back out into the sunshine as soon as it warms up. Some indoor nights, outdoor days for these guys for now.

Mackerel with Gooseberry sauce
Back in Kent at this time of year, we used to eagerly await the near-neighbour (Eric, a keen fisherman) starting his mackerel season, and he would bring us fish less than 24 hours old (the only way to do mackerel!). He would swear by the good timing of the mackerel and the gooseberries coming ready at once. Surely no coincidence. Imagine our horror then, when, with a tub of gooseberries from our bushes, we headed for the usually excellent fish van and our belov├ęd fish lady "John Dorey's" to try to buy mackerel only to be told that mackerel is out of season. Pardon? No way! Is this some kind of local thing with the Atlantic Mackerel being out of kilter with the Roscommon gooseberries? We don't know. We adjourned to the local supermarket (where we have been badly disappointed in the past by flabby, tasteless mackerel) where the fishmonger was happy to tell us that the fish was really good at the moment, so we bought a couple (and wished we had bought 4!) and enjoyed them immensely with our sharp, fruity sauce. Good eating!


Mr Silverwood said...

That's the one bit I would have trouble with, no problem with eating them or doing all the cleaning up bits (although no pleasant) but the killing! Not sure I how I would cope if it came to having to do it.

Matt Care said...

It's always one to think about and be aware of before you go anywhere near breeding these animals (or buying in babies). No-one wants to end up being a retirement home for geriatric 'pets', buying supermarket chicken!