Episode 30 Show Notes
Email from Ryan in Texas
Ryan sent us an email through our website, and he says:
I’m looking to raise chickens for the first time. What is the recommended age to get them at and now that it’s November and winter is upon us, is my timing bad for buying chicks. I plan to use them for eggs, and I live in an area that only allows two.
We tend to recommend starting with baby chicks for first time chicken keepers. The idea of getting an actively laying hen on day one always sounds good, but the reality is that many “laying hens” for sale are either sick, old, or just aren’t good layers. By starting with baby chicks, you will always know what you have.
In regards to your second question, I think that this is a great time of the year to start baby chicks. If you get chicks that hatched the first week of December, they will likely begin laying around the first week or May. This will give you a long summer of tasty fresh eggs.
A lot of people think they should start baby chicks in the Spring, but if you get them at the end of March, they won’t be due to start laying until the end of September. By then, the days are getting shorter and you may only get a few eggs before they stop laying for the winter.
I have taken over the cooking segment from Suzy this week. I found an unbelievable recipe I needed to share. And unlike Suzy’s recipes that call for a few eggs, my recipe requires sixty eggs and twenty chickens!
If you have ever heard of the Turducken, a Frankenstein creation that consists of a chicken stuffed into a duck which is then stuffed into a turkey, you will really appreciate the monster complexity of this recipe.
You start by hard boiling the sixty eggs and peeling them. Then stuff the eggs into whole fish. Then stuff the fish into the twenty chickens. Then stuff the chickens into a roasted sheep. Finally, stuff the roasted sheep into a medium size camel!
This is an old Bedouin wedding dish called ‘roast camel.’ But I don’t think that name has enough marketing sexiness to make it a holiday classic, so I have renamed it “Camshickenfigg” (Camel – Sheep – Chicken – Fish – Eggs).
The best part about this dish is that it will feed 80 to 100 people, so it is perfect for your office’s Christmas party. Plus, there are 48 drumsticks in this dish, so a lot of people can have one.
If you want to see the real recipe for Camshickenfigg, check it out here.
Review from Lisa and Drago
Lisa and her son Drago have been listening and decided to write us a review on iTunes. Lisa says:
My 10 year old son and I absolutely love your podcast. I?ve learned more from Don and Suzy than I have from all the other chicken related podcasts combined. Great straight-forward, balanced information given in a fun, often funny conversational tone. I love that they tell stories of the mistakes they?ve made when they first got chickens. It makes me feel like less of an idiot. Because of Don and Suzy I feel so much more confident as a chicken owner and we are doing so many things differently and better. Thanks guys, keep up the good work.
Thank you for the nice review, Lisa! If you like hearing about us making mistakes, you are really going to like this episode!
We Processed Our First Chickens!
In the last episode, we talked about our plans to process some chickens for the first time. In fact, we have set aside four or five batches to raise as meat birds in the past, only to end up selling them as processing day came upon us. But by announcing we were going to do it in the last podcast, we sort of painted ourselves into a corner that our pride wouldn’t let us out of.
So Saturday morning we headed out to the barn where we had set everything up the night before. Both Suzy and I were clearly nervous about the first few steps we would need to take. Neither of us talked much as we dragged out the tables and equipment required to cull, scald, pluck, and process the birds.
Of the six birds that were candidates for the day, we chose Attila the Hen as the first. We bought Atila the hen a few years ago and we have no idea her actual age. Her egg production had decreased dramatically over the last year and I don’t think we had more than one or two eggs from her all summer. Our best guess is that she was at least four years old.
Being an older bird, she is a little less useful for cooking than younger birds. Most likely, she would be stewed to make chicken broth. We figured that if we were going to make any mistakes, it would be better to make them on her than one of the “more useful” birds.
Not a Great Day
While Suzy hid around the corner of the barn, I dispatched Attila and bled her out. Then I put her in the scalding pot to loosen up her feathers. This is where I made mistake number one.
As Suzy began to pluck her feathers, she commented how Attila’s skin seemed very stiff and not at all like chickens from the store. When I started to dissect her carcass, we soon realized that her meat had started to cook. I had left her in the scalding pot for too long and she was now useless to eat.
I really have no philosophical problem with processing food for us to eat. I feel that we have all become too detached from understanding our food sources and, unless you are a vegetarian, it would do us good to become more hands-on where we can.
That being said, I was upset about screwing up the processing of Attila. If she was no longer living in order to sustain Suzy and I, that was not a problem. But the reality was that because of my mistake, I had killed her for no good reason whatsoever.
This bothered me enough that I was pretty much done for the day. I needed time, to regroup and think about where things went wrong.
A Fresh Start
That evening, I noticed that our good listener Jim had posted a video to our Facebook page on how to process chickens. The video made it clear where I had messed up. Rather than let her stew in the scalder waiting for the feathers to come loose, she only needed to be swished around in the hot water for a few seconds and then pulled out to be plucked.
The next morning, Suzy left to spend the day with her family and I headed back to the barn with candidate number two: our one-year-old Light Sussex Rooster named “The Colonel.”
This time, I managed to process him all the way through without any major difficulties and he is now resting in our refrigerator. For heritage birds, it is important to rest them in the fridge for a while before freezing or cooking them. Failing to do this will make the meat much tougher. For a one-year-old like the Colonel, the recommended resting time is about four or five days.
This weekend, we will prepare and eat The Colonel. At one year old, he falls right on the line between a ‘roaster’ and ‘fowl.’ These classifications were setup to make it easier to understand what cooking methods would work best. As a chicken gets older, his or her meat gets tougher, requiring slower and wetter methods to help break down and tenderize the meat so that it is edible.
Between twenty weeks and one year old, they are classified as a roaster. Your grandmother would roast such a bird for hours in a big roasting pan.
Beyond one year old, they are classified as fowl, and would typically be stewed in a big pit full of water. The result would be a tender chicken whose meat fell right off the bone and a nice batch of tasty chicken broth to use later for soup or whatnot.
Me feeling is that since The Colonel was right at one year, we would play it safe and go the stewing route. That can take a good amount of time, however, and Suzy has suggested that we pressure cook him. That will take significantly less time to cook, and should tenderize his meat.
We have about a day and a half to decide what we are going to do with him.
Despite the drama of the first day, we ended up with a nice looking chicken in the fridge and we now know how to process a chicken. I expect that we will process two more this weekend and see how that goes.
I really believe that every chicken keeper, and possible every chicken eater, should experience this at least once. Even if you live in a residential area and you cannot process chickens in your backyard, you can find a local farm who will let you come out and help on processing day. Even if you only do it once, it will help you really understand where your food comes from… not on an intellectual level, but in a truly visceral way.