Thursday, June 16, 2011

Meat: Part 2

This post comes with a warning, it contains graphic pictures, perhaps I've spent too much time at MONA....
Sensitive vegetarian types, please look away now.

Scalding pot
Preparing tools
After I wrote my last post I promptly got sick so the roosters got a reprieve. Last weekend they met their end.

When I thought about writing this, I imagined writing apologetic things like, 'This is not a celebration of death', but the more I think about it, it is a celebration of death. Every enjoyable bite of meat is, by definition, a celebration of death, and the flavour of the meat we harvested on this day is all the more delicious as we know almost everything about its provenance. That is not to say the killing and cleaning of the birds is enjoyable, it isn't. I had damp eyes while stroking the gorgeous feathers of a bird as I carried him ready for slaughter. The biggest garden fairy was fine with it until she recognised one of the birds she'd fed from when it was a chick. But, as with any job, there is satisfaction in work and learning, and when we cooked our bird, with our vegetables and herbs, and took a pot of this delicious goodness to a friend who has just had a new baby, the satisfaction was complete.

The birds were all raised with mother hens. One of the breeds is Rhode Island Red, ours are a rare rosecombed variety we picked up at the Southern Tasmanian Poultry Club's rare breed show a few years ago. We got a trio, two hens and a rooster, from a breeder who said, when I asked him how he dealt with disease in his flock, 'I've only got one treatment for that' as he made a neck wringing motion with his hands. This may come across as brutal, particularly if you've got a backyard bird you're fond of, but I think it is more humane than treating diseased birds that you later breed from. If you cull birds that are susceptible to disease you encourage a hardier bloodline, thereby reducing the incidence of disease in the future. This was the selling point for me, so we took them home, hoping to continue the rose combed 'Reds' breeding at our place. Unfortunately the male bird was incredibly aggressive, as was his first born son, so they are long since in the pot. The females are quite the opposite, hardy, calm birds and great broodies and mothers.

Our other birds are Barnervelders, sourced as fertile eggs from Paul Healy. I've read his work, heard him on the radio, and seen his farm. He selectively breeds his birds with care, seeks desirable traits, other than the obvious egg laying capacity and dressed weight, such as roosters that protect their hens, hens that lay well coloured eggs and well feathered birds, among others. These hens are hardy, don't go broody, their eggs are lovely to eat and hatch well. He charges appropriately for his fertile eggs, and for his birds, so while you might find a cheaper bird in the paper, for the long term benefit of your flock, and for the benefit of birds held by breeders, I look for humanely raised, well bred birds.

The birds we culled were fed a diet rich in weeds and leafy greens, and roamed the paddocks, perhaps a little too freely. This you could see in the glorious yellow fat they carried (which made for pretty awesome roast veg last night!). The part that I'm not that happy with is the grain. We feed our birds a warm mash laced with kelp meal, garlic and herbs and a mixed grain blend. These are both conventionally grown, from our local feed store. I would really love to find a good source of local, organic grain.

Below is what happened to our male birds, and those of a few of our friends last weekend. Much thought and debate was put into methods of dispatch, children were well informed, and chose to witness what happened, and we learnt a lot about how to prepare a bird for the kitchen, while wishing for a grandmother with capable hands to guide us. We did it together with our friends and neighbours, we are lucky to be part of such wonderful community.

Please heed the warning above before looking at our pictures, some may find them confronting.

Children who know where their food comes from



I may be a little peverse, but I see beauty here. A wise father said to a tearful garden fairy
 that the spirits of the roosters were free. I think I can see that.

Tasty bits; hearts are delicious!
These I've never eaten before, but they are common in Asian kitchens,
so they're in the freezer until I have some game dinner guests.

We still have much to learn. Cleaning the birds too too long, and we need a thermometer if we decide to scald the birds for plucking next time. But we have a freezer with many dinners in it, and peace has returned to the chook run.