Milestones (and a Brief Hiatus)

One of my rules is pay more, eat less. You do get what you pay for, and if you’re willing to pay more for pastured eggs or grass-fed beef, you’re getting something that’s more delicious, and you’ll feel better about eating it.

Michael Pollan – author of The Omnivores Dilema

Welcome back, homestead fam!

You may have noticed a brief hiatus from our weekly blog over the last couple of weeks. But rest assured, we are alive and well here at Headwaters Homestead!

The last couple of weeks have been super busy here on the homestead. With our second trip to the annual Homestead Festival in Tennessee, finally getting all of the garden planted, praying for rain to break a persistent drought, and processing our first round of broilers, we’ve had hardly a minute to breathe over the last few weeks.

And while all of those events over the last few weeks are worthy of their own posts, we’ll get to them all in time. But for today, let’s talk chicken.

In the first full week of June we reached a major milestone here on our little homestead. We processed the first round of meat birds that we had raised on the farm. Our birds, raised from day-old chicks to eight-week-old adults, made it into our freezer.

And, on to our dinner plates.

It’s truly amazing just how fast these little guys grow. Cornish cross broilers go from hatched to processing ready in just 8-weeks. From the moment they arrived on the homestead from the post office, we knew the clock was running.

They quickly out-grew the brooder we had previously used for our laying flock. Necessitating a larger holding pen in the garage until the outside temperatures were better suited to the young birds needs.

It seemed as if every week the birds would easily double in size. It’s amazing to witness the transformation when going back through photos.

Every day, bigger and bigger.

And soon enough, thes guys found their way onto fresh pasture.

The Monday we returned from Tennesse and the Homestead Festival, these birds were ready to go. We set up, suited up, and prepared ourselves for our first round of processing chickens.

Fortunately, at the Homestead Festival we had the opportunity to once again meet and chat with Joel Salatin from Polyface Farm. Twice now we’ve watched Joel demonstrate just how to approach and process chickens in a live environment. While we may not be anywhere near his dressing speed (a mere 22-seconds per bird), we felt confident we could do what needed to be done to get these live birds ready for the freezer.

We also had the benefit of getting some additional expert advice from Jason Contreras and his family from their Sow the Land farm. Jason and Lorraine put together a chicken processing course that was also instrumental in getting us prepared for the big day. Chatting with them though about any last minute tips and advice really left us feeling both excited and prepared for the big day.

But the reality is that no amount of reading, watching, or prepping can truly prepare you for the first bird.

You just have to get in there and do it.

So that’s what we did.

We both got hands-on, up close, and personal with the processing process.

And while it took several hours on the first day, we did manage to get 12 of our 26 birds cleaned and dressed.

These birds were weighed and bagged before going into the cooler for 24 hours. We had raised a little over 64 pounds of meat with these 12 birds, with an average weight of just a little over 5 lbs. (dressed) each.

A few days later we dressed out the remaining 14, although at a significantly faster rate than on our first day.

This experience left us with a lot more than just 26 birds in our freezer though. It is a milestone in that we now feel so much more confident in raising and processing our own food right here on the homestead. Food that we can put in our larder, share with our neighbors, and use to build a better do-it-yourself community.

And rest assured, more than one of these birds has already found its way onto the grill.

Not to ruin the surprise, but they do taste like chicken.

But better chicken.

Chicken that was locally, naturally, and ethically raised. A bird raised free of antibiotics. A bird free of harsh chemicals and GMO feeds. A bird raised on natural, pastured grass in the fresh air and sunshine.

A bird that tastes good and a bird that you can feel good about eating.

That’s what we’ve been up to in the past couple weeks. We’ll follow up with more later.

In the meantime, what have you been getting into on your homesteads? Share with us, we’d truly love to know!

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