Wow! Many weeks have passed since I have written about this week on the farm. I haven't been short on things to say, just short on time to write.
We've been working hard on our plans for the 2017 growing season. The biggest change for the coming year will be the grand opening of our state inspected poultry processing space. The building project has been underway for over five months, with the design phase stretching back more than a year into 2015. We are expecting the construction to be complete in just a few more weeks, at which point we can schedule the inspection!
The chickens, in crates, will be staged on the left side of this photo. On the covered patio, Shawn will kill, scald, and pluck. Then he will pass the birds through the window to me, where I will eviscerate and place them in an ice water bath to chill. Indoors, we will also have room to cut up and package the birds after chilling and store our freezers with the finished product. The interior has a sealed concrete floor sloping to a center drain. We have painted the block with washable epoxy paint and a drop ceiling with cleanable food service tiles is in progress. The regulation also allows us to use this space for washing vegetables and making processed foods such as canned goods, bone broth, and pesto. (Obviously not at the same time as chicken processing!)
It is a bit ironic that we have made this massive financial and time commitment to on-farm processing, when both Shawn and I really dislike butchering. Neither of us come from a farming background and even though we now have three years of experience, each butcher day is still emotionally and physically difficult. A friend recently told me that the death of our pets is so shockingly painful because our emotions toward other people are complicated, while our feelings towards our animals are simple; just love. We have experienced this to a degree with livestock animals as well. They are seemingly innocent and it feels bad to take their lives. Part of the choice to raise livestock is truly enjoying these creatures, which makes the work of taking care of them each day pleasant.
I have experimented with vegetarianism in the past, but my research as well as my personal experience has led me to believe that a healthy human diet includes meat. In his book, The Mindful Carnivore, Tovar Cerulli relates an experience doing battle with a groundhog that led him to give up gardening and purchase lettuce from the farm down the road. However, he realized that the farmer down the road had to deal with the same pests destroying his crops. His epiphany was that he was simply outsourcing his killing, there is no such thing as a cruelty-free diet, and that we are all part of the food chain. (This is a really thoughtful book that I highly recommend - it can't be reduced to two sentences as I've done here!)
If there is no such thing as a cruelty-free diet, we want to make the lives of our meat animals the best we know how, up to the last moment. On-farm processing is crucial to this goal for many reasons. When we process on farm, the animals spend their last night comfortable in their normal housing, not in a crate. We are able to crate them just prior to butchering. They do not have to travel in a vehicle, causing stress and fear. Every time I see a truck on the highway hauling poultry or read about a crash of one of these trucks, I know that my discomfort on butchering day is worth it to keep my birds safely off the highway. Just prior to slaughter, we stage the birds comfortably in the shade and provide a screen so they do not watch other birds being killed. We handle the birds gently to keep them calm and reduce stress and fear. Finally, we constantly refine our kill to be as quick and painless as we know how.
On-farm processing also allows us complete control over the safety and quality of the final product. I eviscerate each chicken by hand, taking care not to break the intestines and introduce contamination to the meat. Each carcass is promptly rinsed clean and chilled in an ice water bath to rapidly bring the temperature down and discourage bacterial growth. During packaging, we perform a final quality check, making sure the carcass is cleaned well and no feathers are left (Shawn is fanatical about no one wanting to see feathers!) Our equipment is cleaned and sanitized frequently and thoroughly. Finally, rather than making a waste stream or pollution, on-farm processing allows us to recycle all wastes through composting, returning nutrients to our soil.
Despite the difficulties of butcher day, on-farm processing is our best choice for humane treatment of our animals, product safety and quality, and returning nutrients to our land.
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