Not wool but feathers

Chickens.  Curious, beady eyed chickens. We have always had chickens on our farm, mainly for eggs, but also for meat.

Before writing this post I had a quick look on the internet to identify the breeds of chickens we have. I found that breed definitions can change depending on the country you are in, and cross breeding means a chicken may show traits from different breeds.  Our chickens seem to be a mix of Araucana, (a Chilean chicken that lays blue/green eggs), Transylvanian Naked Neck, and Brahma.

Originally our chickens were free range, wandering around the farm; they are smart, and they come home to roost at night by themselves. However they can not defend themselves from dogs and tend to lay eggs or go broody where ever they want too.  Dog attacks were the biggest, and saddest problem.  We also had a few small chickens taken by a large bird of prey.

We eventually enclosed the chickens in a fenced area.  A strong fence, dogs can be very persistent.  Part of this area has a net roof to protect the younger birds that are small enough to be carried away by a bird of prey.

We get lovely eggs for most of the year and roosters to eat when we leave the eggs with the chickens to hatch out.  They are fun to watch and I have heard that the Chilean national dance, the cueca, is based on the dance the rooster does to attract the hen.

My youngest daughter loves to come with me in the evening when we close their house door and collect the eggs.  Sometimes there is a hen that is broody and wants to stay in the nest box.  These chickens we scoop up and carry to the chicken house.  Some hens flap and try to peck, but others are docile and my youngest carries them.

I love the feel of these gentle chickens, their bony warm feet hold on tightly to my hands or arm.  They coo and cluck softly as I put them to bed.  And with their naked necks and little cap of feathers on the top of their heads, it is impossible not to smile.

You don’t need electricity to pluck a rooster – Or how this magnificent bird became Coq au vin

The beginning

I have to start this post with a warning.  If you are vegetarian, or do not like to know where your food comes from, then best not continue, just skip it, this one gets ugly.

Okay now that has been said I can continue with my story.  It started Wednesday night around 1am when I woke up to a sound in the night.  I thought it was an earthquake because the dogs and birds were going crazy.  Our dog continued to bark so I went to see if there was something outside, however when I switched on the light there was no electricity.

Not unusual for us.  Sometimes this is because some one is stealing the cables that bring the electricity to our farm from the road.  So when the lights go out we have to go outside and check.  Not very fun at 1am, but my husband ventured out to see what had happened.  He could see emergency lights on the main road so we figured a car had crashed into a post.  Nothing we could do for now, back to bed.

In the morning there was still no electricity, (a pick-up truck had crashed into our post, then into the large cement one, which then fell on top of the truck.  Surprisingly the  driver was okay and we suspect alcohol).  It didn’t look like we would have electricity for the rest of the day, (it took two days to fix) so I thought since there would be no TV or computer I would attempt to pluck a rooster.

The end

First the rooster had to be killed.  I have done this before, but not very well, and “killing not very well” is not a nice way to be killed.  I asked one of the men on the farm to kill the rooster which they do by wringing it’s neck.

Dead rooster

Here the normal way to pluck is wet plucking a bird.  This means the bird is dipped in very hot water to loosen the feathers.  This makes plucking much easier but then the bird has to be dressed and drawn, (insides removed),  immediately.

I wanted to try dry plucking the bird and then letting it hang for a few days before dressing.  The men on the farm thought I was crazy, they had never heard of leaving the insides in.

Once the rooster was dead I started plucking.  This is the first time I have done this by myself.

Plucking the breast

I started with the breast.  It is a strange thing to do, you have to be firm to get the feathers out but gentle so as not to rip the skin.  And I must admit, the few times I ripped the skin my knees went week and my girls and I squealed “eeewwww!”

Plucking the leg

After the breast side I turned it over to work on the back, leaving the wings for last.

Plucking the back of the rooster

It was slow going, about two hours to pluck the rooster but it wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be.  The end result was a bit ugly, but I was quite proud of my first go!

Not bad

The instructions for plucking and dressing the rooster I got from, “The Self-Sufficiency Bible” by Simon Dawson.

A year ago, when I was at a hand spinning demonstration in Arlington Court, Devon, I met Mr. Dawson and bought his book.  It gave me the courage to try doing all this by myself. I hope he doesn’t mind me including his links in my blog.

His blog is http://theselfsufficientwriter.blogspot.com/ and his web site http://www.hiddenvalleypigs.co.uk/  for any one who is interested.

After plucking I left the rooster to hang for two days in a cold, secure storeroom, then on Saturday I dressed it.

Ready to be dressed

I started by removing the head, feet, and wing tips.

Removing the feet, pulling out the tendons

Next the crop is loosened by the neck.  Then a cut is carefully made around the vent.

Cutting around the vent

This is when it gets messy.  The cut has to be made big enough to slide a hand inside.

Carefully I started to bring the inside bits out, starting with the gizzard.

The gizzard comes out first

Everything out

Once everything is out, the rest of the vent is carefully cut out lifting everything out together.

All ready to cook

Sunday I cooked the Coq au vin!  The recipe I use is from Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s, “The River Cottage Meat Book”.  I love this cook book and recommend it to anyone who raises there own animals for food.  I have done the recipe a few times so now I follow it loosely, depending on what I have in the kitchen.

A few of the ingredients for the Coq au vin

Dusted in flour and browned.

Frying the thighs then adding them to the pot

Adding the red wine.

Red wine to de-glaze the frying pan

Then let it cook slowly for a couple of hours.  Delicious!

Ready to eat

Most people who know me will be surprised that I can pluck, dress and draw a rooster, but this photograph shows that it is obviously something I have wanted to do for a long time.

Me and a friend, I am the one smiling!