The Demise of "Dinner," or My First Time Processing Chickens

Warning: the post you are about to read contains graphic pictures of roosters being processed to eat. Do not continue reading if these images will upset you.

Some friends of ours invited us over this morning to learn from a master, Christian of SugarHouse Farm in Altadena, how to process chickens (that is a cute way to say "butcher" or "kill"). They had ordered the minimum number of chicks most hatcheries will mail -25- about 6 months ago, and were ready to cut down on feed costs and noise. With a small urban coop and 2 beehives, it is a necessity for them to be courteous to the neighbors, so the thirteen roosters had to go.

I'm so thankful to have had the experience of seeing and participating in the butchering process with such wonderful people. My chickens are still a long way off from slaughter, but when the time comes, I'll be able to show them the respect and dignity they deserve. I walked away this morning with a larger sense of community, a greater understanding of where my food comes from, and an increased respect for all living things. 

And now, the demise of "Dinner" the rooster and his 12 buddies.

 Having the rooster hang upside down calms the animal as the blood rushes to his head. A swift cut to the jugular vein quickly pumps the blood out so the bird will pass without suffering.

I think this is an amazing example of beauty in death. The blood drained from the chickens will solidify and be used in compost, which will feed the plants, some of which will be fed to the remaining chickens.

After dunking the bird in hot water to loosen the feathers, Christian demonstrates how to pluck a chicken.

 Not too bad.

The feathers and unused organs will also be composted.

After plucking, it is a delicate procedure to remove the organs without cutting into the wrong part of the bird. 

The heart and lungs proudly displayed (this is more difficult to do than it looks).
Once we got our two chickens home, they never made it into the fridge.

They went straight onto the grill for some Santa Maria style barbecue.

With some barbecued squash, beets and zuchinni from the garden and beans and rice, it tasted great, but the meat was really tough. We ended up shredding it into some stock we made with the necks and had some delicious chicken soup with "dinner."
My grandparents know how to slaughter a chicken. They respect food in a way that I hadn't quite comprehended, even though I grow a lot of our produce, until today. I enjoyed sharing the experience of slaughtering the roosters today with old and new friends. Its a strange thing to think of as being a great experience,  joyful even, but there you have it. I am so grateful that I was able to eat a truly fresh chicken today, an experience that most city dwellers will never have.

At the same time, I don't think chicken will be on the menu quite so often as before for me. I'm not giving it up! But now that I know what goes into the humane treatment of these awesome creatures firsthand, it will be a lot harder for me to eat grocery store chicken. I knew all about poor factory conditions, fattened up birds unable to walk, and "free-range" chickens that get an hour in sunlight every day before. But after raising my own pullets and taking part in the processing today, I can't possibly justify eating a chicken that comes from who knows where. Maybe I am more affected than some would be because I have chickens...

I think it was best put by Ernest Howard Crosby in Tolstoy and his message:

 "If we each had to butcher our own meat, there would be a great increase in the number of vegetarians."



Pitiful Potato Prisons

So, I initially got the idea for my potato prisons from a few different online sources, all praising the use of straw to "hill up" potatoes and increase the harvest. I have seen people use compost, soil, straw, leaves - even weeds - to hill up their potatoes and achieve amazing results.

I think I need to do some more research.

A few days ago, I noticed that a couple of my potatoes were dying back. They aren't supposed to be harvested yet, but over/underwatering or pests took their toll, so I decided to pop the cages off since there was no saving them. The leaves were yellowed and brittle with holes running through them, and I knew they wouldn't bounce back.

 Took off the hardware cloth prison and a glorious pile of decomposing straw rests at my feet.

After clearing away most of the straw, not finding any potatoes, a few little red babies poke through the soil. Hmmm.
Well, this gives me some hope.

Wow. I can make french fries for a garden gnome, now.
And here is what came out of the second cage. At least I can take comfort in the fact that I know how to grow lettuce.

There were absolutely no potatoes growing in the straw. Everything I harvested was in six inches of ground underneath the cages. I'm hoping that the other cages will actually do what they are supposed to and provide me with a bounty of beautiful organic potatoes to last my family through the winter...but I'm not counting on it! 
We shall see where this experiment in vertical growing leads me. I noticed today that I have potatoes growing out of my compost pile, as well as in the ground where I planted them and never harvested last year. So maybe I will still get potatoes this year, even if my prisons turn out to be...


1. evoking or deserving pity: a pitiful fate.
2. evoking or deserving contempt by smallness, poor quality, etc.: pitiful attempts.
3. Archaic . full of pity;  compassionate.


The Chicken Coop Comes Together

The coop building process was a labor of love, to say the least. My chickens are some lucky girls to live in such a fortress. We joke now that we have $200 chickens, because after all is said and done, they are never going to pay us back in eggs for the time and materials that went into building their home! 
But I don't mind. 

It took about a week to complete the building and painting. We worked for hours, and I am so happy with the results. The chicken palace feels like it has always been a part of the landscape, and my chickens are very spoiled. They seem happy - as happy as food can be - and I am enjoying my time with them, even if I have yet to see an egg. 

I'm sure I will have plenty more to say about chickens as the summer rolls along, but for now, I thought I'd just share some pictures of the progression of the coop and my crazy chicken obsession.

The coop and run framed up and primed
Me using a sawzall for the first time

Mr. Farmergirl and his dad framed the roof

Linoleum laid inside the coop for easy cleaning

Me using the staple gun to attach hardware cloth all around the run
(I am now very power tool savvy!)

The inside roosts, removable for cleaning

Wonder Woman jumped right up on the outdoor roost to check if it was level...

...and decided to hang out as we installed it; power tools have no effect on this girl

The babes like the roost, too

completed coop and run, side view

another view of the chicken haven

Me and my girl - happy.



My Father-in-Law is a Rockstar

Long ago, when we were first married and had one baby boy running around our huge backyard, we dreamed of one day having backyard chickens. We even bought a book, Living With Chickens, that outlined coop building, types of chickens, basic veterinary needs, feeding and slaughter. I wish I still had that book, but I let go of my chicken dreams as my human flock increased. Of course, at that time, it was the only book I could find on the subject of backyard chickens at Vroman's. Now, there is a whole shelf dedicated to the subject!

Fast forward to the last couple years, and my chicken daydreaming had returned. As I grow more of my own food, sustainably and organically, my awareness of food in general has definitely increased. I love the idea of my kids knowing where food actually comes from, and chickens are a logical next step. Luckily for me, everyone in our family is on board. My father-in-law found us some free chickens from someone whose flock was too large, so we had to get building quick!

 The coop materials waiting for a plan

I was up countless nights with Mr. Farmergirl trolling the internet for the perfect coop design. BackyardChickens.com turned out to be an amazing resource. People are so proud of their coops and love sharing how they built them! There is also tons of information on raising chickens...tons. Feeling overwhelmed and knowing the coop had to be built, I called in friends that recently acquired their first flock to help us out, and they ended up having plans for just the coop I dreamed of. 
Of course, I didn't really need plans. I described to my father-in-law what the coop would look like, its dimensions, and how it would be set up. That was all he needed. This man is a genius and I am so lucky to learn from him. He literally figured out the measurements in his head as we went!

Framing has started!

It was a group effort to build the coop, but my father-in-law was definitely doing most of the work. My hubby helped as much as possible with his work and school schedule, and our cousin, myself and my mother-in-law also did a ton of work. I think we were all feeling the excitement for our coming flock.
And then, I got a phone call. My superhero foreman was in the ER with a nail in his finger. He was working all alone when the nail gun misfired and...

He took the time to document the accident while waiting for his ride to come.

After waiting for a few hours in the emergency room, wasting precious building time, he pulled the nail out himself. There was a wire wrapped around it, holding it in under the skin about an inch deep, but he got it out. There was still waiting for a prescription of antibiotics, but he was happy to have the nail out.
And then he came home and did this.

So yes, my father-in-law is a rockstar, and my hero. He not only got the ball rolling for our backyard chickens, but also designed a coop in his head and brought it to life in less than a week. Oh, and he did all this injured, with an injury caused while building a home for said chickens.



ask la farmer girl

Veronica: This may seem like a stupid question
JD: There are no stupid questions...

So, I don't really want to off all the popular kids, but I agree with JD on one thing: there are no stupid questions. Please leave a comment and let me know what you would like to read about, whether it is a specific type of plant, where to get materials, pests problems, growing concerns, your love life being overshadowed by tomato plants...anything! I'll do my best to answer all questions, through research and my own personal opinions. If I don't know the answer, you may even get a guest post or interview! 

 I'm trying to add a tab to the blog to include an "ask la farmer girl" feature, but until all the technical difficulties are worked out, feel free to ask as many questions as you want through this post.

Once again, there are no stupid questions! But let's keep it PG-13 folks.


Sustainable Thursdays at Milagro Allegro Community Garden

Since getting my certificate from the UC Extension Victory Gardener class in March, I have thankfully continued to build a relationship with many wonderful people at Milagro Allegro Community Garden and in the community at large through "Sustainable Thursdays." Basically, the garden is open to anyone who wants to volunteer time every Thursday from 5-7 pm. You do not have to have a plot there to feel the warmth of community that is building; I don't! 

If you want to learn more about gardening, composting, and sustainability Milagro Allegro is the place to be. Sustainable Thursdays have allowed me to not only learn infinite amounts of information from two Master Gardeners in training, but to feel like my family and I are a part of something bigger than our own backyard plot. I have met so many people in such a short period of time that are slowly spreading the knowledge in a wave out into our community.

Just a few things that I have done or participated in these last 2 months:
  • Helped clear weeds and plant edibles on the sidewalk strip outside Milagro's gates. There are strawberries, sunflowers, broccoli, chard and countless other plants growing there, for everyone walking by to snack on. 
  • Picked up vegetable scraps from Good Girl Dinette, a wonderful partner to Milagro Allegro in their composting efforts. Good Girl Dinette saves the scraps that would otherwise go in the garbage, they get added to the compost pile at Milagro Allegro every Thursday to eventually enrich the soil that will grow more organic vegetables...what an amazing cycle! 
  • Weekly turning of the compost pile. This sounds like a chore, but its my favorite part of Sustainable Thursdays. Smelling the fresh earth and seeing the progress of the decomposition from week to week is very gratifying.
  • Harvested mulberries ripe from the trees. I had never tasted a mulberry before last week; now I'm hooked! And today I was able to share my Milagro Mulberry Jam on fresh wheat bread from Antigua Bread, talk about eating locally.
  • Harvested some carrots from a friend's plot, which my kids absolutely loved and ate on the spot.
  • Learned to make seed bombs, a favorite activity now that I know how easy it is.
 "Mutant Carrots" are my boys' favorite snack

Making seed bombs is popular with the boys because of the mess factor

I am so thrilled to have found a place to go and re-inspire myself in my own gardening efforts. And I get to take my kids to a place where they feel calm, happy and inquisitive. And I can do it every week!

There are so many things I could say about Sustainable Thursdays and the people who make it happen. But I'm gushing...you'll just have to see for yourself. 

Community. Sustainability. Knowledge. Love.



Mom's Miracle Tomatoes

I love it when I can pass some knowledge on to the woman who has taught me so much about life, love...and gardening! My mother inspires me to think outside the raised bed, plant the things I love, and love the things I plant. Today, I got the chance to spread some of that love back to her.

I have been intrigued by the cherry tomato plants that grow prolifically behind my parents' garage. They have been there ever since I can remember, not the same plants, but they come back year after year with no help from us. My mother says it all started with two plants that volunteered themselves in a patch of long gone honeysuckle. Whether it was the birds, the bees, or some other creature that deposited them there will remain a mystery. Those great grandparents of the existing tomatoes were probably a cherry tomato and a roma tomato. They have developed into a creeping, vining mess of hundreds of cherry tomatoes that sweetly pop in your mouth.

 Mom's tomatoes grow in a small space.

The plants that are growing now have been there for 4 years. 4 years of non-stop producing. My mom trims off the dead branches, lets some tomatoes fall to the ground, and picks as much as she and her neighbors can eat, all year long. They don't really have pests, and the only problem with them is that the tomatoes are getting smaller and smaller every year. My mom wants to have tomatoes there, but would like to start new plants.

 I can't even count the number of tomatoes on this plant!

blossom cluster

So, I pulled off a few suckers today to start some plants. Obviously, they are well suited to our climate, as they've turned into perennials. I'm excited to plant these in my own yard and see what happens. I realized today in talking to my mom that she had never trimmed the suckers off of her plant, which is probably resulting in smaller fruit over time. As she has taught me and I in turn have passed back to her, even the most experienced gardener always has room to learn. So, my mom and I will soon be the proud new owners of what I have dubbed "mommy's backyard tomato" plants. 

 short video on tomato suckers