Wednesday, July 22, 2009

A Day at the “Park”

Ah…taking the meat birds to the processor (also known by us as “taking them to the park” - our thanks to a good friend for giving us this phrase).

By the time we reach the week of the ‘trip’ the humans, the laying flock and even the cats are beginning to feel their welcome for the meat birds dwindling. On the other hand, raccoons, fox, hawks and other critters find them a bit more appetizing.

If you have never raised a meat bird and taken it to the processor, this may be of interest to you. If you have, you may enjoy it nonetheless.

Typically, the day before, you do not want to feed the birds. Ideally, we would like to be able to let birds out on pasture the day before, but not give them any feed. But, we often opt to leave them in for a day with just water. The job is easier for the processors if their gullets are empty. The other reason for doing this is that T & I are covered in less chicken .. uh.. stuff by the time we are done with the trip. If you dare, ask us about a certain trip with turkeys that ate WAY too well the day before. Unfortunately, circumstances made it impossible to do this - this time around. Sorry processors! Sorry clothing!

The night PRIOR to the trip, the birds are put into crates for travel. It is impossible to chase them around the pasture – so we have to wait until the birds are ready to go to sleep (right around sundown) and head back to their room in the barn. At that point, we can chase them around their room, grab them (typically by their legs) and put them in the crates. It's amazing the fuss they put up during the chasing and capturing part. One would think there were Faux's in the chicken coop....

We are usually a tad bit annoyed that chickens are so intent on running FROM us when we try to catch them. Because, for most of their life, we intend to HELP keep them from harm. Sometimes we chase them to get them back inside the fences that slow predators down. Sometimes we chase them to get them into their (relatively) safe room for the night. It just so happens that this is no longer true the day prior to going to the park. Perhaps they are simply practicing for this very instance on the other days they run around?

Since chickens tend to sleep *very* close to each other, even on hot days, they settle down quickly for sleep once they are in the crate. Besides, the humans are no longer chasing them. That’s another thing about chickens. They can have a fit about stupid things – or life threatening things – the noise and emphasis are often pretty close to the same thing. And in mere moments, they can forget that anything was wrong and go about a contented life as if nothing else had happened. This is true even if the birds immediately to their right are currently being threatened.

Once all the birds are in cages and in a safe room, they tend to sleep. Humans, on the other hand, have to calm down from the adrenaline of chasing birds. That, and they often appreciate taking a shower. It’s a *really* good idea prior to heading for bed and sleep. After all, tomorrow is an early morning. Our processor usually wants us unloading our birds around 7 am. It takes about 45 minutes to get there from our farm. And, we have to load the birds into the truck (keeping them in our crates). The birds are not fully awake and not terribly active at this point – this is a good thing - but it never lasts.

At the processor, we unload the birds from our crates and put them in holding cages (5 per cage to help with tracking). The birds are usually quite awake by now and the humans have to be quick and alert – or they’ll end up chasing a bird for 45 minutes around the trees near the processing building. (yes, that happened…once). This is also the point at which humans get covered in the most poo.

Once processed the birds need to be cooled before we can take possession of them. That takes a while, so, we drive back to the farm. Usually, we take the cages out, spray them down. And, we take the truck into a car wash to be thoroughly cleaned. This has to be done quickly for a couple of reasons. First, consider what happens if you leave messes like this untended. Second, 100 birds require enough coolers that our sedan may not suffice to pick them up. We are usually forced to take the truck again. And, we will not set our coolers in the mess that is the bottom of the truck after the first trip!

Maybe a task or two is done on the farm before we head back to pick up the birds. We get them from their cooler and place them in ours. And, of course, we pay the processor for their services. On return, we put the birds into our freezer. Then we go about the process of trying to get the birds to our customers. Possibly worthy of a blog in the future?

So far, the birds in the latest trip think the trip turned out pretty cool.

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