It’s one of those sad realities of life on the homestead that the day will come when Little Red Hen will out stay her welcome on the farm. When that fateful day finaly comes it is incumbent upon us, the homesteaders, to honor that ultimate sacrifice by harvesting and making use of as much of that animal as possible. This leads us back to Little Red Hen, and her compatriots down at the hen house…fall is the traditional time of year to cull your aging and unproductive chickens on the homestead. One less mouth to feed through the doldrums of winter makes a huge difference, and stocking the pantry for those times is a must! Aside from the hero of homestead utility the hog, the humble farmhouse chicken is probably one of the most useful resources for the modern homesteader in both life and death.
We recently culled the flock here on the Traditional Catholic Homestead, so I thought I would share how we’re making as much use as possible from our birds….
We’ll start with the slaughter and butchering of our birds. This was definitely a family afair for us. The older kids were catching birds, the younger kids were attacking eachother with sticks, and the adults did the slaughter and butchering. We like to use a killing cone to dispatch our birds. It is a lot less traumatic on the birds and keeps thing much less hectic for the people involved as well. This time around we chose to skin rather than pluck the chickens, and while it limits your options a bit (no chicken sausage)it the process does go rather quickly.
We decided before beginning that all of these birds were destined for the pressure canner so after killing, skinning, and disembowling our aging
laying hens we processed them for canning. We cut the legs, thighs, and breasts out of the birds then set aside the carcasses for later use. We retained all of the offal, skins, feathers, and blood to be composted. We never throw theses bits of fertility out, and try to use them safely to add productivity to the homestead!
We canned all of the legs together in quart jars, then did the same for the other cuts. We went with a cold pack method, adding a little salt to the jar and nothing else before starting the canning process. Each quart was processed at 15lbs (we are at 4000 feet after all) for 90 minutes. Use a good canning guide for recipes on processing your meat, and always use a pressure canner for meat.
The next part of the preservation process was simmering the carcasses for stock. We used our recipe for bone stock with sea salt mineral brine to make it even more nutritious. The stock was simmered on the back of the stove for several days. When that processes was completed we
cooled the stock and skimmed the fat. We ended up with several cups of pure chicken fat from our harvest.
It seemed like a terrible waste to throw out or feed to the dogs so I did a little research and asking around (thanks Facebook friends!)and decided to make some schmaltz. This basically involved taking the pure fat, chopping up a bunch of onions, and simmering the two together for about a half hour. It’s a pretty simple process, just make sure the oil doesn’t get too hot (you will loose quality and keeping power otherwise). Once this was done I canned the majority in a quart jar and put the rest in the fridge for more immediate use.
We strained the finished chicken stock through successively finer layers
starting with a collender and finishing with cheese cloth. This resulted in a pretty clear stock, a good pile of meat, and a hardy stack of bones.
The bones were soft and we crunched them up a little bit then tossed them into the compost bin where they’ll breakdown pretty easily. We wanted a clean broth so we kept the carcass meat seperate and canned that up on its own using the same technique as we did with the larger cuts. This yields something like shredded chicken and is great to add to soups or make chicken salad with. To finish off our broth we simmered onions, celerey, carrots, and parsley in the pot to infuse the stock with aromatic flavors. We ended up with a flavorful, clear stock that is super nutritious!
The total result of our homestead chicken harvest was 18 quarts of legs, thighs, and breast meat, 18 pints of the shreaded meat, 15 quarts of broth, a quart and a half of schmaltz (rendered chicken fat), and fertility in our soil for years to come! Add to that the eggs we’ve gotten over the years, the compost processing, the manure for the gardens, and the enjoyment of interacting with them all this time, it’s easy to see how Little Red Hen and her cohorts are integral members of the homestead!