Backyard Chickens in the Fullerton Observer
Tomorrow my third column in our local city paper hits the news stands. The Fullerton Observer is a wonderful not-for-profit pub run basically as a one-woman show by a local Fullertonian, Sharon Kennedy.
I called Sharon up one day a week or so after I got back to the OC to ask if I could write a Good Food Happy Planet column. “Well a lot of people want to write columns,” she said. “What did you have in mind?” I explained about the whole farm bit and gave a little pitch. “I just think the people in Fullerton might be interested in reading about where their food comes from. It’s a timely issue, plus good food’s trendy,” I ventured. Sharon agreed, and the column was born.
Week one, I wrote about gleaning. Week two, the Fullerton Farmers Market. And this past time, I wrote about processing ten of our backyard chickens. I left out most of the more specific details — still not sure what level of information is TMI versus just right for the Fullerton audience.
I know it’s a small step, but it’s fun to be writing for a different sort of crowd — not necessarily just my friends and fellow foodies, but folks who just happened to pick up a copy in the local coffee shop or at Ralphs. It forces me to be accessible, and also not take anything for granted.
Sharon came to the potluck on Wednesday and while we were waiting in line for the spread, she told me that I received my first mini fan note for the column! Woohoo!
Here’s the article from this time ’round… or you can download the PDF for the full experience:
Down the slope away from our house, underneath a couple of huge eucalyptus trees, sits my dad’s chicken coop. There’s a structure with nest boxes that opens our onto the pecking yard which is enclosed with chicken wire to keep our the coyotes and our little terrier Duncan. The coop houses a dozen or so proud hens: some black and white Barred Rock beauties, Araucanas that lay little turquoise eggs, the regal Polish Crested with their big fluffed white hairdos, and some unidentified buff-colored girls.
This summer on the farm, I learned a lot about chickens. We kept around 60 laying hens — all Rhode Island Reds — and around 120 Cornish Cross broiler chickens which we raised for meat. Prior to the farm, I hadn’t ever thought about the difference between laying hens and meat chickens, but it turns out they’re very different creatures. Broilers are bred to grow larger, faster and to have a greater breast-to-body ratio than other breeds. They only take about 12 weeks to grow to a marketable size. Layers on the other hand take about 6 months to start laying, and continue to lay eggs at a constant rate until they are around 2 years old.
On the farm, I learned all about feeding and taking care of hens, protecting them from predators, collecting, washing and packing eggs, and finally about processing the chickens for meat.
Processing chickens is hard, smelly work. I’m not squeamish; I participated in every part of the process: the killing, dunking in hot water, plucking feathers, eviscerating and cleaning. I grew up eating meat and intend to keep eating meat, but now that I’ve participated in the full process, from chick to chicken enchilada, I have so much more appreciation for the energy and care it takes to bring meat to the table. It’s so easy to forget, when I’m buying a clean plastic-wrapped package of pre-cut chicken tenders, or picking up a chicken burrito at Chipotle, that this was once a living, breathing animal. It’s easy to take for granted the resources it took to hatch and feed and raise a chicken for my table.
This weekend, we processed ten of my dad’s hens in the backyard. They were getting older and were no longer laying, and we needed to make way for a new batch of chicks. Between me, my parents, my aunt and a friend, I was the only one who had done this before, so I organized the different stations and showed everyone the ropes. It didn’t take more than a few hours, but afterwards, I crashed on the couch in front of the TV for the rest of the day, totally drained.
Now, the chickens are curing in our refrigerator, and I’m contemplating what to cook. Needless to say, whatever it is, I will savor it to the last bite.