Updated: Nov 13, 2019
Sorry, Ike fans, but this post has nothing to do with dogs…!
There is an organization called World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WWOOF) that matches host farms with working volunteers. Hosts provide room, board, and learning opportunities. Volunteers work for 4 hours per day, learning in the process. We have signed up as a WWOOF host, in our buildout phase. (If you are a WWOOFer, our host profile can be found at https://wwoofusa.org/farm/brownkawa-farmstead/).
Of course at this point we aren’t your normal organic farm host, and our profile has caveats like “We will be new at WWOOFing this fall so we can’t lay out here exactly what this experience will look like yet, but we are very open communicators and will be able to set out expectations clearly before you arrive.”
Earlier this month we visited another WWOOF host farm in the area: Loeffler Farms, in the beautiful Zuni mountains. We are considering raising chickens and rabbits for meat, and we wanted to see whether we were up to the task of dispatching animals for food. We arranged our WWOOF visit for a chicken harvest day.
We've had backyard chickens (pets with benefits), and coddled and babied those girls, bringing them inside when the weather was too hot or cold, and crying over them when they died -- and make no mistake; Chip is a bigger softie than I am! We've both caught and killed fish with no trouble, but chickens seem... different... warm-blooded and all.
Chris Loeffler was very welcoming, and generously spent her day with us, giving us a tour of her farm and sharing a wealth of information in the spirit of supporting newbies who were aspiring to follow a similar path. I took some pictures of the chicken herding, but didn't take pictures of the dispatching or butchering... for one thing, we were pretty busy during that time!
Chris's chickens eat exclusively organic feed, but she hasn't decided yet if it's worth the expense and red tape of obtaining an organic certification for the eggs and meat. Loeffler Farms has been certified as a humane chicken operation. The birds have free access to the outdoors, and ample space for roaming and foraging. At the end of their lives, they are stunned before being killed. We learned that there are no USDA poultry processing facilities in New Mexico, and small farmers can't take poultry out of state for processing. The only option is to butcher yourself, which restricts where and how the meat can be sold, depending upon your level of certification.
On the day that we visited the farm, some roosters were destined for market. Chip and Chris cornered and netted them, and we carried them into a waiting pen.
Chip carried each bird, one at a time, from the pen into the processing area. He stunned and killed the bird, and drained the blood. Then he dipped the carcass into hot water which loosens the feathers. Then there was this unusual contraption with rubbery "fingers" that pretty much strips the feathers without damaging the skin or meat.
Chris and I butchered the birds. We took off the feet and the heads (which her magnificent guardian dog, King, eagerly awaited as a treat), pulled the innards out of the neck and abdomen cavities, and processed the giblets and neck. Way more detail than I want to write down, but it was time consuming work -- our body parts generally want to stay together! Chip easily kept Chris and I both busy butchering.
Loeffler Farms also offers certified organic vegetables. I neglected to photograph the open gardens or hoop houses -- we were distracted by the sheep, which had broken into the garden and needed rounding up! Yes, she raises sheep as well, and turkeys. I did take a few pictures of the small greenhouse annex to her house, where we had a few samples! Then we enjoyed a cup of ice tea and some more info-packed conversation.
It taught us that at least we would be able to feed ourselves chicken. I feel like you oughtn't eat something that you wouldn't be willing to process yourself. I don't meet that ideal by a long shot, but this experience brought us one step closer. I think we'll be able to raise chicken for our own consumption, even if we end up deciding we'd rather only take the eggs to market...