Tuesday at Kreeky Tree: A Chicken's Life

Tuesday at Kreeky Tree: A Chicken's Life

I am an omnivore. Primarily lacto-ovo vegetarian, I do like to eat good meat. It makes me feel good. I can feel it in my muscles, bones and ligaments, in my skin, hair and nails. Stocks made from bone and marrow, feet and skin make my joints limber, my skin soft, and my body feel good. Terreines and pâtés offer up some of the most amazing flavors and textures. They make me happy when I eat them. Carpaccio, sashimi, tartare. Roast, fry, smoke, bake, poach, sous-vide: a different flavor and texture with each method, with each meat. I do like to eat good meat, and I know where to get it.

I have a person behind each animal I bring to our table who I can talk to about plans and preparations. We speak about particulars in cut and texture, and talk about when something special will be back in stock. Meat is seasonal. Fresh calves, lambs and sucklings are not all year round. They must be put up, cured, or frozen to be available out of season, just as vegetables and fruits are. Many people have either forgotten this, or never learned it.

Our culture of immediacy and entitlement has made everything available at all times, and at a terrible cost. Industrial farming and husbandry depletes resources, destroys environments, and diminishes life. Monoculture destroys habitats. Good soil requires the complexity of predators and prey, death and decay for growth of life. 

The ecosystem of a farm is a complex environment, and, like a person, it can be healthy or unwell. Kreeky Tree is a very healthy farm. Chris and Allan nurture and grow all elements with care to detail, and intention of act. 

I can write, with no hesitation, that the chicken you eat from Kreeky Tree will be one of the best you ever, or will ever have. Not just the stately Bresse, but any chicken from the farm. It is not just one thing that makes this true, but the complexity of life that starts in the egg and ends in the abattoir, all on the ground of Kreeky Tree Farm. 

Allan and Chris raise their birds in a cozy and warm room. Chris and Allan talk to them daily as they check their feed and monitor their growth. When they are at the proper stage of growth they are moved outside, into the Greater Chicken Lands. While the meat birds are separated from the layers and their roosters, they are sheltered in comfortable hoop coops that are moved throughout the area. As he enters their coops with feed and water, Allan speaks to the birds who cluck and coo back.

When they reach the proper size, it is time for the butchering.

My regular Tuesday post from Kreeky Tree was rain delayed last week, but it was a fortunate delay for me. When Allan asked if I would be available another day, I replied that Thursday would be good if he could use me. He told me that was the butcher day, and I almost jumped through my phone. I had been hoping I would have the opportunity to learn about this.

Knowing of a thing and seeing a thing are entirely different. Before Thursday last, I knew of ways a chicken could be butchered, the process of evisceration and final preparations before it went into a bag for purchase. I had never actually seen it done, however.

Allan gathered the hens from the back of the hoop coop, two at a time. He handed them to me one by one to place in the cage on the back of the runaround used to transport them over to the abattoir. With 15 in the cage, we were ready to motor over to the other side of the property. I turned around to give the girls a quick check, and there was one I swear knew what was coming. She was hunkered down and stared me square in the eyes. I turned back around as Allan got in the driver's seat.

The interior of the abattoir is bright and clean and shiny. White walls, pale blue trim, and stainless items around the edges. One window looks out to the mountain side, one looks out to the patio and the brick oven. There is one door to outside, and one door to the shop.

The kill stand is comprised of four cones in a pipe frame with catch containers below the cones. If you add .5c of vinegar to the catch container, you will be able to make blood pudding. Facing the stand, the scalding pot is to the immediate left, the EzPlucker to the left of that. The stainless table is opposite the kill stand, to the left of the EzPlucker, just above the floor drain. Allan has a rubber mat he places on the stone floor in front of the table the chickens will be cleaned out on. There are white lidded cans to hold water and ice, next to the incubator, against the wall opposite the kill stand.

I had no idea what to expect. I had little idea what would happen.

Allan brings the birds in, two by two, placing them head down in the cones. They immediately fall quiet. At the left end of the stand, there is a container with cold water in it that holds a newly sharpened knife.

Allan knells down in front of the first bird, and gently coaxes her head from inside the cone, hushing her nervous clucks until she calms down. He eases her head back, using the flat edge of the blade to show me where the jawline is. He quietly and evenly explains that you want to cut just below the jaw, on either side, the quills of the feathers are not as tough that high on the neck, you want to cut on either side to hit the jugular vein and the carotid artery, and then he makes the first cut.

A quiet descends as Allan knells and speaks evenly of the process that is very difficult to explain in words. My elbows on the stainless table, the fingers of my hands entwined, I lean forward and witness the draining of the blood as Allan holds the head back for the few moments it takes for the kicking to cease. It is a somber process, and although Allan contested the use of the word, there is a sacredness in the actions I witnessed, the actions Allan takes each butcher day.  

By the time he reaches the last in the stand, the first two are ready to be scalded and placed in the plucker. It takes less than a minute for the birds to be spun free of feathers in what still seems to be the weirdest cotton candy machine I have ever seen. The clean chickens are placed in the container of water and ice, to cool down before evisceration.

After the first group of four, I help bring the remaining chickens by twos, placing them gently in the cones. Allan repeats his motions for each of the chickens, and each feels as significant as the one before it. The repetition does not diminish the significance of the act.  

After the last kill, it is time to move on to the cleaning and parting out of the internal organs. The process has a different feel than what happens to get you here. It is clinical. The glands are cut away from just above the tail, and two small incisions are made by the legs with care not to cut too deeply. A sliced curve at bottom and top, and Allan begins to remove the interior organs. The heart remains up under the breast, with the rest coming out, hopefully, in one group. Fat, kidneys, liver and gizzard are cleaned and placed in containers. The fat can be rendered for confit, a method to be used for the gizzards. The kidneys can be pan seared or used for pâté, the gizzards can be fried. The blood can be composted, or used for pudding. The heads and feet can be used for stock. So much that is not considered as useful, but rather as waste. 

Allan spoke of the ways so many send out their birds for processing, and why it is so important for him to do this himself. He can see the health of the birds he has raised from egg and as chicks. Each moment of the process is done with respect to the animal, and respect for the process. This matters. When you buy a Kreeky Tree chicken, you buy it from where they lived under great care and attention to health and well-being, from the beginning of life to the end. 

I have long been fascinated with Utopia by Thomas More, 1516. It is a very particular class perspective on the best ways to organize a society. I had a bit of Utopia rolling around in my head since just after Allan told me that I would be able to be on the farm for the butcher day. In Book Two, More writes, "The slaughtering of livestock and cleaning of carcasses are done by slaves. They don't let ordinary people get used to cutting up animals, because they think it tends to destroy one's natural feelings of humanity." This is a most dangerous opinion, as dangerous as the persistent belief in the mind/body divide. It could not be any further from the reality of the process and actions I witnessed. It is much more true to state that the disconnect from the process of bringing food to the table will 'destroy one's natural feelings of humanity' because there is no connection to the people who grow your food and prepare it so you can bring it to the table. Allan refutes More's claim with his lived life.

More people need to know what it takes to bring food to our tables. Rather than destroying a feeling of humanity, it would increase it.

Go out and find your farmers. You will be a better person for it.