My great grandmother’s name was Dessie.
She traveled from Tennessee on a wagon train. When she was very young, her mother died along the way and was buried somewhere in Oklahoma territory. She never knew where.
She met my great -grandfather in Oklahoma, married at the age of 15, and moved to Boxley Valley along the Buffalo River in Arkansas. Together, they raised 5 girls and raised a huge garden along with livestock. She was known as a mountain doctor and healer–using herbal concoctions to cure everything from a cold to pain during childbirth. My dad said people would come from all over the mountain just to see her.
She grew enough produce to feed not only her family but others that needed a meal. She cooked a 5 course meal on a wood stove. What they didn’t eat, she canned. The milk from the cow was stored in a cave a good ways from the house. She did her laundry at the river. She hauled water to drink, cook and bathe from the river. She was good with a gun and dad told me she could kill, dress and cook a squirrel in record time. She wasn’t even afraid of snakes and my dad remembers her whipping a snake out of the chicken coop and somehow killing it at the same time. She was a true pioneer woman in every sense of the word.
Growing up, anytime our family did anything remotely pioneerish, we declared we “did a Dessie!” Well, Friday, I did a Dessie.
As you know, for the last 2 months, I have been raising chickens for meat.
Friday, my brother-in-law Richard, niece Leslie, and I gathered early in the morning to begin the process of processing. 35 total. I had 16 and Richard had 19.
We began at 6:30 am. A storm was brewing to the west and we knew we had to make good time before the storm hit. Richard had already gone through the process the night before and began showing us how to start. In other words, I didn’t have time to think about what was about to happen.
I won’t go into details on this post, (I made a separate page for the how-to’s which is here), but overall I was surprised at how easy it was to process a chicken. Once my niece and I got the hang of it, we processed all the chickens in 4-1/2 hours.
The hardest part would have been the plucking of the feathers, but Richard and Allen built an automatic chicken plucker that removed the feathers of one bird in about 30 seconds. It was amazing.
After we finished with the clean up, I put the chicken in the refrigerator for 24 hours. This allows the meat to age and relax. I then bagged them with my vacuum sealer and put all but one in the freezer. The average weight was 4 lbs.
I lightly coated the remaining chicken with a chardonnay garlic oil and rubbed some lemon pepper seasoning all over including the inside. I turned my crock pot to low and went about my day.
The result? The most tender chicken I have every eaten. I could not even get it out of the pot without it falling apart.
Allen was even impressed.
People ask me all the time, “how can you eat your pet?” First of all, it was not a pet. They were destined for my freezer from day one. The one thing about raising your own meat is the pride you take in the care of the animals. When they were chicks, I would get up sometimes 2 or 3 times in the night just to check on them. Chicks need to be warm and I did everything possible to keep them comfortable. When they moved to the pasture, I made sure they had fresh water and fresh food twice a day. The tractor was moved daily to provide fresh grass. On the day of processing, we collected them at daylight to minimize stress. The ride to Richard’s was only 10 minutes. This also minimizes stress. (Chickens stress easily and when they stress, their muscles tighten creating tough meat.) Their life ended quickly and humanly. They were not shocked or stunned first as processing plants do.
I know this is not for everyone, but I will say it has given me a better perspective and appreciation for the food I eat. Will I do it again. Absolutely. For me, it gives a whole new meaning to the phrase, “from farm to table.”
I think Great-Grandma Dessie would be proud.
p.s. for more detailed instructions, check out my page Raising and Processing Meat Chickens at Home