Chicken Harvest: what does that even mean? When I embarked on the Who’s Your Farmer project I was told if I wanted to understand how natural, free range chickens get from pasture to table, I needed to experience the chicken harvest. The word harvest threw me. I’d seen crops harvested, but not animals. Naturally I was curious, so off I went to Autonomy Farms in California’s Central Valley to learn how chickens get from farm to market.
A side note: I’m not a big meat eater. In fact I don’t eat beef or pork. There’s no religious or moral reason. It started as one of those things you try when you're young, like vegetarianism or Buddhism, and it stuck. It’s been years now. I’ve had a sampling or 2 over the years, even a steak recently (that’s a whole other story from the ranch…). One of my “rationales” to not eat red meat or pork has been that I should be willing to kill anything I was going to eat. As my reasoning went, I would never be able to kill a cow or a pig but I felt pretty confident I could kill a chicken. Of course, I’d never been in a position to kill a cow, or a pig, or even a chicken, so this was all completely theoretical. I honestly didn’t know how I would kill this imaginary chicken. Perhaps I would have to wring it’s neck? Well that’s not how they do it on the farm…..
Harvesting chickens is a bit gruesome for this city slicker.
But the process is actually quite simple: catch chicken, slit throat, bleed it out, (that’s the gruesome part), blanch in boiling water to loosen quills, drop in plucker machine, remove feet, head, and innards, package it up for market.
That’s about it - most of the harvest is nothing I haven’t done myself, in my own kitchen.
And there’s an air of respect for the birds here. Sure, they’re being raised for human consumption, but there’s nothing excessive about it. Most parts are harvested, including the organs and feet. The chickens look like chickens. Autonomy Farms is proud of their birds. They don’t have over inflated breasts. They run around the farm freely. And they actually taste like chicken, not the artificially plump, overly brined meat we’re so used to today.
So could I kill a chicken? I think yes, but it wouldn’t be as easy as I had rationalized…..