Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Hannah Fries: Butchering Day at Sky View Farm

With an increased demand for local meat, more small farms are taking steps to raise and process animals locally. But small-scale production can mean big risk, especially when things don’t go as planned. Adam Danforth’s Butchering books can help.

Dairy cows grazing at Sky View Farm
My friends Amelia Wolfe and Will Conklin are the proud farmers of the burgeoning Sky View Farm in Sheffield, Massachusetts. They raise milk cows, goats, pigs, and poultry and have recently started a meat share (of which my husband and I heartily partake). As backyard farmers, they seemed to be the ideal readers of Adam Danforth’s recently released Storey book, Butchering Poultry, Rabbit, Lamb, Goat, and Pork. So, naturally, I gifted them a copy and hoped they’d be able to use it. The other day I received this dispatch from Amelia:
Will and I gathered with our neighbors around 9 a.m. to start a long-anticipated butchering day. We and the neighbors had each raised about fifty chickens, so we were preparing to process ninety-six, which is a lot of blood, guts, and feathers to handle on a small farm in one day. While I’m a novice to dairying, I’ve been processing chickens on and off with my parents for over ten years. My neighbors have done it for at least twenty. None of us are newbie back-to-the-landers getting dirty for the first time. Despite our thirty-plus years of combined experience, though, something went very wrong. The mechanical plucker mangled our first few birds. If you only raise fifty birds, four is a lot to lose. I immediately knew what to do! I got out our new book and solved the problem in under five minutes. The diagnosis? The water temperature was too hot, over-scalding the skin and causing it to tear. We had always used a mechanically regulated scalding device or plucked by hand, so none of us had learned to check the scalding temperature. Because Danforth’s book seems geared to the backyard producer, the methods shown were nearly identical to our setup, and the adjustments we had to make were totally doable. I don’t have a picture to back this up because we tend to whip out the camera for frolicking calves and free-running hens, not for butchering day — but I am glad Storey did!
Amelia also told me that a quick inventory of their shelves turned up “at least four more” Storey books. “And they don’t stay in the shelf long,” she says, “because I refer to them so often.” Although cookbook pages are often spattered with chocolate or oil, Amelia noted that her butchering book is now, appropriately, spattered with a little chicken blood. She declined to send a photo of that either, but I’m glad the right book was on the shelf to save the day!
Sky View Farm piglets

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