Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Windy Whizbang Weekend

About our Whizbang chicken’ pickin’experience! Sandhill CSA finally got around to processing our first round of broilers for the season, and the week or two we waited to do the job was well worth it. We finally made good on our intention to implement a mechanical chicken plucker into our processing regimen. Of course, we were not going to spend the $1200 to $1400 to buy a store-bought one. We have forever been seeing ads for a do-it-yourself model called the Whizbang Chicken Plucker, whose plans were drawn and the model developed by Herrick Kimball, a long-time backyard chicken farmer. Indeed, the whizbang model plucks two chickens in less than 20 seconds, and makes the whole processing event go along more smoothly, with a significant reduction in arthritic manual feather picking.

We only lost one chicken in this round of 50, and we don’t know why it didn’t make it. The other birds, considering the additional time we fed them out, weighed in mostly between 5 ½ and 6 ½ pounds, and were all very nice looking chickens. We were very pleased. The extra costs of feeding 50 six pound birds, however, was significant. At any rate, we wanted to wait until the plucker was built.
The plucker, in fact, could not be built by Jenn and I - not reasonably. While it says anyone can put it together, there is a need for familiarity with a number of skills, such as pulley and v-belt applications, electric wiring, and extreme attention to detail. Fortunately, our neighbor Jack has all the skills necessary to build chicken pikers, and a lot of other mechanical interests. So, he being retired, was happy to tackle the project just to see if the crazy thing would work. Jack spent about four or five days putting it together, with a number of trips to the store being found necessary, and a little more waiting for special ordered parts. While Jenn and I might have gotten the thing together, it would have taken quite a while longer just to catch up with the mechanical learning curve. Jack has been a Godsend to our family and farm. And, the plucker works, with perhaps only a few modifications necessary.

We would have finished all of the birds in two days, only needing the extra day because Jenn had to work at the library. However, as Jack predicted Saturday morning, weather got in our way. With four chickens waiting to be processed, and five more left to cull and pluck, I noticed the darkest clouds I have seen in a while coming on pretty quickly, and I directed Micah and Rosa to shut in the layer hens while I attended to the broody hen and her chicks. Just as I had walked about halfway across the pasture, the wind picked up more, and Jenn came out to tell me the power was out. Then came the noise, and the top of the tree-line was swirling in circles, as were piles of leaves that had flown over from the woods. I started yelling very loudly to everyone outside, “go downstairs and take cover now!”

Everyone ran into the house, and I anchored down the tractor that contained the Ms. Broody and her chicks. This took some time, because the wind kept blowing the tarp off. At the same time, I heard that noise in the air to the south of us that suggested something more than a strong wind was developing. I was going to head downstairs, when I saw the chicken tractor that held the last five broilers, a test model I had made from PVC and tarp, was actually blowing away! I ran over, put it back in place, and then went to the garage to find more anchors. I actually ended up dragging old used tires out of the garage to hold the tractor down, and sat out there with the chix tractor for a few more seconds to make sure it would work. At some point, I decided there was nothing more that I could do, and ran into the house to go downstairs. However, I found one more thing needed to be done. There were four, plucked and nearly butchered, chickens sitting out in the heat of the chicken. I had to bag them up, and put them into the freezer outside in hopes that they would all stay fresh while the power was out.

Then I was ready to go downstairs, but a torrential rain began to fall, and I had to make another trip around the house to shut all of the windows. I did so, and then finally went downstairs to tell Jenn and the kids that everything was taken care of, and I would stay upstairs to monitor the sky. When I returned upstairs, everything was clear. It seemed like it had taken most of an hour to get through everything, but it had probably taken less than 10 minutes. Everyone came upstairs, candles were brought out, and we sat together in the living room eating melted ice cream and waited for the power to come back on. It didn’t until after bedtime, at 11:30, when seemingly every light in the house snapped on. Fortunately, it was only out for four hours, and all of the chicken in the fridge and freezer stayed fresh, and all of the broilers out in the pen kept their feet on the ground. At least for one more day.

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