Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Florida Permaculture, Life on the Urban Farm

Never name an animal that you plan to cook later and don’t be surprised if the critters jump and fly or run after you’ve removed their heads.

Animals are put on the earth here for food for us, plain and simple.  And the whole purpose of starting with twenty six chickens was to have enough to cook one every couple of weeks on top of all the eggs we’d get.

Kevin & Judy's Urban Farm Fowl (Turkeys)

Kevin & Judy's Urban Farm Fowl (Ducks & Geese)

Kevin & Judy's Urban Farm Fowl (Baby Goose)
Even Momma told me about her Mom, my Grandma, who’d clean a chicken each week in Miami and cook the very best fried chicken one ever tasted. 

Never mind the fact that it has taken ten to twenty weeks to raise up the fowl from the cute little fluffy balls of chirps, gobble and quack, fifty pounds of weekly scratch feed, countless thousands of gallons of fresh water and the emergence of a strange but strong love-hate relationship, the animals are meant to be eaten.

My friend Pascale, the green roof expert from France even recommended mustard with cooked rabbit on a stick.

Judy however has decided that raising an animal from babyhood commands too many feelings of love and protection to take the killing and eating of what have essentially become our pets lightly. She woke up breathless one night from a dream in which we were eating rabbit stew.   We were eating Jack, Ruby, Thumper, or Midnight. This was when we understood we'd probably not try to breed more rabbits for food, them being mammals and all. 

The chickens should have been easier, but Judy grew very attached to the hens also. Raising them from fluffy little day old chicks (what could be cuter?) to awkward but endearing pullets and on to beautiful hens with iridescent beauty and sweet natures has made it very hard to want to eat our cluckers. I think we are just not hungry enough perhaps. 

Then there is the question of “embodied energy” and not just the spiritual idea of sacred life force. Embodied energy is the issue of how much water and food it takes to raise a chicken, duck, turkey, goose, or rabbit to a mature eating size. 

Judy has come to the conclusion that it isn’t wrong to eat meat or to raise and kill your own animals for food. Animal food is nutrient dense in a way that our bodies can utilize well. Raising your own meat animals is kinder to the critters in the long run than buying factory raised animals. 

Killing and eating an animal is a momentous act and shouldn’t be taken lightly. Perhaps this is why there were so many laws concerning the killing and eating of animals in the Old Testament, such as a lamb not being cooked in it’s mother’s milk and other rituals concerning the slaughter of animals including offering them to God. Contrast these ancient ways with the modern practice of supermarket meat wrapped in plastic and styrofoam and the practice of basing our diets on meat, such as some of  the ill-advised “low- carb” diets. 

Moreover, I’d suppose many of us would stop eating meat if we had to kill the critters and dress them out, disposing of the innards and carcasses.  Importantly, most cities and municipalities who allow for Urban Farm animals prohibit the slaughter of said animals in residential areas.  However, there are many licensed butcher and slaughter houses across the country, one probably not too far away from your farm.

A sharp machete and well placed swing will quickly dispatch most of the Urban Farm animals.    Butcher block and butcher knife will also work.  The knife’s motion must be swift though, to minimize pain.  Don’t be alarmed if the hen, goose or turkey continues to cackle, hoot or gobble, even without their heads.  A large, twenty pound headless turkey can especially put on a show, flying across the Urban Farm backyard, slinging blood everywhere.   If you are going to clean your own meat, be prepared to handle the gore.

Our uncomfortable adversity to killing and dressing backyard farm critters is only a couple generations displaced.  Grandparents thought nothing of slaughtering, cleaning and cooking a backyard bird or rabbit.  Really, it was the early Baby Boomer generation first forsaking the raising and killing of hens for Sunday dinner.  My mother has spoken of watching her momma cutting the hen into fryable sections soon to become delicious fried chicken.

Keep your knives sharp.  A sharp knife makes the job so much easier.  Once you’ve mastered the art of beheading and cleaning a farm critter, it should take no more than ten minutes from picking up the critter slated for the kitchen to the final wash of the meat.

I recommend a heavy butcher knife, a large, long serrated knife and a small paring type knife.  The head should be removed first, with a swift blow from the heavy butcher or a swing from a machete.  Be sure you don’t cut off your fingers and be ready for the blood.  A handy hose helps with the mess.

Separation of the legs and wings using the serrated knife follows the head.  Place the head, legs and wings in a garbage bag and using the small paring knife, slit the outer layer of skin from the neck down the chest about four inches.  Set the knife on the butcher table and using both hands pull the skin and feathers away from the underlying meat.  The skin should easily come off, similar to a pair of pajamas pulled off in the morning.

The feathers and skin goes into the same garbage bag as the legs, wings and head.  Once the bird is de-skinned it is time to remove the entrails.  Open the birds chest with the small sharp knife and reach in, grasping all the internal organs and intestines, pulling them out and placing all the guts in the garbage bag.  Try not to puncture to intestines.  Be sure to remove all internal parts and wash the cleaned bird down with the pressurized water nozzle.  Wash the carcass even more thoroughly if the intestines are punctures during the cleaning process.

Cleaned critters can be cooked immediately or wrapped in plastic grocery bags and placed in the freezer.

Urban Farm critters that are allowed to free range grow tough and stringy very quickly.  If you choose to eat your animals, consider cleaning the young and tender.  Sinewy meat may smell good in the oven baking or on the range frying but once stuck tightly in between teeth, opinions quickly change.

Killing and dressing your Urban Farm fowl and rabbits is the most honorable way to eat meat if you choose to do so.  Taking full responsibility for the death of and cleaning the of a creature before enjoying his or her meat is an educational opportunity.  Understanding the full impact of meat’s life cycle creates sustainability, it creates an intimate awareness of our actions.  Though we may choose for a season to ignore how  grocery store meat arrived on the shelves or in the freezer, the ignorance will eventually catch us individually and as a nation.  Participatory meat preparation celebrates the gift of meat made by your critter and sheds light on the true value of life.

Even better, consider becoming a vegetarian.  This may be easier than you think, for once you experience killing and dressing out a bird or rabbit, your personal attitude concerning carnivorous habits may change.   

Judy may agree to eat some of the ducks, geese and turkey that are already put in the freezer, but meanwhile it is still summer and it is easier to have a vegetarian diet supplemented with our fresh eggs and organic yogurt right now.   Me; due to the spiritual complexity and cost effectiveness of killing and dressing out, I am pretty much done with the meat (though it is amazing just how quickly we soon sometimes forget).

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