5:30 a.m., alarm clock goes off. I reluctantly get out of bed. No time to waste, even though I would rather sleep til my normal wake-up time of 6:00. Today I have to take the broilers to the processor before I go to work.
Dress, and go downstairs where I pack DH's lunch (apple from our own tree, leftover bean soup and zucchini muffins from Wednesday's dinner, some saltine crackers and a granola bar). Eat breakfast of granola and milk with a sprinkling of mini chocolate chips. Dark chocolate, it's healthy, right?
Head outside in the hellacious wind. 30+ mph, predicted to last all day. Drive the pick-up to the barn, where I locate (in the dark) the old dog crate and rabbit cage that I use to transport poultry. Toss those into the bed of the truck, and drive down the driveway to where the broiler pen sits in the orchard. It is about two hours before the sun rises, but there is a full moon, so I have a little light to see the chickens with. Not a lot, not enough to make the chickens want to run around (yay for chickens' tendency to stay put when there is no light), but enough that I can at least see them.
Imagine, if you will, me bent over double (because the broiler pen wasn't built low enough to reach in from the top and be able to grab birds or tall enough to actually stand up in) walking through the door of the broiler pen, going to the nearest chickens, picking up one with my left hand and one with my right. Picture me duck-walking, backward, with a chicken under each arm, out of the broiler pen. See me stand up, turn, take two steps to truck, open cage (or dog crate) and insert chickens. Then picture me repeating this move 16 times, plus one more time with just one chicken tucked securely under my armpit.
Yes, that's right, 35 chickens. What was I thinking when I ordered that many?!?
Despite the temperature of less than forty degrees, and the wind making it feel more like 20-something, I was sweating in my jacket. But I took my winter weight Carhartt along in the truck, because I knew I would be wanting it by the time I got to work.
6:25 a.m., I pulled into the driveway of the processor (aka a neighbor/guy from church). We unloaded my cages of chickens, and I headed off to work at the horse farm.
6:50 a.m., I got to work, just a few minutes early, and began the morning feeding ritual. Grain for 20 horses and administer oral meds for one gelding with a urinary tract infection.. Then put all 20 out in their respective turnouts for the day. It is still dark outside at 7:15 when I am doing turnouts.
Once they are all outside, it is time to hay them all, pulling from a round bale and weighing each horse's serving to make sure they are getting the correct amount for their weight. When I have pulled enough off the outside of the bale to make the core of the bale light enough, I can pull the core over and just unroll it in long sheets, then stuff that into the baskets we use to carry the hay. Which, like duck-walking with chickens under my arm, is sweat inducing work.
This current round bale is a little dusty, so I am wearing a bandana over my nose and mouth, Old West outlaw style, to keep from inhaling too much of it. Personally, I don't care for round bales (my hay is made in square bales) and this is why.
rollin' out a bale core
The average horse gets ten pounds of hay per feeding, a few get just six or eight but some get as much as thirteen pounds. Each basket holds a meal for one horse. Carrying two baskets in each hand, I am hefting anywhere from thirty-six to forty-five pounds of hay per delivery. That's breakfast for four horses. With twenty horses I am making five fully loaded trips per feeding.
Oh, hey, look, the sun is finally coming up, nearly three hours after I got out of bed!
pretty in pink (and purple) sunrise
Have I mentioned that it rained all Tuesday night and all day Wednesday? Plus a portion of Wednesday night? Which means I am slogging through mud, varying from just-the-greasy-top-1" layer, to the past-your-ankles-beware-of-losing-your-boots kind, in order to deliver all these baskets of hay.
After every horse has it's hay, I need to put ointment into the eye of one horse that has a corneal ulcer, then paint the soles of another horse's hooves with turpentine. An owner calls my cell phone, requesting I replace her horse's light sheet with a mid-weight one, since the wind chill is kind of uncomfortable this morning.
Then it's time for me to start working on the dinner feeding, putting grain and hay into each horse's stall for when it comes in that night. One horse is having a tooth problem, and needs a mash made up and set out to soak. It needs to soak at least eight hours before feeding, so I have to make sure I have that all stirred together and watered down before 9:00 a.m.
Just as I am finishing up my duties at 10:30 a.m., including getting a stall ready for a horse that will arrive on Friday, my cell phone rings again. It is the processor, letting me know that my chickens are ready and I can pick them up on my way home from work.
With three empty coolers in the cab of the truck, I arrive next to the butchering shed that I left my chickens at in the pre-dawn. They are now naked headless and footless bundles of meat in plastic bags, ready for me to take home and put into my freezer. Except that I will be 'parting out' nearly half of them once I arrive home; making packages of boneless skinless breasts, leg quarters, wings for special occasions, and soup carcasses.
But once I get home and unload the coolers from the truck, it is after 11:30, and I'm feeling like a break. I decide to eat lunch before tackling the chicken cutting I need to do. Now I'm thankful that it's cold outside; making the chickens sit out an hour while I take a lunch break and prep for packaging won't harm the meat any.
I rustle up some leftover soft taco shells and refried beans from Tuesday night's dinner. Reheated, with a good amount of colby jack shredded over the hot beans, it makes a satisfying lunch. Now I'm ready to tackle those chickens!
bowls at the ready, for holding parts as I cut them off
First, I weigh each one. Any under four pounds (your typical grocery store chicken is three to four pounds) go in the freezer whole. That is about 20 of my 35 from this batch. The larger ones are five pounds plus, and I get to work cutting those up.
Into one bowl goes wings. Another gets leg quarters. The third gets boneless skinless breasts. The remaining chicken carcass gets bagged in pairs for making soup stock. While I am cutting up chickens, I am listening to music. My tastes are a bit eclectic, covering many genres. First up is Mozart. Then Mark Chestnut (circa 1999). I had Def Lepard waiting in the wings, but finished with my chickens before Mark Chestnut got done singing. Another time, Def Lep, I promise.
K2 and kids arrived home just as I was cutting up the next to last chicken. Of course K3 was very curious as to what I was doing. She also asked me where the chickens that were in the broiler pen the night before had gone (she had noticed their disappearance while driving down the driveway that morning).
Now, explaining to people where food really comes from can be difficult, as they usually are repulsed. In my experience, however, young children are mostly just curious and not so put off by the thought of eating dead things as older children and adults are. So when K3 asked where the chickens went, I pointed to pieces in the bowls on the counter, and the two birds that were still intact, and said "Right here. These are the chickens that we grew. They went to the processor this morning so we can put them in the freezer and then eat them when we want to cook chicken for dinner."
She looked at my bowls of parts a little confusedly, and then poked at the whole chicken that was sitting closest to her on the kitchen island. "That's what a chicken looks like with no feathers, and it's head and feet cut off" I told her.
She leaned closer and examined the chicken. Then she grabbed one wing tip and moved it around. "And this is a wing?" She asked.
I confirmed that it was, indeed, a wing. And we named the other parts on the chicken, then I pointed out those same parts all ready cut off and in the bowls. She watched me finish cutting the last two chickens, then package up all the parts in meal-sized vacuum sealed packages for the freezer.
Meanwhile, K2 was unpacking the groceries they had bought while they were out. Including a whole chicken she was intending to cook for dinner. (Smack head. Yes, on this day when I am having 35 home grown chickens butchered, she goes and buys one from the store to cook for dinner. I'm still working on teaching her about planning ahead and using what you've got. . .)
After packaging all the chicken pieces I stuffed them into the chest freezer and the freezer on the beer fridge. Literally!!--I told DH we would need to get the upright freezer up and running to store all these chickens, but had he run an outlet to the part of the basement where the upright freezer now resides since DS2 and family live in the electrified portion? No, of course not. So I was shoving chicken into every little nook and cranny I could find. You can bet your hind end that if he gets a deer with his bow there will be a new outlet in the basement before that deer has cooled to ambient temperature!
Anyway. . . Once the chicken was all stored away, and the island cleaned off, it was nearly 3:00. Approximately nine hours since I had started loading chickens into the truck that morning. And I was feeling rather worn out. Also grubby. Cutting up animals will do that for you. So I went for a nice hot shower, then stayed upstairs in the peace and quiet for a while (K2 and kids downstairs) hoping to regain a little energy. Bedtime was a long way off and I didn't think I could make it that long without a little breather.
DD2 texted me from college with a few questions about canned soup. Apparently she had made a "Walmart run" (one of the few grocery type stores near her campus, and there is a free bus for students from the dorms to the shopping area) and was thinking about stocking up on some soup she could heat in the microwave in her room for the days when she missed cafeteria hours due to class or meetings. I asked if she had bought herself a winter coat yet (could not find here, in August, a winter weight coat suitable for Upper Peninsula winters, so she had gone off to college with the plan to buy one up there in the Fall). Nope, not yet. But she'd been looking at a few, so that lead to a conversation about brands, styles, insulation factor, etc.
While upstairs I cut out several squares of fabric for some handkerchiefs I am planning to make as Christmas gifts. And I did some knitting, but found myself losing the game of yarn chicken (where you run out of yarn just before you get to the end of your knitting project.) Which lead to a dilemma: do I drive thirty minutes and to downtown Lansing to the store I bought that yarn at--during the shop hop I did with my mom earlier this month--in order to get a matching skein, or do I see if perhaps I can order some online and have it shipped for less than it would cost me in time (aka lost productivity at home) and gas to go to Lansing and back? I all ready knew my local yarn store didn't carry it, that was what had prompted me to buy it while shop hopping in the first place.
Which lead to a good hour spent online doing some price comparisons and deciding to just go ahead and order it from Amazon. Along with a few other items I'd been thinking of buying (*ahem* a replacement for the freezer paper and paper roll holder/cutter a friend of DH's had bought us several years ago as a thank you for letting him hunt our land for no charge, but since then constantly asks to borrow when he needs to wrap a quantity of meat and so far has had at his house for the last six months straight). Honestly, it was DH who suggested I should just purchase duplicates of those items and forget about getting the originals back.
Adding those two items to my yarn order brought the price up enough to qualify for free shipping. So I have to wait until next week for it to arrive, but it's not like I don't have a long list of other knitting projects I could start while waiting for the yarn just so I can knit a thumb into a glove and finish my current knitting project.
Since K2 was cooking dinner (she cooks two nights a week; I cook the other five due to her work and class schedule), I had that free hour to do my online shopping. Otherwise I would normally be in the kitchen that time of day, and two days a week I'm not only cooking dinner I'm babysitting K3 and Toad at the same time). However, since she cooked, that meant it was my night to wash dishes. Which meant I had less free time after dinner.
Once we'd eaten (and K3 picked at her chicken and dumplings, I think still processing the idea of feathered chickens she knew and had helped feed into naked headless footless chicken on the counter into meat chunks on her plate), I took K3 out with me to shut in the pullets and laying hens and check for eggs. In my mind, she needed to be reassured that we still did have some live chickens at this little place here. She seemed to perk up once we were in the hen house checking the nest boxes for eggs.
Back in the house, it was time for washing those darn dishes (oh how I hate washing dishes). By then DH had come in from the woods where he'd gone deer hunting after work. We exchanged bits about our individual days. He again has had coworkers asking, since we 'live out in the country', if we have a pole barn with room they could store their boats or campers in over the winter. Apparently storage in the more suburban areas is getting harder to find, and if we had room we could make $200-$300 a month per boat/camper/RV in storage fees. DH has been thinking, off and on for about two years now, if we should put up a large pole barn and do just that. Each time he brought it up in the past, I had reminded him that we still have an unfinished horse barn and no fencing and I am still working to pay board on my horses who live at someone else's farm. This time, however, I didn't need to say anything, because he followed his "maybe we should put up a pole barn" thought with "get me a price for what you need to finish your horse barn and fences and I think we will get that done and put up a storage barn too. We could make our money back in storage fees in just a handful of years, plus then you could bring in boarding horses too". Now we're talking!
Once that topic had been exhausted for the time being (until we both get some actual dollar figures lined up), I got out a ball of dishcloth yarn in red, green, and white and began to knit one of my Christmas gift knitting projects.
By 9:30, I was just too drowsy to knit well. So I told DH I was going to call it a night. 5:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m., mostly spent on my feet or otherwise 'working' at one chore or project or another. 16 hours. Not my typical time table (normally it's 6:00 a.m. feet hit the floor running to 10:00-10:30 p.m. feet off the floor for the night), or exactly what I do each and every day, but the length of day and amount of it spent engaged in productive activity is about the same.