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Tom Scanlan stood under the “kill” tree in the July heat while he explained the process to eight participants. After capturing a 15-week- old male silver-laced wyandotte out of the coop where he had isolated about 10 cockerels the night before, he tied it to the tree by its feet. He caught the chicken’s head in his hand, took several calming breaths and with a swift motion cut off the head and stepped back.
Scanlan was hosting his third chicken dinner workshop at RiverSong Farm in Taylorsville, where he and partner Sarah Fauber taught participants how to take a chicken from farm to table. Eight people, including two who had previously been to a workshop, came to learn not only how to prepare a chicken but also to see if they would be capable of butchering their own food. RiverSong Farm offers a discount for those who have already completed the workshop and can help others.
Ken and Patty Tench, of Louisville, had purchased eggs from Scanlan and Fauber at the St. Andrews Farmers Market and were excited to learn about the workshop this past spring. They had become uncomfortable with conventional chicken and the way it is raised.
The Tenches attended their first workshop in June and were confident at their second chicken dinner workshop. They demonstrated butchering, plucking and eviscerating the chickens alongside Scanlan.
According to Ken Tench, the best part of the workshop is knowing that he has an option for ethical meat-eating. “We’ve always been omnivores, and this gives us an option not to become vegetarians.”
Mike Baugh, of Taylorsville, who learned about RiverSong Farm at the Taylorsville Farmers Market, said, “I was so happy to find somewhere I could get my food without buying it all at Whole Foods.” He attended the workshop because he wanted to have a new experience that connected him with the past. Baugh remembered his grandparents slaughtering their own chickens for food.
Scanlan explained to the group that he had researched different methods of killing chickens and found that the most humane way was to hang the chicken by its feet and cut the head completely off, severing the jugular.
After the head was removed, the bird hung upside down for several minutes until the reflexes relaxed. The next step was to dip the chicken in scalding water and then in ice water. This helps to loosen the feathers and make plucking much easier.
“The very first time I tried it, it took an hour to pluck. I didn’t scald. It was a nightmare,” said Scanlan.
Removing the internal organs is the last step in the process, and one that caught some people off-guard.
“The kill was emotionally challenging, and eviscerating when the body was still warm was emotionally challenging,” said Rachel Anger of Louisville.
Natalie Bednark of Elk Creek, said that eviscerating her chicken was hard for her because she is an operating room nurse. “We’re so careful (in the OR). It was hard to rip out the insides. I was worried about breaking stuff.”
Fauber said there are several reasons that people participate in the workshops. “It’s not just about butchering a bird. It’s knowing where and how your food was raised.”
While several workshop members had trouble getting past the idea of killing a chicken with their bare hands, at the end of the day, everyone participated. Several people indicated that as meat eaters, they believed they should be able and willing to kill their own food.
Anger, who is planning to raise her own chickens for eggs, said “I believe in living sustainably, and if I’m going to be a meat eater, shouldn’t I be able to kill for it? Seems like the only truly responsible way to eat meat.”
Patty Tench, who is the manager for the St. Andrews Farmers Market, said, “Killing the chicken isn’t too disturbing. You have to kill it to eat it.”
Scanlan, who grew up in Finchville, says that it is important to him that people know they can feed themselves if the need arises. He believes in teaching his customers, especially those unfamiliar with farming, about the food chain.
“I think it’s important that people know where their food comes from – the farmer, the land. There’s nothing magic about it. They can do it for themselves.”
The next chicken dinner workshop will take place on July 31 from 4-7 p.m. at RiverSong Farm on River Road in Taylorsville. For a personal perspective of the chicken dinner workshop and more information on participating, please see Deanna’s blog at http://blog.funmama.net.