Sunday, July 1, 2012

Chicken Shak

Welcome back to The Shak.

I thought that while I was updating I would give you a little status report on the chickens. They are a long way from chikdom. In fact, one of the Delawares, white ones, has begun laying pullet eggs. None of the others have yet gotten into the act.

Since the chickens pretty much take care of themselves and spend the daylight hours outside acting all goofy, I do not have a lot to say. I'll let the pictures do that. They were taken on or about 10 June, in and around the monstrous lilac near the little barn. Enjoy.

Thanks for stopping. Come again soon.


Welcome back to The Shak.

My effort to catch up on blogging continues. This will be rather shorter than my last few posts. It is nothing earth-shattering, but it may interest you nonetheless.

I am not exactly sure when I did the work. It may have been April. But whenever I did the work, I ended up with a compost pile.
After having trimmed many trees in the yard, I found myself with an abundance of relatively straight, long branches. I spent some time stripping off the little branches and piled the sticks around three sides of the area I wanted to cover.
With the sticks in place, I laid in grass clippings, rabbit droppings mixed with straw, cooking waste and whatever else I figured would compost. Then I covered it all with a layer of topsoil and watered it well.

I also ran hoses from the double basin in the courtyard through the fence. This keeps the water form the basins from draining into the courtyard and directs it where it is of use.
I have been dumping all I can in the composter. The whole thing gets rotated almost weekly. Which is  to say every time I clean the barn. The chickens scratch it up daily and I get all my fishing worms out of it. I just turn over a pitchfork full and pick them out. It also gives me a lot of highly nutritious mulch for the garden. I must be doing something right. It smells like dirt.

Thanks for stopping. Come again soon. 

Shak Rabbits

Welcome back to The Shak.

So, I have this little brown brick building three-quarters enveloped in lilac and tall grass. The inside walls are soot covered. Up until recently, it, like all the other buildings I have been reclaiming, was a catch all for stuff which had outlived its usefulness. From my point of view, it benefits from its lack of size. Measuring roughly 6’ x 6’ on the inside, it just cannot hold very much; therefore, I have less to clean.

I will say this. There was a theme and logic to what found in that building. Yard/Garden. I had re-commissioned all tools of use by March, when I began cleaning the courtyard. What was left leading 
up to Memorial Day weekend, disappeared. It was burned, recycled, reused, re-purposed, composted or land filled.
Having an empty brick box with a wooden top and door in-and-of-itself is nice. But doing something with it is exciting. Especially when one has a good pile of not-too-dry apple wood, a couple whole fryer rabbits in brine and a few hours on a beautiful Saturday afternoon in May.

You may have guessed what I’m up to here. It is a smokehouse. I will use it as such.

Once cleaned, I put an old car rim on the floor. This will contain the fire. The idea is to have a small smoky fire which over time brings the meat to 160 F. Using apple wood sticks I got the fire going, eventually adding larger, wetter sticks which act to increase smoke at the expense of flames. I find the heat of coals far preferable to the heat of flames in this application.

Before any fires can be lit, the meat needs to be prepared for smoking. Earlier, I mentioned brine. The meat must first be soaked overnight. To make brine is to dissolve salt in water. I use 2 cups of salt to 1 gallon of water. Having soaked the meat in a covered, plastic container in the back hall from noon to noon, I rinsed the meat, patted it dry and seasoned it.
Lemon pepper and Tri Color Sage

Lemon pepper
There is really no limit to seasoning possibilities. I chose to season one with only lemon pepper. To the other I added fresh Tri Color Sage to the lemon pepper. This I secured with a piece of string. I also put a few sprigs inside the rib cage and belly.  With this the meat is ready to go in.
Fire is going.
Rabbits are in.
I learned that placing whole fryers on a rack is probably not the best way to do this. The front legs, being so much smaller than the rear, reach temperature sooner and dry out. I see two good solutions to this problem. I could cut the rabbits or I can wrap them in string and suspend them front legs up from chains and hooks screwed to the rafters. Next time I’ll hang them.

It took about three hours of constant vigilance before they were done. I had to monitor the fire and add wood as necessary. I spent the rest of the time on a lawn chair in the shade of an overgrown apple tree with some of the chickens.

Lemon Pepper with Tri Color Sage
Lemon Pepper
Never having smoked or tasted smoked rabbit, I was happy to find that it had the taste and consistency of ham. It was just in a smaller package. Counting my first experiment a success, I expect even better results next time. With the garden growing, I now have a good selection of fresh and dried herbs. That will be a game-time decision.

If anyone can tell me why some of the words have a white background and/or why these ad-links are showing up in the text, I would appreciate any advice on making both go away. I can find no reason for the white background and if I wanted ad-links in the body of my blog, I would put them there myself.

Thanks for stopping. Come again soon.

Shak Rabbits

Welcome back to The Shak.

I have been busy. Yet, I am behind. Well, with blogging anyway. I have files of pictures blog-ready. The text is the problem....and this post is text heavy. Today is the fourth overly-hot, sunny day on end. Thought I would give my skin a rest, soak up some fluids and blog a bit.

Having so many things to blog about, I choose to keep it chronological. So, let’s get in the Way Back Shak and return to early May, 2012.

First of all, I would like to thank my friend and brother-in-law, Marty Mueller.  He is an avid outdoorsman who has just shy of infinitely more experience with slaughtering animals than do I. Not too mention, his eyes lit up when we talked about my raising rabbits for meat. He knew this day would come. Interesting how that same thought brings me to a different place.

On May 5th, Marty came over with the tools and know-how. Together we slaughtered the five rabbits remaining from the first litter. Due to my lack of practical knowledge, I knew what we needed; I did not know what to do with it. After having slaughtered those first five and coming to understand what facilities are required to do it quickly, cleanly and humanely, I found the perfect location for what I would like to show you now. Welcome to the slaughterShak.
Once upon a time the milk house.
Presently the slaughterhouse.
The erstwhile milk house is the location I chose. It has a cement floor with a drain. At present I hose water in when I am using it. There is a water pipe on the other side of the wall in the barn, but it needs repair/replacement. Not even I am crazy enough to sledge hammer cement in ninety-something-degree weather. That is on the list of things to do. For now the hose fills in well. There is a double basin on the left. I salvaged this during the garden cleanup. The legs which originally came with the basin were done. I used the gray shelving legs you see holding the basin. Those I found amongst the clutter in the milk house while cleaning it. Held together by two diagonally run lengths of chain, the whole thing is quite sturdy. It holds water very well. A couple old wine corks plug the drain holes as needed.
On the opposite wall is a seriously heavy-duty table. It remains pretty much where I found it while cleaning. I did raise it up about 8”. I am 6’ 3”and like my work surfaces at least 40“ high. Saves me the fatigue of a sore back and shoulders from stooping/hunching. You will also notice the dorm size refrigerator. As I can only bring myself to slaughter a couple a day, it is large enough to cool the carcasses before cutting. Cold meat is much easier to cut cleanly. Generally, I cut the rabbit in six pieces. Two front legs and shoulders, ribs, back and two rear legs. Having done this, I freeze the meat. I was freezing it in a couple layers of freezer paper. That will change with the next slaughter which begins 3 July. From then on, I will be sealing it in food saver bags. With the slaughterhouse refrigerator again empty, I dress a couple more rabbits and get them chilling. And so it goes until I am out of rabbits to slaughter.

I will say nothing of the actual dressing process in this blog. If it can be tactfully and tastefully done, I think that sort of thing lends itself more to video. Yet, if you look closely, you will see a chain with hook suspended from the rafters on either side of the center light. There too is a green, miniature “Louisville Slugger”. The chains hold the rabbit for dressing and the Slugger makes them much easier to hook.

I realize the emotions associated with all I have not said, may be causing you problems. I realize this because I live this.

Q: How does one bring oneself to kill an admittedly cute animal, not from a distance as with a gun, arrow or predator drone, but holding it in the palm of one’s hand and hitting it on the base of the skull with a piece of ash?
A: Humanely

After having experienced rabbit screams on the first day, and not knowing who suffered more, me or the rabbit, I found some of the research I had done, which involved holding the rabbit by the back legs, letting it dangle and then maybe getting a clean hit on it was not the best thing for either of us. First of all, I never dangle my rabbits from their back legs; therefore, I assume it is quite a shock for the rabbits to find themselves dangling from their back legs. I read somewhere that one should not kill a frightened/struggling animal if for no other reason than that it tightens the meat. It is also entirely unnecessary and possibly cruel to frighten the animal in the first place.

I found a better way. It has yet to fail me with eight-week-old rabbits. I take the rabbit from the cage in the rabbit barn, pet it while walking to the slaughterhouse. I also talk to it, thanking it for taking care of me in such an absolute manner. Once in the slaughterhouse, I hold the rabbit on my left forearm and hand, gently holding its front legs between various fingers, and pet it with the Slugger which is in my right hand. The rabbit is very relaxed at this point. With one quick, hard, downward swing of the bat, the rabbit tenses slightly. I then place it on the table where it relaxes and goes limp over the span of a minute or so while I contemplate existence. There is some nervous twitching and kicking in some rabbits; however, the rabbit is quite dead on the first strike. And because it is relaxed as opposed to squirming at its moment of death, it is possible for me to hit my mark; thereby making that moment a quick one.

While I am at it, I would also like to tell you this. A couple mornings ago I went out to the barn to feed the minions. One of the does I kept from the first doe's first litter could not move her rear legs. After further investigation, I saw that she had a broken claw and blood on there left rear paw. My theory is this. She got her foot caught on something and broke her back when she hopped. It hurt me to see this. She was not crying or in any visible pain. I did not want to slaughter her. She had been chosen as the best doe of that litter and I wanted her to have a long life. So, a freak accident happened. Now I have a 4.28lb rabbit in the freezer. That is life on the Shakstead.

Why did I tell you that little story? Well, this is a case where regardless of your opinion on killing rabbits for meat, the cruelty would have been in allowing that poor little being to live a slow, lingering death.

Finally, I would like to say this. If you have “problems” with the breeding, raising and slaughtering of rabbits or other animals for meat, I am not interested in arguing with neurotics, so please keep them for your next session with your psychiatrist. Ask that person to explain where food comes from.

Life feeds on life. The problem for some humans is doing so humanely. No such problem exists “in nature“. Neither the wolf nor the tsunami can moralize about being the wolf or the tsunami. I am neither a wolf nor a tsunami. While I do not enjoy killing, we do all NEED to eat.

Thanks for stopping. Come again soon.