As you may have read in Eve’s last post, my trusty side-kick J and I went on an odyssey to Greene, Iowa yesterday. For anyone who has never raised and sold their own livestock, there are a lot of preparations that go into selling chickens to you at the farmers’ market. Beyond the raising of our French breed of ‘Freedom Rangers’ for 11 weeks without some calamity of predation, violence of thunderstorm, and/or ignorance of human befalling them prematurely, the getting ready for processing day is a bit of a big deal.
First of all, you have to have transport coops and you have to know how many you need for the number of birds you have. This sounds simple enough: x amount of space per chicken times y number of chickens equals z number of coops having a particular square footage. Easy, right? No, not so much. Chickens are terrified by nature (thus the old adages and childhood name-calling). When handling them, it is essential that you both give them enough space to breathe, but not so much space that they can flop and flap around and hurt themselves while being moved. Too many chickens in the coop and you risk suffocation of the birds, too much space and you risk injury (not to mention the coops are very expensive and you can’t really afford to put 3 or 4 of them in each one when you have 300 birds to move down the road. From experience, we have determined that 8 full-grown broilers can fit properly in each of our transport coops without harm. For non-math majors out there, that comes to 37.5 coops for 300 chickens. Coops ready: check.
Then you need a means to transport the coops full of chickens for a 2 hour journey. Enter Ron Hulobar. Ron is a neighbor. He owns a 400 acre farm near us and it is immaculate. His grandparents bought the farm in the 50’s and his parents and now he and his family have run the farm ever since. It is a beautiful Iowa farm. He has lots of stuff that we don’t have. We are lucky to know him because he generously allowed us to use his livestock trailer to haul the chickens. I won’t bore you with the details of rewiring the truck to accept the trailer light connection (6-pin round) and getting the right sized (2 5/16″) hitch ball with the right stem diameter (1″). But we did agree on a barter whereupon Salt Fork would use the trailer in trade for an unnamed number of chickens for Ron and his family. Trailer staged: check.
So, because chickens get pretty worked up when they see perceived danger, it is best to move or handle them under the cover of night (basically the same strategy that racoons, skunks, weasels, opossums, and other unsavory characters take). This means after putting them away for the night and letting them settle down, staging the trailer and truck and coops near the chicken tractors, and after doing the rest of the nighttime chores, a crack team of chicken wranglers (J, our friend Nick Brown, and myself in this case) assembles in the night to catch, crate, and load coops full of chickens into the trailer. This involves me getting into the 24″ tall enclosed tractors full of full-grown roosters (150 to a pen) and blindly grabbing the legs of these fully developed 10 lb birds, two at a time, and handing them out to J or Nick to put them into the crates. Now, there are sharp talons and sharp beaks and strong flapping wings to contend with, so you wear good work gloves and full-length clothing to protect yourself, and you move with quiet determination. I move around on my hands and knees and grab one leg of one bird and then the leg of another with one hand and steady my own weight with the other hand as I hand the birds over. It’s a job only I have done on our farm. I don’t know that I trust anyone else to do it, but I also don’t know that I would ask anyone to do it. It is pretty intense.
With a much anticipated storm brewing to the west, we completed the task in good time: just over an hour and the rain held off until we were finished. We drove the loaded trailer out of the field and into the driveway to await our early morning departure. We finished at 10:50 p.m. J spent the night and we were both in bed sleeping by a little after 11. My alarm woke me at 2:30 a.m. I made coffee and loaded the road food and extra clothing and woke J. We headed out by 3:10 a.m. to Greene, which is 2 hours NNW. It is basically slightly northwest of Waverly, IA. You may recall that Greene was the backdrop to the documentary film called “King Corn”. But for our purposes we are not interested in the massive grain elevator in Greene, but the tiny privately run poultry processing shack at the end of a dead end road. Martzahn’s Farm and Poultry Processing is the name of the facility. It is small, but they employ local people, they do a good job, and they are state inspected. All things I either like or need to sell chicken to you at home.
Once reaching Greene at 5:30 a.m., we have to unload the chickens into holding coops at the processor. This takes another hour. We tell Arty, the proprietress, our order and discuss when the work will be done, then we head to Waterloo to visit family and friends while we wait. Arty calls at 11:20 and tells us the birds will be ready by noon. We head back. We’ve brought coolers and bins to put the birds in to haul back to Salt Fork. J and Arty trolly the birds out in old time shopping carts, likely from a grocery store that no longer operates near-by, and J hands me the birds a few at a time to load the coolers. The birds are fresh and beautifully processed. We head over to the local filling station for gas and ice. We pack the containers with ice and fill the tank and head home. It is 4:30 p.m. by the time we get home. We have just over an hour and a half before we have to do chores. We unload the birds into our chest freezers, dump the ice water and clean out the bins. We are exhausted, but the work is done and we are so relieved. We do chores and it is 6 p.m. J leaves to sleep and I stay up to put the chickens away for the night. It is 9:30 p.m.
WeWILL have young chickens for sale at the market tomorrow! We sincerely hope you enjoy them. All of this work is because we believe in it and because we actually like it. Some days are really long, but today is a new day and there is spinach to harvest and tomatoes to trellis. This is farming.
We will have the following at market tomorrow:
Broilers (young chickens)
Hope to see you there.