A bloody les­son for back­yard chicken keep­ers

A ‘Yard to Skil­let’ sem­i­nar shows ur­ban farm­ers how to snap, slash, pluck and gut.

Los Angeles Times - - The Nation - Dou is a spe­cial cor­re­spon­dent.

Fluffy white broiler chick­ens pecked around the back­yard while a group of two dozen peo­ple — a set of knives laid out be­fore them — eyed them war­ily.

Jor­dan Dawdy, his arm bear­ing tat­toos of chick­ens and other farm an­i­mals, gave the crowd the run­down: Snap the neck, cut off the head, drain the blood, pluck, gut, done. He has the whole process down to seven min­utes.

The group shifted un­easily. But they pre­pared to dive in.

Dawdy’s “Yard to Skil­let” work­shops are booked full in this col­lege town of 100,000. The lo­cal Cen­ter for Ur­ban Agri­cul­ture launched them in Au­gust, sev­eral months af­ter Columbia, Mo., be­gan al­low­ing res­i­dents to raise hens within city lim­its.

Sim­i­lar work­shops are be­com­ing pop­u­lar around the coun­try as a grow­ing num­ber of eco-con­scious city dwellers are rais­ing chick­ens for eggs and also have to learn how to some­times cull — a nice way to say kill — their chick­ens.

Classes are avail­able in West Con­cord, Minn.; Southamp­ton, N.J.; Liv­ingston, Mont., and other places.

Dawdy, 33, tells his stu­dents to think of the work­shop as a “meat gar­den.” The San Fran­cisco na­tive has slaugh­tered more than 1,000 chick­ens, most of them while work­ing on a farm in Ten­nessee. Now he’s teach­ing the skill to other city folk.

Among them is Joe Fornioi, 48, who grew up in New York. He re­cently started rais­ing hens for eggs in his Columbia back­yard and is think­ing ahead to the day when he’ll have to cull them.

“I’m do­ing it for the econ­omy and for self-suf­fi­ciency,” said Fornioi, a gun­smith by trade and fa­ther of six.

Oth­ers at the work­shop don’t have chick­ens yet but dream of rais­ing them some­day. El­iz­a­beth Lameyer, a 23-year-old graphic artist, is con­sid­er­ing re­turn­ing to her roots by start­ing a small farm.

“My grand­par­ents did this,” Lameyer said. “They didn’t want to teach me, but I want to know how to do it be­cause my goal is to be to­tally sus­tain­able.”

Work­shops like this cater to con­sumers who want to eat lo­cally and get close to their food. Dawdy said he’d seen many peo­ple at the work­shops who, like him­self, grew up in ur­ban ar­eas where meat usu­ally never ap­peared out­side a poly­styrene pack­age.

For his stu­dents, there was no fear of be­ing too far re­moved from the process. They all emerged with blood on their clothes.

Dawdy started by show­ing his stu­dents how to scoop up a chicken and break its neck with an up­ward-back­ward jerk.

He hung the bird up by its feet, still flap­ping and twist­ing, and cut off the head to drain the blood. Dawdy said a chicken will run around with its head cut off, but it’s not a good idea to let it do that.

“You’d bruise the meat and break bones,” he ex­plained.

Dawdy swished the now limp bird around in a pot of hot wa­ter laced with de­ter­gent to loosen the feath­ers. Af­ter pluck­ing, the chicken re­sem­bled any other pim­ply su­per­mar­ket bird, ex­cept for the yel­low feet still at­tached.

Next came evis­cer­a­tion. With a few cuts, the guts, liver and heart slid out eas­ily.

The lungs were trick­ier to re­move. Dawdy had to scrape around with his fin­gers to pry out the bright pink blobs.

“A lot of times, they just get left in there,” he said. “Some­times when you eat fried chicken and you’re like, ‘What’s that on the rib?’ That’s the lung.”

Fi­nally, a few strokes of the knife, and off came the feet and neck. He rinsed off the bird and popped it in a cooler. Dawdy looked around. “So, who’s next?” One by one, the oth­ers tried their hand.

“This is grosser than I thought,” Lameyer said, as she scooped her chicken’s guts onto the news­pa­per cov­ered ta­ble.

Across the yard, Jes Hodg­son dis­played her plucked, gut­ted bird to her boyfriend, Maxwell Philbrook.

“It was a bond­ing ex­pe­ri­ence,” she said. “Now when I eat it, I’ll like it all the bet­ter.”

Hodg­son and Philbrook planned to cook up a co­conut chicken curry that evening. They said the gore didn’t de­ter them from want­ing to raise chick­ens.

“I still think it’s a good idea,” Philbrook said. “Then your food is fresh. You know what they’re eat­ing, and you are what you eat.”

As the work­shop wound down, the par­tic­i­pants hosed their chick­ens clean and sealed them in plas­tic bags with ice wa­ter.

Those with stronger stom­achs ate wedges of wa­ter­melon and sipped cof­fee as they fin­ished up their first chicken culling.

Eva Dou For The Times

IN MIS­SOURI: Lind­say Akens, 26, a grad­u­ate stu­dent in pub­lic af­fairs, prac­tices gut­ting a chicken. The city of Columbia re­cently le­gal­ized hens within city lim­its.

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