Processing Chickens in Arcadia with Caroline Van Slyke
Photos, left by Kate Crowley, right by Caroline Van Slyke Farm to table
It was a beautiful Saturday morning in Phoenix, the kind of morning when posh couples with Suri-like children sip espresso at La Grande Orange and the fit triathletes of Phoenix have been up for hours enjoying the weather and getting in their weekly miles.
I was at Boho Farm and Home in Arcadia with Caroline Van Slyke, her husband David, his brother in law and a Scottish terrier . . . "processing" chickens. As a pet-chicken owner with several generations of farming in my background, I wanted to see if I could be a part of the process, er, processing, and learn something new. Ever since Van Slyke's son told me about sending the chickens to "freezer camp," I was curious about how slaughtering chickens in a backyard really works.
Kate Crowley Where it all went down.
Caroline was gracious enough to let me in on the process as a participant, and I tried to avoid setting expectations as I joined in and documented the process. And so, on a Saturday morning, I learned how to slaughter chickens.
I should make mention that a hip couple with a lovely baby and a pile of balloons arrives before me. Was I supposed to bring balloons? No, the couple and their photographer were using the front yard for a family photo shoot. I was headed to the backyard.
The Van Slykes keep a beautiful selection of egg-layers, but they also keep "meaties," poultry raised especially for eating. I showed up in jeans and flip-flops with purple dishwashing gloves and a bottle of wine. Poulet Rouge from Pennsylvania's Amish country are sunning themselves near the fence, watching us prepare for what is about to happen.
First, the men toast with sherry and we all gather, with gloves on, around an ice bin to say a brief prayer before beginning. Standing by are a long metal-topped table, more ice bins, a few knives, cutting boards, a bucket, bleach, a pot of boiling water, a pot of cool water, a hose, digital thermometer, and a traffic cone. There also are a few plastic tablecloths -- though in Boho Farm style, they are a green-and-white-checked pattern.
The traffic cone is turned upside down, affixed to a tree; part of the top portion of the traffic cone has been cut off. This process is broken up over two weekends, the first for a few males VanSlyke has and the next weekend for the ladies, who need another week to fatten up.
A bird is selected from the yard and carried through the gate. The cone method is used to keep the birds calm and to ensure the killing is humane. Chickens, in general, will relax when turned upside down. And so the bird is held gently by its feet and put into the cone until David sees the head come out of the other end. With a quick stroke, the neck is slit and blood begins to drain into the bucket below. There is not as much blood as one would expect.