Tuesday, June 15, 2010

We've got blood!

At 10:00am this morning, Travis and I arrived at the Berry Blossom Farm. We went into their unassuming store front, the entire farm complex smelling of chicken (and I don't mean the fried kind). In the store, I asked for Alden and told them that we were hear to collect chicken blood. She seemed to have been informed of this possibility and went back to get Alden.

Alden came out dressed in quite messy clothes and a rubber apron. He said that we should come on in and get our blood. I informed him that our equipment (basically a styrofoam container filled with ice, 2 beakers, 50ml of 6% sodium citrate, and cheesecloth) was back in the car. As I walked back, I took a cue from Alden's appearance and removed my outer shirt so I was just wearing my undershirt. This was to be one of the smarter things I did today.

Alden escorted us through the maze-like complex until we got to a small room. The first thing I noticed about the room was the intense smell. It had an intense animal smell (imagine a room with 50 wet dogs) combined with undertones of blood. The scene seemed to be complete chaos with birds in various states of life and death (alive, dying, dead, plucked). A man who was doing the slaughtering moved quickly removing the dead chickens, putting in new ones, and rapidly dispatching these new be-coned birds with a swift twist of the knife in their throats.

A steel fixture with four steel cones each containing a dying/dead bird. Under the cones was a trough that caught the blood. To the left was the plucker. Basically, this consists of a washer machine type contraption, only there are numerous plastic "fingers" that stick out and remove the feathers as the chicken tumbles around inside. Due to the presence of this machine, feathers were continuously flying throughout the room.

Once we got inside this room, the chaos was infectious. Alden used a garden hose to wash down the cone we were going to use. I quickly asked Travis to pass me the largest beaker and the sodium citrate (which prevents clotting). I noticed a naked chicken come flying out of the plucker and land on the floor, I don't know if this is by design or if it simply escaped the plucker's grasp. I dumped the sodium citrate in the beaker. The next chicken was loaded; I put the beaker underneath the chicken and with a quick stab and a twist of the butcher's knife, the blood started flowing. I collected the slow drizzle of chicken blood. It took three chickens and about two minutes to collect 200ml of chicken blood, even with the butcher turning the head of the chicken so I could get every last drop. One minute through the collection, the women in the next room in charge of the last bit of cleaning of the chickens started singing. (Travis thought it sounded like chanting.) The clear tones of the women's voices clashed strongly with sight of chicken heads and blood on the floor.

Travis and I exited the building. We poured the chicken blood through a cheesecloth to remove the feathers and other various non-blood elements and put the cleaned blood on ice. As we were leaving to go back to Gettysburg to extract the red blood cells from the whole blood, we were stopped by Alden.

"Do you have a way to keep a chicken until you get back?" he asked. "We have a few extra."

"Sure," I said. So Travis and I returned to Gettysburg having bringing back some chicken blood, a frozen chicken, and experience we probably won't forget for a while.

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