A chicken isn’t just for eating…

A chicken isn’t just for eating…well, it is but I’ll get to that in a bit.

I’ve had a few bone projects on the go since my last post and this time round I remembered to take some snaps!

I grew up with chickens, in actual fact they make rather good pets and follow you around the garden making wonderful noises, quite social birds. If you have a large garden then chickens may be the thing for you, if you have a smaller space bantams are just as nice, (bantam = smaller fowl). However if you have neighbours you might want to check the sex of your chickens before purchase as cockerels make a racket (and they don’t lay eggs).

The chickens I grew up with were ‘free range hens’, they had the run of the garden until they discovered Mum’s fruit canes and the veg patch…a run was made for them so they had plenty of space and they were safe from the local foxes too. The eggs from these hens were fantastic, nothing like you get in the supermarket, they were a rich deep yellow/orange and tasted amazing. These hens were kept specifically for egg laying only.

A couple of months ago my other half and I decided to get a chicken for eating from our local shop.

I washed out the chicken and cut the ties holding the legs together as the meat cooks better this way. I then cooked the chicken and made a nice roast dinner, I managed to pick all the meat from the carcass so that nothing was wasted.

Recently I’ve been working on assemblages with a lot of bird remains and after attending the recent PZG conference which had a session focusing on bird remains, I decided to start producing a bird reference collection. I already have a female blackbird on the go and I picked up a male woodpecker this weekend too.

As the carcass was still fully articulated I began by placing the whole thing in a bowl of warm water which I changed daily to remove the grease from cooking. After a week of this I began adding biological washing powder to the warm water, this helps to break down the proteins, ligaments and cartilage in the skeleton. I carried out this process for two weeks and began teasing the ligaments and cartilage away from the bones, some came away easily, others needed soaking for longer. This process is known as maceration which I’ve mentioned in my other posts before, however this experiment didn’t smell like all the others. My previous work with mammal maceration was an incredibly smelly and unpleasant process, the chicken project didn’t smell bad at all and I managed to keep it in the kitchen! My theory for this is that it was a carcass used for food consumption rather than a week old road kill carcass.

When changing the water for my chicken, I used a sieve to catch all of the small bones like phalanges, as these are easily missed and get washed down the plug hole. I’m sure I missed a few, but being my first bird experiment I’ll know for next time (I have 3 pheasants in the freezer).

The bones have come out quite clean, although a bit of grease remains, so I’ll wipe them down with hydrogen peroxide solution or make a paste of bicarb of soda to clean them up. I decided to thread the vertebrae as they were so delicate, I did manage to lose one as it turns out this chicken is quite young and the remains were very fragile. As this bird is quite young, not all the epiphysis are fused onto the shafts so it’s not a great reference skeleton next time I’ll have to get hold of a complete adult bird to get the best results.