Monday, December 3, 2012

What I Learned While Butchering Chickens

The weekend before Thanksgiving Todd and I were butchering our 4 month old roosters.    The main reason we were butchering one of them was because it had been crowing for over a week and I didn’t want the neighbors to shut down “Operation Meat Birds” we’ve taken on this year.  We decided to butcher 3 of the chickens I was pretty confident were roosters because we didn’t want to take the chance of having another one start crowing in the next few weeks.  We butchered the 3 most mature roosters leaving one to breed with the hens in the spring.

The 3 Roosters We Butchered
The Black One Was the Crower

I wasn’t sure if we would be able to butcher the chickens ourselves, but we both did just fine.

I have posted these links before, but I will post them again to anyone who wants to learn how to process some of their own flock. 

Part 1
Part 2 

I will be completely up-front and honest with you: the worst part was the first 2 minutes.  The head came off within seconds but what the video above didn’t prepare us for was the flailing of the wings that took place for over a minute.  I stood there watching in horror wondering if we did something wrong.  I will also tell you I will never be the one to cut off the chicken’s head.

After the wings stopped flapping, the rest of the process was pretty straight forward.  Dunk the chicken into water at 140-160 degrees for about 30 seconds to loosen the feathers.  Cool the chicken off in cold water, and start taking the feathers off.  This takes about 10 minutes when doing it by hand.

After removing the feathers, it is time to take the esophagus out which takes no more than 5 minutes.  After the esophogus is the removal of the innards and to cut off the feet which takes about 5-10 minutes.

Overall, it took us about 3 hours to process 3 chickens; however, we stopped for lunch in-between and took several breaks.  I would say it would take 20-30 minutes from start to finish if you were on a roll.

Two of the 3 Processed Chickens
(The yellow is because we had the water too hot when de-feathering this chicken.)

The question I always ask when we are doing something like this is: Is it worth it?

I cannot honestly answer this question with a definitive yes or no.  To save money: probably not.  To eat organically and locally: definitely!  We have not yet cooked up any of the chicken, so I couldnt tell you if there is a difference in taste.

It takes time to process the chicken, but I am happy knowing the chickens had a great life of roaming the yard eating bugs and vegetable scraps in their short 4 months here on earth. 

We will definitely be doing this again in the future; however, we will try to plan the processing in warmer weather.

It really is eye-opening to see how an animal goes from roaming around the yard to prepared for dinner.  I would recommend it for anyone interested in learning about how food is processed as well as for those looking to eat more locally. 

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  1. What a wonderful post! I commend you. I raise chickens and ducks and blog about farm life over at Fresh Eggs Daily. I would love for you to come visit and share at my weekly Blog Fest:

    Fresh Eggs Daily

  2. Megen
    I think it is super-cool that you did this.
    From what I hear, freshly-butchered chickens always
    taste much much better than what is bought in the store.
    I think that it would get easier through repetition too.
    A lot to think about!!

    1. Antonio,
      I think you're right about the repetition. We still havent cooked up our birds yet! We have so much meat in the freezer right now...we will get to it before the next wave of chicky babies come along. :-)

      Thank you for your comment!

  3. Hi, I found you from the Homestead Barn Hop. Wanted to share some things we've learned from processing our meat chickens. :) I do not consider myself an expert, but having "harvested" close to or over 100 chickens in the past 6 months we've found a few things that work. :)
    Prior to harvesting the chickens if you can add apple cider vinegar to their water source for about a week it will greatly increase tenderness (especially nice when you are dealing with older layers) and will cut down on the food they eat as well. It also improves their general health.

    For the killing- I highly recommend NOT cutting the head off. We have found the meat is more tender and the chicken is less likely to have an adrenaline rush impact the meat when you just sever the arteries without cutting through the windpipe. There is no need to cut through the spine until after they are plucked (if you have a plucker you can save the heads for your stock- adds lots of nutrients- though I warn people when they want to peek into the stock pot).

    Also the faster and more effectively they bleed out (when you cut through and sever the arteries) the less flopping and flapping they do. :) A nice side benefit!

    Thank you for sharing what you've learned. I am so glad to see people willing to do something uncomfortable and yet learn a new skill! :)
    Chara @ Stitching Hearts Together

    1. Chara,

      Thank you so much for this comment!
      I am going to have to email you and see how to just "sever the arteries." And what great information on the apple cider vinegar! I have read that it helps to keep them healthy, but I have never heard that it helps to increase tenderness!

      I am so glad you have commented on this post. I will have to talk to hubby about your suggestions for next time.

      Thank you again!

  4. I'm going to add my 2 cents worth as well. We've been processing our own meat birds for 2 years now and found that our homemade plucker is invaluable (we process around 27 at a time.) And because I never cook a whole chicken, but prefer boneless breasts and quarters, we basically spatchcock our chickens - cut out the backbone and take all entrails with it. My husband and I work together and can have one bird cleaned and in the cooler in minutes. Congrats to you for being willing to take on this task. I believe that we should know exactly where our food comes from and how it got to the table.

    1. Thank you for your comment.

      If you get this response, can you shoot me an email? I would love to learn more about your homemade plucker. And 27 at a time? That's incredible!

      Thank you for your "2 cents." They are worth alot more than that to me! :-)

  5. Wow, I learned a lot from reading this post. We are getting chickens but just for eggs (right now). We are going to be breeding rabbits, though. Hubby is going to be doing that. I love your blog- we are right up the same ally!

    PS. Disregard my reply to your comment on my blog. I don't know what my computer was doing but now I can see where to leave comments, obviously. haha

    1. Stephanie,
      That is awesome about the hens and the rabbits. I have considered rabbits, but I think I would become too attached to them. We started out with 6 pullets (hens) back in 2011. 2 of them died within 24 hours of bringing them home (I think one was sick and one was a freak accident). 1 was eaten by a red fox when they were living outside. And then we have had the remaining 3 hens since then. We have so many chickens right now because we ordered fertilized eggs from a micro-farm by where I work for our broody hen. The microfarm gave us twice the amount of fertilized eggs than we ordered, which was awesome. We cant pass up FREE! So now, we are "butchering" our way through the roosters (we have another one that I think will be butchered in the next few weeks because he's too loud) and waiting for the rest of them to start laying their eggs. In the spring, we will be breeding some of the chickens to make more chicky babies for processing.

      I love your blog too. It is so nice to meet like-minded people who are working toward the same thing.

      As a side note, I found this site about how much land it would take to become self-sufficient. I think you might enjoy it. :-)

      Thank you for leaving a comment!