May 20, 2011

Butchering Chickens

Well, we did it. We butchered our first meat chickens. There were 3 of them. They were given to us about 6 weeks ago from friends who could no longer keep chickens. The chicks were 2 weeks old when we got them and they were huge already. They are bred to be that way... grow fast, bulk up quick and ready to be butchered at 8 weeks old. They won't live much longer after that anyway, so if you feel bad about it, it may help to realize they don't live much past 10 weeks and are then susceptible to a heart attack because of their size.

It was a little nerve racking for my husband and I, for this was our very first time to process chickens. Process sounds a little better than butcher, and butcher sounds a little better than slaughter...what can I say. It was one of those had to be was time...and there was no turning back. We took the whole process very seriously, researched the process on the Internet and watched tutorial videos on YouTube prior to the big day.

We did everything as respectful and humanely as we thought we could. It is not as if we take pleasure in killing a chicken, but this is how our forefathers lived and we have a lot of respect for learning how to live without Mr. Grocery Store. It is definitely an interesting process and I have much respect for people who lived off the land...and there, of course, are still people who live off the land. There's something to be said for learning basic survival skills. I love it.

This photo makes me laugh because the little 8 week old egg layers came over for a look at the pot of steaming water over the fire. If they only knew what this pot of water was going to be used for, they wouldn't be hanging around. For some reason, this makes me think of Bugs Bunny and the episode where he is about to be made into "Hossenfeffer". I don't know how that is spelled. But does anyone remember that. The cook lures Bugs Bunny into the pot of hot water and Bugs doesn't realize he is about to be cooked. Do you remember "Bring me my Hossenfeffer!"

The photos I am about to show you are not meant to offend and be cruel. Also, I kept the more graphic photos away. Like, there are no photos of the chicken getting it's head cut off, so don't worry! I wanted to share with you the process of butchering a chicken. There is one part that was not photographed and that was the part where we gutted the chicken. Mostly the reason for this is our photographer which was our 13 year old neighbor took off with our boys to go ride bicycles. I was the one taking photos in the beginning, and then once I started to help with pulling the feathers, he took over.

In the photo above, the chicken is placed through a plastic milk jug. The bottom of the milk jug is cut off and the neck of the milk jugs is cut wider for the chicken's head to fit through. Putting the chicken into the plastic milk jug helps to keep his wings from flapping around like crazy after you cut the main artery in his neck to bleed him out. Also the handle on the milk jug is very helpful. You can have one hand on the handle of the jug and the other hand is holding the chickens legs just above the feet.

In the photo below, you can see my husband trying to feel for the pulse in the chicken's neck. This was a tip we found on the Internet. He never could feel it and had to go with gut instinct. As I mentioned, this was our very first time doing this and everything was a learning process.

I'm not going to show photos of the chicken hanging upside down and bleeding'm not going to do that. So, I moved on to the next step. Once the chicken is pretty well bled out and completely dead, you dunk them in very hot water for about 8 seconds making sure to get all of their feathers wet. This process will insure that the feathers will come out very easily.

Here's me plucking feathers which, to my surprise, came out very easily. Notice the look on my face. That's pretty much how I looked from beginning to end of the whole experience.

Out of respect for the chicken, I blurred out his face and cut neck. I feel like this chicken is on an episode of "Cops". We hadn't cut off his head at this point, but we could have.

You can see behind me is a garbage can where we threw all of the feathers.

My husband hosed off the chicken after we felt we felt we got all of the feathers off.

In the photo below, we had started on our second chicken. This time I was the one holding the chicken in the milk jug instead of my son. I wanted to be part of the experience and I wanted to learn. However, I did not do any of the cutting. I could have if I wanted to. I kinda wanted to because like I said, I want to learn and have the experience of doing the whole process. I just couldn't bring myself to do it, so all of that was up to my husband.

Here you can see we threw the chickens in an ice bath in a cooler. There were completely plucked of all feathers and their head cut off.

By the time we got to the third chicken, we realized we should have cut the bottom half of the legs off before we put them in the ice bath. My reasoning for this was because of the dirt on the chickens feet. I just think it would be cleaner. So we pulled the other chickens out and cut the bottom of their legs off and then put them back in the cooler.

The only other thing we didn't do, which isn't a big deal is...we didn't singe off the tiny little hairs that are on the skin of the chicken. You can do this with an outdoor gas burner. You just quickly and briefly hold the chicken over the fire and singe off any tiny hairs. We decided that since we would be cooking our chickens on the grill, we didn't need to do this step.

At this point, the chickens had not been gutted. We decided this would be a good time for us to take a break, throw away the gloves, go in and wash our hands, and get something to drink.

We had no idea how well it would go with the gutting process, but it went just fine. There are no photos of this process, but that's ok, I have photos in my mind. It was a little gross and freaky pulling out the intestines and stomach and the heart and lungs and kidneys...etc. Basically you cut a slit in the anterior of the chicken at his bum big enough for you to put your hand in there. You have to be very careful to not cut into the intestines. If you do, it's not a bad thing, you just want to make sure you rinse the chicken very well. Anyhow, my husband did good and never cut the intestines.

As strange as it may seem...all you do is put your hand inside the chicken and start pulling everything out. It comes out fairly easily, but there is some suction working against you. Once everything comes out, and you look inside, it looks just like you would think....just like the chickens or turkeys you buy at the store that have already been cleaned for you. The very last thing to come out of the chickens were the lungs. My husband had me check each chicken to see if I could feel anything left. I did, but I could barely tell, I kinda had to dig my fingers down into the rib cage far up inside of the bird. There I found the lungs and kinda had to dig each one out with my fingers. I only knew this from watching the video I saw on YouTube. I am so glad we watched that video. It was very helpful.

In the photo below, you can see the finished product. What a beautiful bird! Once inside, at the kitchen sink, I rinsed the bird well and dabbed it dry with a towel. I then double bagged it in two one gallon freezer bags and placed them in the freezer.

I was very proud of us when it was all over. We researched how to do this and actually did it! It was a good feeling. I felt like an Ole' farm wife! Well, you've read my profile...I'm a wanna be farm girl! Now I'm one step closer!


  1. This is a really interesting post. I don't think I could do it though. I would make a lousy pioneer woman.

  2. HAHA!! Good for you!! When I was little, my grandma would come over and help kill the birds. She was about 5'0". .and when she got behind that big butcher knife. .LOOOK OUT! She laid that knife on its little head on the block and Wham! That was that. .no milk cartons there. .maybe a little less interesting for your boys. .but nicer for you!! And. .yeah. .I remember the hossenfeffer! Great post!

  3. Ah! Nice to see some reality out there. You bring back memories of butchering chickens as a child. Mom would have 100 and we would do 5-10 a day. ALL AUGUST. Even though that was 25 years ago I could still butcher in my sleep. You did a great job and that is a fat chicken!

  4. Oh good for you Bonnie. You should be very proud of yourself for a job well done. I've never done this, have wanted to, but I just haven't had the nerve yet. Wow is all I can say. Great job and thank you so much for sharing with us. If I ever get the nerve I will refer back to this post for help. Thank you!

  5. My face would have looked a mirror image of yours, but I absolutely 'get' it. Credit to you for facing up to a whole lot of uncomfortable in the pursuit of true and honest and real.

  6. wow. that is really impressive. I've never done that but I feel like I should learn as a way to better understand the cost of what I eat and better appreciate it. This was all so helpful. Thanks for you relating your experience.

  7. Does it taste any better than store bought? Definetly benefits knowing what they have been fed.

  8. This is fascinating! I also dream of being a farm girl, though currently I'm living in Seattle and not any closer to my dream. Someday though! :) I'm not sure how I would do in this situation. I would like to think that I could handle it like you did, but I'm not sure. It would definitely take getting used to! I applaud you and your family's efforts, that finished product looks perfect! I'm with Angie, how did he taste? Did he taste much different than a store-bought chicken?

  9. This is fascinating! I also have dreams of being a farm girl, though I ma currently living in Seattle and no closer to that dream than I ever was before. Someday though, I hope! I'm not sure how well I would handle this beheading process myself, though I would definitely want to try. You seem to have handled yourself really well! And that final product looks fantastic! I applaud you and your family for your efforts, and I'm curious like Angie; how did he taste? Does he taste better than a store-bought chicken?

  10. Ack, of course, my first post did go through after all. Feel free to delete one of my comments above! Sorry, and thanks!

  11. Your chicken looks just like our Mrs. White. She's 6 years old and still laying. A hawk killed one of our Auracanas this morning. Hubby looked out the window to see what the ruckus was. It was too late for Mrs. Fancypants. He was able to retrieve the fresh kill while the hawk dive bombed him. Then rounded up all our hens. They usually free range all day, but we've decided to keep them confined to the aviary until the thaw. I guess it's been slim hunting for the hawks in the deep freeze we've had. They usually hunt in the distant fields, not just out the back door. We even had to pluck it in the garage to keep away from that circling hawk. Chicken for dinner.

  12. Did you cut their heads off to keep it humane and fast or did you let them bleed out, which sounds horrific for them.