Note from the author: This post is on the graphic side so if you feel hesitation in reading or seeing pictures about butchering animals, it’s probably best to act on that instinct and skip this post. Notes about killing, cutting, and gutting a chicken follow.
Through some connections and conversations over the last couple of weeks, I came across 3 unwanted roosters. They were under a year old (still tender enough for butcher) and the owner had no use for them. A friend and I jumped on the opportunity to practice on some birds before our meat chicken co-op is complete.
At no cost besides time and effort, we could learn the ins and outs of slaughtering and butchering chickens. It would give us an idea of all the work necessary to bring chicken to the table, which ended up being pretty substantial when it’s a small scale like this. With this experience we would know if it was worth it to do it again when our chickens were ready or if we wanted to pay for someone else to do it.
So we both read articles and watched videos, but we knew that like anything else, the real education is in the doing.
Side Note: Some people are happy to teach their kids about the source of meat early on, but I had Mrs. Homesteader take the kiddos for a beach day. I figured that we’d be making plenty of mistakes this first time through (we did) and it might be a little scarring (it was).
You can find better “how-to” articles than this blog. These are just some notes from our first attempt at this.
We used the following equipment:
Table covered in plastic sheeting, metal pots with lids, propane burner and tank, 5-gallon buckets, coolers, rake, wheelbarrow, hammer and nails, plastic jugs, latex gloves, knives, dish soap, gallon-sized plastic bags, and paper towels.
After setting up all our equipment, we nailed a couple of plastic jugs (“kill cones”) to a tree to hold the chickens upside-down and let the blood drain into a pile of leaves in a wheelbarrow.
Click here for a picture of the chicken draining (warning: graphic)
We set up hot and cold water buckets to loosen the feathers, a bit of dish soap was in the hot bucket since that’s supposed to help.
After a thorough dunking, we pulled the feathers out to prepare them for gutting and then began the messy business of getting rid of the insides.
We re-watched some YouTube videos to make sure we got that part right. Finally we put the chickens in plastic bags to refrigerate for a few days before trying to cook one.
What did we learn?
A thorough setup saves a lot of time and hassle.
Once we started, I ended up darting back and forth a few times to grab various items we hadn’t thought about or didn’t know we would need. Now that we’ve done the whole process, we should be able to get everything setup right at the beginning.
Sharp knives are key.
From the first throat-slitting to the final gutting, we really appreciated how much time had gone into sharpening the knives. It made for a quicker, more humane kill and a much easier time when we were separating the meat.
We need to really swish the chickens.
We were worried about scalding the first chicken too much and accidentally cooking the meat. Unfortunately, our caution led to a long and tedious feather-plucking since we hadn’t scalded it long or thoroughly enough. We learned our lesson and the next 2 were much easier. We made sure to move the wings around and get hot water soaking in every part of the other birds.
Our location has a big bee problem. (not to be confused with a coffee place or over-sized insects)
I knew flies would be attracted to our work, but I had no idea how many bees would join in. There were about a dozen constantly buzzing about, crawling on and, most annoyingly, in the chickens. I was very reluctant to reach inside to get the guts when I suspected there might be a stinger waiting for me. I’m not exactly sure how to fix this problem since doing this inside isn’t an option.
In the end, we called the whole process a success and we’ll be better-equipped when our meat chickens are ready to go. We’ll let you know how the meat is!