Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Butchering Homegrown Chickens

The extra chicks that arrived with our duck and guinea order back in March grew up to be July's meat birds. They turned out to be beautiful Rhode Island Red roosters. The hatchery doesn't tell you what kind they are sending so I didn't know what they were until they were fully feathered. There were 10 chicks in the shipment and two died within the first two days. The other eight grew up very happily on "pasture" (our septic field, a large field full of green grass) supplemented with chicken feed. At night I cooped them up in one of our hoop-style chicken tractors and during the day they wandered all over eating bugs and plants. They lived a really good chicken life. We slaughtered four of them at about 15 weeks of age, which turned out to be a bit early. The other four we slaughtered at about 18 weeks and that seemed to be good timing. The older birds were larger and much easier to pluck because they didn't have a lot of new feathers growing in. (Short, immature feathers are very hard to grasp and pull out.)
Mr. Chanclas retrieves a rooster from the tractor. Holding the bird upside down calms it.
I've written before about why we eat our chickens. Below I'm including a series of photos from our most recent slaughter day. None of the photos are gory or horrible. They are just a plain look at the process of slaughtering and butchering homegrown chickens. We find the work to be easier and more enjoyable with more hands on deck. My mother-in-law helped with the kids and the plucking, my sister-in-law took pictures, and my good friend Erin helped with the plucking and gutting. It was a fun time and I got to send a homegrown chicken home with Erin, which was really cool. I'd say that slaughtering chickens is a great community activity. And it feels so good to provide meat for our family that we grew ourselves on our own land. I'm hooked on homegrown.
The rooster is placed in the killing cone, an inverted milk jug nailed to a tree. Then we cut both jugular veins quickly and completely with a very sharp blade. It's important to be swift and sure so that the bird doesn't suffer and so that it bleeds out completely.

Next the bird is dunked in a pot of hot water to loosen the feathers for plucking. 

After dunking the bird, try pulling out one of the big wing feathers. If it doesn't come out fairly easily, dunk the bird again for a few seconds. 
The birds undergoes a transformation when you pluck it, changing from a just-living animal to meat as we usually see it.

Plucking (called "picking" in the business) is really quite enjoyable with good company.

After the bird is plucked it still has a few pinfeathers on it, which resemble hairs. We singe those off with a lighter.

After the bird is plucked it is time to remove the head, feet, and guts. Here I am about to remove the guts.

If you do it right you can remove all of the guts and organs in one swoop. The lungs can be a little tricky. And you must be careful not to tear the intestines.

The guts are removed and the cloaca/anus cut away. Now I rinse the bird under cold running water and it goes to the cooler to be chilled in ice water before storage.
Friends who butcher together...

This was our first time raising chickens specifically for meat. Despite the time and money we spent raising them and processing them, I am sure we will do it again next year. The product is excellent and it's really satisfying to raise our own meat. I hope to add some rabbits to our homestead this fall to further our goal of producing more of our own food. Now that we have a little more experience it will make next year's birds easier.

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