Chicken Butchering 101

August 24, 2010

in Butchering, DIY & Crafts

chicken

There are few things more satisfying than knowing that, when the economy collapses, we will still know how to raise and process our own food. Moreover, the quality of meat raised by small operators, organic and free-range meat in particular, to me couldn’t be farther removed from what you find on the store shelf. My personal experience of conventional store-boughten chicken (and beef) is not much more than that of grease – not meat. For that reason, we raise all of our meat and eggs ourselves, as well as harvest some in the wild. With guns.

A couple of FAQ before we begin (I really get these all the time):

Isn’t butchering gross?

No. It’s amazing how fast one becomes desensitized. Try it sometime, and you might find yourself loving it. When I met my husband, I didn’t want to eat animals because I felt sad they had to die for us to eat them. These days I find chicken butchering to be second only to Christmas morning. And God knows, I love Christmas morning as the celebration of the birth of our Lord as the primary vehicle of accumulation. So that’s saying something.

How do your kids do with butchering? Does it traumatize them?

Our kids do wonderfully around butchering. In fact, they are as excited about it as we are. When you grow up with it, it is not something shocking – it is a way of life. Ever read Little House in the Big Woods? About the pioneers in Wisconsin? Kinda like Jacob and I minus electricity? Then you’ll remember little Laura finding butchering time to be “great fun.” Moreover, we believe that it’s valuable for a young person to have this kind of first-hand experience with what it takes to raise and process food, care for animals, and participate directly in the greater circle of life. I’d much rather have my kids learn how to butcher than feed them microwaved chicken nuggets out of a box.

Why don’t you pay them Amishes to butcher your chickens for you? It’s only a couple bucks a piece.

Because doing things yourself is good for the soul, and because such first-hand participation in my food’s entire life-cycle whenever feasible is important to me as someone who is serious about cooking and eating.

But don’t you feel sad about killing the birds you’ve raised from cutie-pootie-itty-bitty-yellow-chickies?

No. They have a good life, these chickens, you know – raised in dramatically more luxurious accommodations than most of the animals raised for food in this country, our chickens are provided with a spacious, cozy home and infinite space to roam outside if they so choose. As long as we treat them well during their lifetime, I am at peace with eating them.

Where do you get your chicks?

From a hatchery, either through our local agri-center or here. They arrive in the mail (yes, that’s right) as one- or two-day-old chicks, and, depending on where you bought them, you pick them up either at the post-office or the agri-center.

What breed(s) do you raise?

Cornish Rocks or Roasters. They are bred to gain weight rapidly and to grow very large – and you know what? I don’t have any problem with that. And I don’t have any problem buying all of my ammo at Walmart, either.

Do you use a chicken tractor? Why not?

No – chicken tractors are a pain in the butt, and, in our situation, it is most convenient (and pleasant for the birds) to house them in our large chicken coop (separate from our layer coop). Every morning we open their door so they can go outside and roam freely around our farmstead – but not until they get their feathers (at about 3 weeks of age). The door is then closed at night to keep them warm and safe from predators, such as coyotes and foxes, who don’t normally venture out during the day.

How many chickens do you raise every year?

Fifty.

Note: This post is about chicken cleaning (plucking and gutting), since, in order to protect the sensibilities of some, I decided to not include the killing photos. I will just tell you that we use killing cones and a chef’s (or a hunting) knife to this end (But keep in mind, this will be hard on the chef’s knife, and is likely to make the blade mildly disfigured forever. If you love your chef’s knife, use something else. I almost never use mine, however, so that’s OK). Note also that I am not usually the one doing it – although I’ve done it, I much prefer the gutting part, while it is  Jacob who is in charge of killing, scalding, and plucking.

Another step not pictured here: the scalding. To loosen the feathers and facilitate plucking, be it by hand or with a motorized pucker, you need to scald your (freshly killed) chickens in 150-degree water for a few minutes (we use a turkey fryer for this purpose). To do so, just swirl them around in hot water for a bit and then try pulling out wing and tail feathers – if they are not coming out easily, dip the birds some more. Be careful that your water is not too hot as this will cause the skin to tear when they are being plucked later.

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After your birds have been scalded, you can certainly pluck them by hand – something I have done quite a bit and enjoy very much, but we haven’t done in for several years now since we began using a motorized chicken plucker. This particular model is great because it sprinkles water onto the birds (you place two-three in at a time) as they are being spun around, causing the rubber fingers to strip the birds of their feathers, which come out a special opening in the bottom and onto a tarp you spread underneath, allowing for easy disposal.

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And then they look like this.

Note: our friend Jane chills chickens a little in cold water before gutting, but we just go straight for it. Nothing like warm chicken innards on a cool day. Your choice.

Another note: to keep flies at bay, Jane places discarded parts into a barrel full of cold water, but if flies are not very bad, you can just use empty buckets or what have you.

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You wanna start by cutting off the feet. Personally, we feed chicken feet to doggies, but if you come from a culture that uses them as food, more power to you. Personally, I grew up with not so-fond memories of gnawing on peeled, boiled chicken feet, and the feel of those delicate little bones in my mouth is not something I wish to relive anytime soon. Same goes for chicken neck if you try to suck on it directly.

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Anyhow, to remove the feet, locate the joint that connects the foot to the drumstick, and, using a light hand, cut through the skin and the cartilage connecting the two.

Next, we are going to remove the oil gland used for producing preening oil from the part of the bird known colloquially as Pope’s nose – the tail, in other words.

Holding your knife almost parallel to the bone, apply quick, light slashing strokes to remove that oiler. Note that this wasn’t done so well in this picture, but this is good because it allows you to see for yourselves what the gland looks like – it’s the yellow stuff. If this happens to you, just cut a little deeper around it and it will be gone.

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You can try severing the neck and saving it for soup or giving it to your cats or dogs, but my mother-in-law prefers to leave it on at butchering time, and use a cleaver later to remove it before cooking (or was it before wrapping?), because it does wreck your knives. It’s also hard to do with a knife – in fact, you’ll see in the following pictures that my father-in-law tried to cut it off and gave up. Although aforementioned Jane does it somehow.

What? I didn’t say we’ve got everything perfectly figured out, but, somehow, it all works out in the end. That’s just the thing about this DIY approach to life – you might not always know what the heck you’re doing, but if your heart it is in the right place, you’ll get to your destination eventually.

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Next, you want to make an incision in the skin around the throat area and use the small opening to locate and loosen the crop – the “sack” chickens use to store their food. The size of the opening will vary with your skill and level of care.

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This thing that he’s pulling on, by the way, is a wind pipe that will show up in the process of looking for the crop, and, somewhere along the line, you’ll want to remove it.


The crop is especially easy to find if you have fed the chickens the morning of butchering. Now there are two schools of removing it – once you loosen it up, you can either cut it off, or pull it out from the inside with the rest of the guts later, but that doesn’t work so well if the crop is really full.

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Next, turn your bird around – we are going to dive into the cavity to remove the inner organs. To that end, carefully make a small, vertical incision between the end of the breast and the chicken’s (gosh there’s gotta be a polite word for it) cloaca. Exercise utmost caution as you do so – all you wanna do is cut through the skin and the fat to get to the cavity, and not, God forbid, pierce the intestine. While it’s no major disaster if you do, since the poop that comes squirting out as a result can be easily rinsed off, smell-wise, you’ll get what you deserve, plus poop on your hands.

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Aha! Like this.

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Next, I am sorry to say, you’ll have to plunge your hand inside that chicken’s warm cavity, which is one of my very favorite things to do in the world. I am not even going to apologize for loving it, because I realized early in life that you can’t let the opinion of others steer you away from something you really, really enjoy.

Anyhow, stick your hand in with the back of your hand up against the breast. Locate the gizzard (stomach) – a large, firm, round, ball-like thing inside (it will be distinctly larger and firmer than anything else in there), and yank on it, pulling out the intestines and some of the attached inner organs with it.

Some organs that might not come out on this first try are kidneys and heart, so once everything is out, look inside and see what else you might need to pull out, but not until…

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Not until, with all the insides laid out on the table, you cut very carefully around the cloaca, taking care (once more) not to pierce anything, thus removing the whole thing and the attached guts with it. Being able to do so cleanly gives me with a powerful self-esteem boost each and every time. So much depends upon not piercing the intestine.


And there, in the pile of guts, will be the liver. I like to save livers for making a chicken liver pate a couple times a year, but, as you can see in this picture, it is attached to the gull bladder – this black-green thing at the top. The gull bladder must be removed. To do so, cut into the liver very carefully, cutting all around the gull bladder. If you pierce the gull bladder, all hell breaks loose and you get the nasty bile all over your liver, at which point you have nothing left to do but throw that liver away with the rest of the guts. If you have helpers, watch over them like a hawk, or else demand to personally process all livers yourself. If someone is not careful with their liver, a bit of bile will make the entire contents of the liver container taste bitter. (We like to put livers into a bowl full of water to keep them cool until we freeze them).

But you are not done cleaning the cavity just yet – you still need to remove the lungs. Now really skilled chicken lung removers with many a years of experience, such as yours truly, will remove the doggone things in one go, leaving each intact, because if you burst one by poking around, it is a pain to remove it in pieces, and it makes the cavity that much more bloody.

To locate the lungs, slide your hand inside the chicken cavity, with the back of your hand up against the back of the chicken, and feel around the ribs with your index finger. You will feel two fleshy, soft, almost jello-like (perhaps that parallel is misleading, I am not sure) organs. Slide your index finger underneath each one in such a way that the back of the finger is against the back of the bird, loosen the lung all around, and yank (or pull gently, whatever works). In case that wasn’t self-evident, this is done one at a time. If you are lucky, upon emerging from the cavity, yours will look like this:

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See? A whole lung. Bingo!

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Now the chicken needs to be washed out in cold water. We use a two-tub system, where we first give our chickens a rinse in the first tub to remove the initial blood and grime and feathers and what not, and then transfer them to the second tub (shown above),  kept relatively clean by the first step, to pick it over one more time. Now this is your quality control step, where you will scour the cavity again for forgotten organs, especially when novice butchers are present (which, with us, is almost always), an occasional windpipe, and remove the pin feathers that your plucker(s), human or mechanized or both, have missed.

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Here is mother-in-law is picking pin feathers out of the chicken’s armpit. My mother-in-law is an especially outstanding chicken cleaner – they come out incredibly clean after passing through her hands.

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Now see how nice and clean the cavity is after rinsing? You may now officially begin thinking of this chicken as food.

By the way, see the pink fleshy bits to the left of the center? That sort of look like an O’Keefe painting? That’s where the eggs come out – I just watched it happen for the first time this past week.

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And now the final step in the butchering process – put them in a larger tub filled with cold water (ours comes straight from the ground and is very cold), and let them sit and relax till the evening (if you’ve butchered in the morning) or overnight, changing the water a couple of times (this is done by sticking a hose into the tub and turning it on so the warm water can float to the top and over the edge while cold water replaces it).

Note that it is important to let your chickens rest and relax in this fashion before cooking them, because, if you cook them right away (not that most of you, unlike me, would want to), they are likely to be tough.

Don’t they look just lovely, by the way? This year, our smallest chickens weighed 7 lb after butchering. Don’t even ask me about the bigger ones.

Next step is to package them for storage in the freezer, where, if wrapped well, they will keep for a couple of years without freezer burn.There are two ways we do it in our family – my mother-in-law owns a vacuum sealer, while Jacob and I use a more primitive method of placing them in 2.5-gallon zip bags (we prefer the Hefty brand whose bags are somehow, dare I say, more hefty than the competition’s), and then wrapping them in freezer paper and securing it with masking or freezer tape.

What Jacob and I do is better accomplished with two people, so one person can keep their hands wet for taking chickens out of the water and placing them into bags, and the other can keep their hands clean and dry for wrapping and labeling.

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I like to expel as much air as possible from the bags before sealing them, which I do by submerging partially-zipped bags, chicken and all, in a big pot of water (above), while leaving a tiny unzipped corner exposed to the air (so the bag does not fill up with water, which we don’t want). Once everything but a tiny unzipped corner is submerged, the water will push most of the air out of the bag, leaving your chicken practically vacuum-sealed. We learned this trick from Jacob’s cousin Mike – I call it “poor man’s vacuum sealer.”

Like this. Isn’t that nice?

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Lastly, you’ll need to label your packages (not shown) – we like to put down the current year and also mark whatever defects the bird might have (skin torn during plucking and so on). If this happens to be the year of significant political elections, we have also been known to put our candidate and party preferences onto the packages as well. Otherwise, sonnets and haikus are also acceptable.

In case you were wondering (and sometimes people do), we never, ever, ever cut our chickens into pieces before freezing – with a very occasional exception of Chicken Kiev, I don’t prepare boneless, skinless chicken breasts (and I secretly judge people who do) – I prefer cooking the entire bird and then using the leftovers for casseroles, chicken sandwiches, and stock.

Now, let’s reprise:

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Before…

After.

Amen.

{ 94 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Tom Hudgens August 25, 2010 at 12:43 pm

Amen, indeed! Thanks for this wonderful hymn, Sofya! I like that you start (and end) with the picture of the actual, live chicken. An important reminder. This chicken looks exactly like the one chicken I raised for the table many years ago, named Meat Chicken. In fact, all the photos brought back memories of Meat Chicken! The feet on your chickens look so nice and clean. You know, they make an excellent addition to the stock pot–they add lots of richness and flavor.
–tom h.

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2 Sofya August 25, 2010 at 3:31 pm

Cool, Tom! Would you peel the feet to that end?

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3 Tom Hudgens August 26, 2010 at 4:39 pm

As long as they are nice and clean, no need to peel them! Just throw them in, let the stock take in their flavor and nutrients, and throw them out when you strain the stock. They add a lot of gelatin, giving the stock excellent body.

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4 Sofya August 26, 2010 at 4:50 pm

Right, that would make a lot of sense. I love gelatinous stock!

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5 Jenny Albert August 26, 2010 at 6:51 am

Having removed the birds’ food 24 hours before butchering starts, I also remove their water first thing in the morning on the day of slaughter—and I replace it with beer. Then once I have my butchering setup in place, I, too, have a small glass of beer, with the birds, and we drink to each other. I toast them in thanks to for the richness they’ve added (and will add) to my life and they drink to me….well, I’d like to think they drink to me in thanks for a good life and, I hope, a good death.

Our toast to each other relaxes me and it relaxes them, making the whole butchering process go smoother and giving it a ceremonial and sacrificial significance to the day’s work.

And of course, when we’re done, there’s beer left to be enjoyed by the butchering crew.

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6 Tom Hudgens August 26, 2010 at 4:37 pm

I used beer in exactly that way when I slaughtered, too! But I don’t think the chickens drank any…also, I’m just remembering (this was ’95 or ’96) that I cooked the livers for lunch after the slaughtering. It sounds odd, I know, but it felt–and they tasted–just exactly right, somehow. Eating them, I felt replenished.

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7 Sheila October 23, 2011 at 7:12 am

We have had our first frost this morning so I have selected and prepared my dual purpose buckeyes for butchering. I do this by soaking cooked rice with vodka. I don’t drink any (I am having an espresso) but the young roosters and chosen ladies are happily munching away. As they begin to relax, I set up my operation. Later my husband will join me…after the killing is done. We all have our own ways of dealing :)

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8 Sofya October 23, 2011 at 11:26 am

I never offered any special food to chickens on the day of butchering, as I maybe said in another comment.

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9 Sofya August 26, 2010 at 4:51 pm

That makes a lot of sense – livers are best fresh like that.

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10 H. Houlahan August 26, 2010 at 7:15 pm

How did the gull’s bladder get into the chicken?

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11 Sofya August 27, 2010 at 6:59 pm

Why, to get to the other side.

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12 noey August 26, 2010 at 8:01 pm

Wow! Thank you so much for this post. I love food and meat, and feel like the best way to honor and understand your food is to see (and if possible, participate) in the entire process from animal to snack.

Now I just have to find someone with live chickens so that I can do this myself.

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13 Sofya August 26, 2010 at 10:49 pm

Noey, I love food and meat too!

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14 Sofya August 26, 2010 at 10:43 pm

Are you guys serious about giving beer to chickens? I can’t think of a more natural place for communion than my digestive tract, and that is also where beer, I think, belongs the most. Although, if this was Ruth Bourdain, she’d be giving the chickens some absinthe.

Also, I find it important to feed the chickens the day of the butchering so it’s easy to locate and remove the crop.

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15 Foodie August 28, 2010 at 9:04 am

I live in town now, but consider learning to slaughter food animals one of the most important things I learned as an adult. AND at social gatherings it allows you to upset neurotic animal rights activists for the rest of your life….

This is a really good post. I’ve never really found a literary treatment of meat production that does justice to it, even Wendell Berry.

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16 Sofya August 28, 2010 at 9:19 am

Seems like some other people thought so too. Here are the links from other sites to this post by people who must have liked it:

http://voices.washingtonpost.com/ezra-klein/2010/08/reconciliation_827.html

http://thebrowser.com/

http://www.chicagoreader.com/TheBlog/archives/2010/08/25/everything-about-butchering-a-chicken-that-you-were-afraid-to-ask

Note how none of those are foodie blogs. Cool, no?

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17 Foodie August 29, 2010 at 6:08 pm

Way cool.

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18 C. Bryan August 31, 2010 at 2:21 pm

Hello Sofya and good day to you..!

I have just come across your blog through a link from “The Browser”. Wonderful..! I will be signing up for the email…looking forward to it.

All the best to you and your family,

C.

P.S. : Every person who eats chicken should do this at least once. Like gardening it’s grounding to “get your hands in the Earth”…

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19 Sofya August 31, 2010 at 7:16 pm

Thanks for stopping by! I am glad you enjoyed it.

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20 Siva October 10, 2010 at 9:57 pm

Hi Sofya !!
Do you know how the chicken feet are processed and stored..??

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21 Sofya October 10, 2010 at 10:39 pm

I’ve never done it, no, but I do know that you need to peel the scaly, yellow (or black, or whatever color your chicken is) skin off first. What are you going to do with them?

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22 Patti November 20, 2010 at 2:13 pm

I love if that some of you feed them beer! Cracking up… I wonder if the meat is flavored differently because of it? My husband is the cook and he is always dumping beer or wine in everything. He would appreciate feeding the chickens beer. LOL I have 3 roosters that I am mustering up the courage to butcher. Today is Saturday. It might be today. It’s cold as the dickens out there, though. I have a goat barn to build, a greenhouse garden to dig, and more fencing to conjure up (eww… digging fenceposts. My LEAST favorite thing to do!) It just might wait until another day. Right now am trying to motivate the 14 yr old girl to come out and work as well… sigh….. like trying to wade in a strong stream upstream with rocks tied around your ankle… LORD HELP ME!

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23 Sofya November 20, 2010 at 10:22 pm

I doubt it.

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24 Carmen November 21, 2010 at 1:23 am

Great post! We butchered 28 chickens this afternoon – yes, we’re crazy, should have waited till spring, but there you go. Was looking around online to see how long they’re supposed to set in the fridge before freezing, and came across your website. SO nice to know that we’re not the only ones out there that want to raise their own meat! We had our eldest help – he’s 7 – and he had a great time carting chickens to the killing cones and helping with the eviscerating. Good times. Carry on!

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25 Sofya November 21, 2010 at 9:31 am

Yey!

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26 Kathleen Cook February 19, 2011 at 7:39 pm

Could you please sign me up for your web site? My uncle likes it quite a bit.

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27 Sofya February 19, 2011 at 9:50 pm

Kathleen, I need to install a new thing to be able to do that. Do you mind just bookmarking it?

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28 Kat Widomski March 16, 2011 at 4:10 pm

Hey Sofya,

I think this is a beautiful guide. I’ve never really been tempted to raise chickens, but a little Italian lady gives us fresh eggs every few weeks from her chickens, and they are AMAZING, so I can see how doing something like this could be amazing too. I also didn’t know you could freeze them for so long, that’s really useful information…perhaps one day I’ll try it out. It also is much less bloody than I imagined, but I suppose you’re also doing everything right…no popping, no bursting, all the correct incisions.

Fantastic guide, really :)

Cheers!
Kat

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29 Sofya March 16, 2011 at 4:12 pm

Thanks! I sure have my share of incorrect incisions…

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30 Sara March 17, 2011 at 7:15 pm

Really informative and well illlustrated post. We have a couple around here that raises pastured chickens and invites customers to help with the processing the day before pickup. I have been interested in trying but have been a bit too nervous to try, though I absolutely do believe you that you quickly get used to it. I had a good excuse last year (baby #2 had just arrived), so we’ll see how long I can use that as an excuse to, ahem, play chicken.

Also, I noticed in the wing-plucking photo there is a black chicken hanging around the background. I take it they don’t catch on too quickly to what is going on? ;-)

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31 Sofya March 17, 2011 at 8:08 pm

Sara, thanks for stopping by! You know what works well for babies in this situation – pack’n’play. You keep it out of the way of all the action but they still get to be outside and you can watch them. As this post was being shot last summer, my two kids were in the pack’n’play the whole time.

The chicken on the background is one of our layer chickens – I don’t believe it was bothered. I have to say that chickens are not particularly smart. However, if you are killing a bunch of meat chickens in front of other meat chickens to be killed right there, then yes, they can get a little nervous. That’s what the killing cones are for (the whole upside-down thing sort of calms them down). In any case, this is not something to worry about.

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32 Sarah March 18, 2011 at 4:15 pm

Thanks so much for this post! It’s hard to take good pictures of this process that are both nice to look at and not overly high on the icky factor. Great work.

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33 Sofya March 18, 2011 at 4:38 pm

Thanks, Sarah! Glad you enjoyed it.

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34 Shannon May 29, 2011 at 5:32 pm

Thank you so much for this post. My husband and I butchered seven of our 13 Cornish Cross chickens today….following your instructions. Still can’t figure out the right way to get the lungs out but other than that…pure success. I love your blog. Thanks again

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35 Sofya May 29, 2011 at 6:00 pm

Glad this worked for you, Shannon. Here is the lung-removal tip again (it takes some practice to become an expert lung-remover like myself):

Lungs are located UP AGAINST THE BACK. Attached to the back that is. You gotta put ur hand in, PALM UP, and use your INDEX FINGER (again, your nail will be facing down, not up) to feel the plump stuff on both sides of the spine pretty much as far as your hand would go. Now I hope your hand is as dainty as mine! (Just kidding). Then slide your index finger underneath those soft, fleshy pieces (again, your nail should be up against the back, not on top of the lungs) to loosen them from the back (that is done one at a time), and when each has been loosened, grab it with the index finger and pull! Takes practice. In the worst case you’ll pop them and release a bunch of blood into the cavity but no biggie, can wash it out.

How about the windpipe – did you remember to pull that out? And to remove the oiler gland? Those are the things that people often forget.

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36 Shannon June 2, 2011 at 5:35 pm

Thanks again. I did remember the oiler gland (forgot on the first one) and the windpipe. I didn’t get the windpipe completely out though, I found about an inch of it when I was cutting up the chicken for dinner last night. I tried your recipe for smothered chicken. It was wonderful. Thank you for your blog, I feel like you are a soul sister :)

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37 Sofya June 2, 2011 at 6:28 pm

Glad it worked. It’s entirely common for me to extract random forgotten things from the cavity, including lungs and windpipes every once in a while. We usually have a lot of people helping butcher, and work ethnic and expertise vary from one person to the next, so the cook needs to be the ultimate quality control station.

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38 Sunn Jammers June 5, 2011 at 10:04 pm

I just located you site. I acquired 38 – year old hens. (Okay, hubby thought I needed a hobby!) I hope to put your “words and widsom” to good use tomorrow on one of those plump little girls. Wish me luck. Sunn in Central Ohio.

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39 Sofya June 6, 2011 at 8:59 am

Wow, 38! Keep in mind, this is your stewing/soup chicken, not like the meat breeds you buy, and of course the the age is the factor (meat ones are killed at 3 months of age). Good luck! Don’t forget the lungs.

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40 Dawn October 7, 2011 at 6:11 pm

Thanks for your very helpful instructions. My son and I have just dispatched and prepared our three accidental cockerels (which are heading towards being the main event at our harvest supper). It went surprisingly smoothly and they are lookng very much like something I could eat for dinner!

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41 Sofya October 7, 2011 at 9:11 pm

Glad it worked for you, Dawn! Enjoy your chickens.

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42 Kathryn October 18, 2011 at 12:28 pm

What do you do with the lungs? Can you cook them? I purchased a pastured chicken from a woman and she included the lungs in the giblets. Should I just thrown them in with the chicken stock when I make it?

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43 Sofya October 18, 2011 at 12:32 pm

Kathryn – if it was me, I would throw away the lungs, personally, unlike livers and gizzards.

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44 Cara March 13, 2012 at 10:23 pm

Sofya,
Thanks for such a thorough and well illustrated, how-to for butchering a chicken. I have just completed butchering a rooster that was becoming a difficult member of our chicken flock, many thanks to your fine illustrations. It is the first time I’ve butchered anything and I feel like your post made it possible to do without wondering if I was missing some important step. I am very grateful for your help and shared experience! It’s empowering to realize that with the right attitude, and some GREAT instructions, I am able to do this! My husband, three daughters and I will now look forward to enjoying our chicken dinner (after appropriate resting for the rooster, of course!). Many thanks!

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45 Sofya March 14, 2012 at 1:11 am

Glad it worked for you! You might wanna stew it.

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46 Jessica April 18, 2012 at 1:11 pm

My husband and I are really wanting to start raising meat birds. We currently only raise layers, but I was wondering if age matters when butchering? I have a mixed flock and as you probably know after so long layers are no longer of use to us. Can we butcher them after they have stopped laying and still get decent meat? Sorry I put the wrong email the first time so I submitted again.

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47 Sofya April 18, 2012 at 3:58 pm

Yes you can butcher them and it doesn’t matter how old they are, however they will be your soup and stewing chicken, and there isn’t gonna be much meat on them. But the stew/soup should be really good! Or you can boil it for soup and then take the meat off and use it for something else (like say a pot pie). For proper roasting chicken, you pretty much need to raise a dedicated meat breed.

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48 Chris May 9, 2012 at 1:33 pm

Thanks for the guide, my first batch of cornish cross hens are almost ready, this is gonna help a bunch

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49 bliss May 25, 2012 at 12:25 pm

ah Miss Sofya…????????????!
(am just starting to learn russian :)
thank you so much for writing this article on how your family’s chicken dinner came to your table…i was looking for free range chickens but i wanted to know if there were fat or thick\meaty kinds not plumped up with what i consider FDA approved poisons…
i grew up in states (paternal side from a large metropolis) my maternal side is from a tropical island which is now where i moved to some time ago- but the majority of our island population typically and sadly get most of our food pre-processed from grocery stores…recently though, i have begun to travel or want to travel back in time to a time where living off the land was de riguer…
anyhoo…i saw the picture of the nice, plump, thick chicken, the kind i want to serve on my dinner table and i clicked you site…it was your honest and intriguing answers to the FAQ’s that pulled me farther right up your alley to ‘hear’ your story…kind of reminded me of my own Mother…and it is from the daily reminiscences of her that have been tugging at me to get back to the real real life…my MoM would prefer to live on a dirt floor if she could, at least she ‘says’ this alot…heh..but i think she liked how it was a more fulfilling life when she and her family, along with the majority of islanders, could and did grow and eat their own food and share the spoils with the community that she misses more than that dirt floor though…i am blessed to be getting old now, so i have [finally] realized that that place in time was better for humanity in the long run…
and reminiscent of your day in the life, my MoM too, liked telling of all her favourite and quite descriptive (um..pardon, but gross to us kids) parts about ‘doing in’ her family’s nightly dinner guest of honour…so i was still squeamish about reading of the ‘killing’ cute little food stuffs but i found myself letting go of my problem, the ick factor, when you described the delight in doing some things considered, well icky…heh…but it’s like me loving to push my whole hand into the large tub of Crisco…
anyway…you have brought back memories of my MoM and her own stories and i thank you for that…i also thank you for kick starting my desire to ‘get real’ into actually motion…we have chickens running rampant enough here that they own the night…obviously, not enough of these are running around with their heads cut off, yet…and so they’ll cock-a-doodle doo at two o’clock in the morning…for some reason, sqeamish is not on my mind when that cackle jolts me clean out of my zzzz zone looking for the machete under tha mattress…so these critters will be the gineau pigs for my endeavours and i plan to use the tips from your illustrious guide on to how i’m going to serve dinner at eight…although there are a quite an amount of good earth people here to acknowledge of their techniques, your style – thorough, colourful, honest, informative and web-page tasty, makes it not hard to wish for your dishing a show and tell on a FoodNetWork program, for whether a newbie, wanna be farmer like me, or others, or anybody in general to learn from…anticipating other wonderful stories from browsing your pages…
and a very big thank you very much
wishing you a terrific day ..!

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50 bliss May 25, 2012 at 12:28 pm

btw…my apologies…those many ??? marks are in place of a word in russian…
didn’t know how to spell it in english : )

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51 Cheryl June 4, 2012 at 3:25 pm

Thanks for taking the time and effort to put together chicken b 101. There are sites that would really appreciate this tutorial. Backyard chickens, FeathersSite, mypetchicken to name a few.

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52 les kelso June 7, 2012 at 2:50 pm

how long between butchering and cooking should I wait to keep the meat from being so tough.?
I heard 5-7 days but that seems kinda longish..and where to keep them while they tenderize? does freezing alone do it? I butchered a young rooster (8 months old) and cooked him the same day, then had to boil him again and again and again to finally come out with a stringy tough meat anyway..what happened?

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53 Sofya June 7, 2012 at 4:18 pm

God no, in 5-7 your meat will be stinking and rotting. 1 day. Keep submerged in very cold water with a little kosher salt. Just like I show in the post. In the fridge is fine if there’s space. I keep mine in a stock tank outside in super-cold water, which we change so it remains super cold – and we are talking 25 to 50 chickens. The next day we wrap them and freeze them, or they will go bad.

I don’t believe freezing alone does it – I never tried.

Your rooster was tough because of ALL these:

1. you cooked it the same day

2. your chicken was way old – you want to kill them at 3 months of age, 4 tops

3. your chicken was the wrong breed – you do need to have a dedicated meat breed to have tender chicken

4. your chicken needs to have plenty of feed to actually be tender – and plenty of water (but again, if it’s not a meat breed, it’s a lost cause) – our layer chickens do not get the same protein-rich feed as meat chickens as they don’t need it.

5. that chicken would have been OK for soup and stew only anyways – but cooking it the same day made it tougher than it would have been otherwise after a long period of moist-heat cooking (i.e. simmering it in liquid), which:

6. should not be more than a couple of hours for juicy meat

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54 Carolyn June 8, 2012 at 1:09 am

Two years ago we purchased half a dozen hens … which all turned out to be roosters. By the time I realized that, got fed up with their aggression, and worked up the nerve to butcher them (or, to be strictly accurate, have my husband butcher them) they were more than 8 months old. So I went looking for a recipe to make the most of a tough, too-old rooster. I found this WONDERFUL article on traditional coq au vin. http://lumsden.west-bend.wi.us/IMHBSIA_RedWineAndOldRoosters.html It was so delicious I was willing to try the experiment again this spring. Our chickens are now 3 months old. We’ll have coq au vin in the fall.

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55 Anna July 22, 2012 at 9:16 pm

Thank you I found your post to be so helpful! We just bought our Wisconsin homestead this spring and began raising chickens 10 weeks ago so we are getting prepared for our first butchering. You answered all of my questions about the process and involvement of our 2 boys, I was uncertain if our soon to be 4 year old was ready for something like this and you assured me he is probably more ready than I am thank you.
Anna recently posted..Farm House Friday: The coop got a name!My Profile

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56 Sofya July 22, 2012 at 9:23 pm

Please make it VERY clear to them that they are NOT allowed to put their hands in the mouth as they are helping since salmonella is a serious risk if they do that absent-mindedly. Just be clear about the risk – I have to with my kids.

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57 Spannischen August 29, 2012 at 6:15 pm

better eat homegrown animals that farmchemical ones, of course. and its a good information in this banker-injected times of crisis. to live, in the amount you can, with the cycles of nature, and not fighting it (like modern terrible big city kind of life)

but dont forget we don´t need LOTS of meat to live. its more healthy to use meat as an add for a mostly veg alimentation, try to eat little meat and of quality, and you will valorize it in his real importance. i have escargots and some chicken in my garden, and i live next to a river, so i have 90% of my little meat needs covered

anyway if i could afford it, i will let the butchering work of my homegrown animals to the amish, and never let see or participate the children in the ritual, as they dont NEED to see blood or dead animals… we dont live in a science fiction film where you have to endure the children to be more rude and competitive!

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58 Sofya August 29, 2012 at 6:24 pm

You are sorely wrong about that.

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59 Tawnia August 19, 2013 at 4:23 pm

Sad that Science fiction comes to mind when you talk about butchering animals for meat….since that has been around for a long time! My 6 year old helps with all of it and she is not rude or competitive…on the contrary she is more respectful and appreciative of the animals and process that bring our dinner to the table.

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60 Spannischen August 29, 2012 at 6:21 pm

old chickens (or beef or whatever) taste good if you dry the meat (cut better in thin and long pieces) with spices, similar to spanish Jamón

or as you said, use it in bolings

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61 Spannischen August 29, 2012 at 10:44 pm

wrong about not letting a 3-4-5-6-7-8-9 y old children to see a butchering or blood or dead animals? well, to train them to be marines or b52 pilots, maybe it could help…

remember don´t eat too much meat, boys, and happy sleepzt :)

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62 Sofya August 29, 2012 at 11:16 pm

I think sheltering children from the fundamentals of farm life is a non-option when you live on such farm. Amish doing it means Amish children. Also, they actually very much want to participate – they like it. Death and blood are inevitable parts of life and learning how to deal with those is paramount. It’s the truth. It’s no different from fishing, either.

The comparison with warfare is entirely insulting and out of place.

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63 kodster March 23, 2013 at 1:44 pm

I agree with you, Sofya… we did not have the problems with violence when our parents and grandparents, and their ancestors, as we do now, because the children of today are NOT exposed to the realities of life. People, animals, etc., die, as a natural cycle of life and death. We are ALL destined to death. I spent a big part of my childhood on my maternal grandparents’ farm in North Dakota, growing up, but was born and raised in the San Francisco bay area, so, as my mother says… I’m a city girl with a HUGE country heart. I’ve returned to North Dakota, to homestead, and am getting ready to have my own flock of layers AND meat chickens (all of my layers will be dual-purpose, but my hubby, who has also had experience in raising chickens, asked for meat only birds, too, so we’ve got Jumbo Cornish X Rocks, and Dark Cornish hens coming). My plan is to raise the Cornish Xs to 3-4 months, butcher those, and then raise the Dark Cornish hens so that they start to lay, and get some eggs (have a rooster in the plans, too), so that we can hatch those, and while they grow to laying age, butcher their mothers for the freezer, so we’ll have a cycle going for the meat birds. What do you think?

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64 Sofya March 23, 2013 at 3:15 pm

Hmm… in my experience, meat breeds are better for meat and laying chickens are better for laying. I am not familiar with dark cornish, but I know that cornish x rocks are really not bred to have a long life, while laying chickens are really not ever fat enough (but you can still use them for stew).

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65 kodster March 23, 2013 at 3:27 pm

Oh, I guess I wasn’t too clear… I have Black Australorps, Rhode Island Reds, and White Jersey Giants for my laying hens (all are which are considered dual-purpose… good for both laying and meat… but I intend to have them specifically for laying purposes). The Cornish X Rocks are definitely not considered for laying, but for the meat. In fact, because of their fast growing and weight gain, and they’re considered a hybrid, they’re not recommended for breeding at all. So we will be butchering them at 3-4 months of age (they’re supposed to average around 10 lbs for the hens at that age). The Dark Cornish are good layers, too, but they are meant to be raised for meat, as well… I just wanted to set up a cycle of having my own eggs and hatching them from that particular breed, so that I had chicks growing up to laying age, before I butchered the hens. Hope that clarifies! :)

66 Kristin August 30, 2012 at 7:26 pm

We used this post today for our very first rooster harvest. Our 3 year old BEGGED to go out and help, so she went out and we gave her little odd jobs, not actually touching the bird just yet. She enjoyed it and understands where our meats come from! She’s way ahead of other kids her age when it comes to knowing about where our foods come from. We had a garden this year too that she was very involved in. Such a wonderful learning experience!
Thank you for the pictures too! They really helped out!!!

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67 Sofya August 30, 2012 at 10:03 pm

It really is a great experience, in my opinion, for kids! This year for the first time I let my three-year-old pluck! The now six-year-old has been helping by plucking and washing and a little gutting help for a couple of years I think…

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68 Kristin August 30, 2012 at 11:25 pm

I’m sure she’ll get more involved as we become more experienced too. She was so interested in everything that was going on. Tomorrow we’ll try a couple more. Can’t wait!

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69 Sofya August 30, 2012 at 11:38 pm

Just be sure she understands not to put hands in her mouth when you do this – raw poultry is kinda dangerous that way, especially so at butchering time.

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70 Leana September 1, 2012 at 1:08 pm

I have a few meat birds nearly ready for harvest. We unfortunately lost several in the 100+ heat wave. :-(. Lesson learned. Aging after harvest: I think 5-7 days is appropriate in the fridge, but only one day if in cold water?? I’ve only done the fridge option. I’ll try cold water this time.

And my 4 and 7 year old are always interested. They don’t mind because they know from day 1 that the white birds are for meat. I have to hide my distaste for evisceration while my 7yo girl says “Please, can I pull out it’s guts?” Lol. It’s natural to them.

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71 Sofya September 1, 2012 at 3:19 pm

Yes, 1 day (or even half) in cold water – 5-7 days in the fridge sounds completely wrong to me – completely unnecessary and moreover far too long – poultry deteriorates SO fast, and of all the things on the farm, poultry is the most dangerous, bacteria-laden meat and needs to be handled promptly.

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72 Leana September 1, 2012 at 5:28 pm

Tomorrow’s roast chicken is now resting in a pot of cold water. ;-). I wish I had a scale! It’s not huge, but easily the same size as a market whole chicken. Last winter was my first batch of meat chickens and I didn’t feed them enough and then they were on the old side…..small and tough. :-(. This one must be 5-6 pounds and just 9 weeks old.

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73 Sofya September 1, 2012 at 5:40 pm

That happened to me as well – a couple of seasons, actually! They also can’t be allowed to run out of water, which makes them not gain as well. But 5-6 pounds sounds just right to me. Great job! Did I mention adding kosher salt to the water? Sort of brines them too.

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74 Leana September 2, 2012 at 7:30 pm

What do you feed your meat birds?

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75 Sofya September 3, 2012 at 9:56 am

Just store-bought meat bird feed (organic) – it’s called starter/grower and has higher protein content than what is called “layer feed.”

For a number of years we also got an organic custom chicken blend at a feed mill and mixed it with the starter/grower 50/50. I can’t recall how the custom blend was different exactly. Bigger chunks for one.

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76 Linda Sterling February 5, 2013 at 4:39 pm

Sofya, I love your website, your instructions with pictures are great! and I love your sly sense of humor, like Christmas morning.
I have some ducks, slaughtered one. It was my first time to pluck and clean. Not so good. So MANY pin feathers and lots of fine hairs that I never could get.
I am raising a pig, named PIG. He was tiny when I got him, so I put Gracie the chicken in with him. To my delight, they became very good friends, eating and sleeping together. Sadly, PIG laid on Gracie last night (I hope the trauma of squashing his best and only friend will not affect his hams ), so I had another chance to pluck/clean. It went better this time, but some of the skin tore. Gracie was an egg laying chicken, so not very plump. It was amazing how small she was without feathers. Currently she is resting in cold water in the sink.
I am a city person, having found my home in the country. I breed/raise Morgan horses. I grew up in a family that owned jewelry stores; they would cringe to see how I live now. But I love it and don’t care what they think.
Thank you for your great website.
Linda Sterling

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77 Sofya February 5, 2013 at 7:43 pm

Oh, what a sad story. Chicken skin can tear when the scalding water is just a tad hot. Did you add some dawn to your geese/duck scalding water? I have two duck and goose butchering tutorials here also. The fine hair can be singed off.

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78 Jeff February 8, 2013 at 8:05 pm

I’m about to do this for the first time ever tomorrow morning. I’ve read up on this a dozen times on various sites and in a book I own. Your rendition was very informative, but more importantly it was the funniest ever!

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79 Sofya February 9, 2013 at 2:58 pm

GOOD LUCK!!!! A big day!

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80 Olya February 27, 2013 at 10:23 am

Sofya, your post has revived my own old memories of my Ukrainian grandparents butchering chickens… When I visited them, as the youngest in a family, I was given those not fully developed eggs (cooked, of course) from insides, which resembled itself pure yolks in a net of tiny vessels – sort of treat that is not known to my kids :(
For a various reasons, I do not eat any meat for years already but I admire your true honesty in regards to butchering and your close to nature life style. Your kids are lucky to live real life with its fundamentally genuine principles. Thanks for your post!
Olya recently posted..Chicken Egg-Drop SoupMy Profile

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81 Mama M April 14, 2013 at 1:28 am

Just butchered 42 X Rocks today – with the help of a flock of friends. Agree, kids need to touch the face of life and death and know where their food comes from and not be squeamish. I have learned lots of lessons the hard way as far as meat processing; I leave my birds for 3-4 days in the fridge before freezing and have found that to work the best for me. Necks come off quite easily if you just use your knife to cut through the flesh all around at the base and then just give it a couple hard twists; no bone cutting is necessary. Another excellent and very detailed and thorough online tutorial about all phases of chicken processing is found at http://whizbangbooks.blogspot.com/. The shrink wrap bags are super for freezing too. A friend built me a whiz bang plucker, which ROCKS!! I don’t share your enthusiasm for plucking; it drives me nuts! Very tedious, especially when you’re looking at dozens of birds. I also purchased a lung remover from my hatchery; saves a little time digging around in the ribcage with my fingers, I like it. I’m very grateful to be learning how to put my own food on the table; have to say though that there’s no way I’ll ever enjoy the whole process like I enjoy Christmas!!

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82 Deja May 11, 2013 at 9:18 pm

Do you compost the guts?

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83 Sofya May 11, 2013 at 9:50 pm

My in-laws just feed them to the pigs I think. We compost them, but not sure whether this is a kosher approach to composting. We don’t have a conventional compost bin.

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84 Marijka May 19, 2013 at 7:49 am

You are a girl after my own Slavic heart!

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85 michelle June 12, 2013 at 9:44 am

We have 4 bardrock hens. We have had them for about a year. I think they are 2 to 3 years old. When should be eat them:-) They lay eggs for us and we let them roam the yard and treat them well. My husband wants to vacation and it’s hard because we have no one to watch our chickens. I am trying to plan it that if we take a vacation every other year. We should eat the chickens every other year. But would it work better to get 2 roasters and egg layers next time so the roasters will be nice and fat when we decide to eat them? thanks for the info..this was really informative.

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86 Sofya June 12, 2013 at 10:09 am

If you want real, plump roasting chicken you need to raise a dedicated meat breed and kill your chickens at 3-4 MONTHS of age. After that point, they get old and tough. This doesn’t mean that you can’t make a delicious meal out of your hens, but those birds will all require moist-heat cooking (boiling or stewing). They are still great for chicken and dumplings, chicken soup, etc, but with your hens you won’t be able to roast them and have them be tender, as there simply isn’t enough fat and muscle. We always buy a dedicated eating/roasting breed for roasting, and keep a separate flock for laying (except not right now). So we’d raise meat birds over the summer – get them in June and kill them in September, while the layer we’d leave alone.

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87 larry w. martin June 22, 2013 at 1:23 pm

hello I might have missed it but enjoyed your words! can you tell me how much weight does a chicken loose of butchering !what is the persent of loss so i know how much they will weigh when i am
m done !thank you very much ! LARRY

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88 Sofya June 22, 2013 at 2:07 pm

3-9 lb, depending on the breed, how well they were cared for, and how much they were fed.

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89 whisperingsage July 15, 2013 at 8:18 am

Wow, wish there was a way I could click “like ” buttons on here. So many good and fun comments!
OK, I had just three egg layers as a child, and they were named, they were white leghorns and they lived 10 years.
Then as an adult I bought my own land (cheap!) and ddetermined that I would have to butcher, and I did. But latewr I worked at a locl high school and their FFA bought about 100 chicks every spring. And they had all the different heritage breeds and a few cornish. And the Cornish ALWAYS, without fail, died before they were old enough to sell. They usually began by weak legs and soon they couoldn’t get up and then they were dead. I figured it was vitamin D deficiency.

So this year we bought some new chicks at the feed store, and I bought 3 Cornish, thinking, with the right vitamins, we can overcome this weakness thing they have. NOT!.
I used a decent water soluble multi vitamin in their water, including A, D and E and used an organic vitamin added feed. With crab meal as the animal protein source. And everyone did great except the Cornishes. They were perkey longer than the FFA chicks I observed. But finally all three had died by the time they were as bgi as the ones in the store as little “cornish game hens” . I suspect they are bred to be double muscled, and like so many other livestock bred that are double muscled, they all tend to be weak and of a poor constitution, and die early.
So I couldn’t do it and I won’t even try anymore- as I still love my Brahmas and buff Orpingtons, and Buff Rocks, and rhode island reds, And Aracaunas, and Americaunas, and black cochins, etc, they just do so well, and I get huge drumsticks on them so that is good. But they are healthy and live long and lay eggs.
I have been looking into the art of caponizing, as the writings say that will increase size on your carcasses (male). But that is a scary idea. Still thinking about it.

But how big do your Cornish get, and how do you manage to get them to grow the full time?

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90 Sofya July 15, 2013 at 8:25 am

I guess I am not sure how we manage… but we’ve raised hundreds of them over the years, averaging between 4 and 9 pounds (that’s right, 9 pounds). Ideally they are 5 to 7, to me personally. We always have a couple die, but not the most – UNLESS there’s predation or heat. Heat can kill them. We don’t add vitamins to their water but we’ve treated them for blood in their poop by adding antibiotic-type medicine to their water when they’d get it (some batches did, some didn’t), which we got at the local agri-center. We’ve also raised freedom rangers which are a nice meat breed and are much more agile but they too will get weird when they are full-grown. Meat breeds can be that way. Part of the way to raise Cornish X is to feed them regularly but not over-feed them so they don’t get quite so heavy. That is hard to gauge though – you don’t want them nasty skinny under 5 lb, either.

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91 Amy August 16, 2013 at 8:25 pm

I butchered my hens before moving to the city (school). They were still laying and I had many levels of “eggs in development” which I found fascinating. Most had 10 or more yolks in various stages – in one I found a complete egg in the shoot! So amazing. Anyway, it seems to me that those yolks could be pulled out for an omelette, but I wasn’t sure at the time, so I gave them to the cats / dogs. A comment above mentioned Ukrainian grandparents eating them… So is it safe to cook and eat? I want to know for next time!

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92 Sofya August 16, 2013 at 8:44 pm

I wouldn’t… Butchering is not a sanitary operation. I can’t see why you’d need to take your chances.

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93 Jim November 2, 2013 at 10:08 pm

We killed and dressed 7 mixed breed cockerels today from a group hatched this spring 1/2 Delaware, also had several generations of Jersey Giant rooster with mixed flock. Legs like a race horse. As for immature eggs from old layers, I grew up eating both the eggs and the egg duct cooked in salt water and still enjoy it whenever we butcher old hens,though I have found I don’t have to share very much. In fact my wife prefers I consume them as all as giblets in her absence :-)

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94 Tina June 15, 2014 at 7:04 pm

I enjoyed your post very much. This will be our third year butchering. I found using appropriately sterilized garden shears work great for removing the neck. We use a pair exclusively for this purpose.

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