Today’s post will be discussing butchering our three chickens. While there shouldn’t be anything too graphic, I will be discussing the process in detail. I would recommend skipping this post for readers who will find this disturbing.
Butchering Your Backyard Chicken
Chickens are considered one of the easiest animals to “dress” – clean the carcass and prepare for cooking. The general process is to take a healthy, clucking chicken to a raw chicken ready for cooking like what you’d buy at the grocery store. It was important to me that the process be as humane as possible and I wanted to minimize the animals’ suffering.
The man I bought our chickens from, Andy, was good enough to agree to come over and help me with the process. His wife and 4 children also came – so it was an education for all of us. He killed and dressed the first chicken, then watched me do the second, then I did our third on my own after he left.
Tools and Preparation
The most important item is a very sharp knife. Nothing I had put out was sharp enough, so we ended up getting a utility blade. We built a “kill cone” which was a plastic milk jug, with the opening cut to be larger and the bottom cut open. We attached this to a railing and put a garbage pail underneath it.
We prepared very warm water – 140 to 160 °F. This was to make it easier to remove the chicken feathers.
We also had a garden hose and some gloves.
Humanely Killing the Chickens
Andy insisted that slitting their throats while hanging the chickens into a garbage can would be easiest for them. I had thought that chopping off their heads might be faster and less traumatic, but Andy was confident in his approach, so that’s what we did.
After grabbing a chicken and holding them upside down, we lowered them through the plastic milk jug so that their heads were sticking out the bottom and their legs were peaking out the top. These chickens seemed to realize they were in trouble and they were spitting up some bile and more upset than I’d ever seen them before. The third chicken did her best to avoid me and catching her was the hardest time I’ve ever had corralling the chickens. I think they realized what was happening.
We grabbed hold of the chicken’s head, moved the feathers away from their throat, and made a deep cut with the sharp knife. If the correct place was cut, immediately blood would start flowing out, down the chicken’s head, and into the garbage bin. The chicken would struggle a bit, so we tied their feet with tape and held on to them so they couldn’t kick their way out of the milk jug. Eventually, there’d be a final spasm, the blood would stop flowing and the chicken would be dead.
I’ve seen videos of people breaking chicken’s necks or chopping their heads off, and both looked faster than what we did. I’ve also seen videos of a sharp knife being inserted into the chicken’s beak, then pushed back into their brain. That also seemed like a fast, humane way to kill them.
Removing the Feathers
The chickens were dunked into the hot water until they seemed completely wet. After taking them out, their feathers would come out easily and in clumped. As many feathers as possible were removed. The chicken would be hot enough at this point that it was cooking. After the entire process was completed we’d put them in the freezer for 1 hour cool them down and stop the cooking.
Cutting Away the Unwanted Parts
We first cut off the chicken’s head. I then fished around down the chicken’s throat until I found and pulled out the gullet. It was still full of their most recent meals. The advice I’d read online warned that you don’t want to puncture any part of their digestive tract, as that would get waste onto the meat. Andy told me that as long as you’re washing the bird off after you’re done dressing them this wasn’t a concern.
I pulled the esophagus to be separate from everything else in the throat. The goal of the next step was to pull everything out of the bird that can be removed through the cloaca, where the waste comes out. The separate esophagus would be pulled through the body and removed at the back.
Two cuts were made on the side of the cloaca. The next part was the most gruesome, and basically, it was a few minutes of forcing my fingers into the backside of the chicken, grabbing anything I could get a hold of, and pulling it out of the bird and throwing it away. There were some organs and whatnot that can be saved from this, however we threw everything away.
One of the birds had a small, partially formed egg in her.
Eventually, the remaining internals will be pulled out along with the esophagus. Using a spoon, we scrapped the lungs clean.
The legs were useful to hang onto the chicken during dressing however, at this point they could be chopped off. We also trimmed the tips of the wings. After using the hose to wash the bird off inside and out, we had what looked like something you’d buy at the supermarket. We put the carcass into a zip-lock bag, cooled them off in the freezer, then aged them in the fridge for 4-7 days.
Because ours were older birds, we changed our minds about having a BBQ with them. Instead, my wife cooked them for stock. The meat that we pulled off of them wasn’t very tasty. The white meat was very dry and the dark meat was quite tough. My wife cooked chicken noodle soup, which we added the meat to and they were far tastier in a soup.
First Time Butchering
I found it VERY useful to have Andy help me the first time I was doing this. If getting someone to help me hadn’t been possible, I think we could have muddled through with YouTube videos and reading descriptions online. It’s a much easier process if someone helps you with it the first time.
I would be quite comfortable dressing small animals, such as chickens, rabbits, or pheasants, in the future.
All this being said, I certainly wouldn’t do this for fun.
Have you ever butchered an animal? Chickens? How was the process?