Monday, February 11, 2013

Chicken Butchering

Last February, you will remember we hatched a bunch of chicks in the house. One of the disadvantages of hatching your own chicks is that you will end up with about half of your hatch being male. Now I have nothing against roosters.  We love our Roofus, but too many males (when there are females around) will act a fool! They will injure the hens and can fight to the death. Often an aggressive rooster will attack small children or even adults.

By September, the 5 cockerals from the February hatch were six months old and making themselves a nuisance.  We had put them together in a separate enclosure in August for our safety and the safety of our hens.  With no females around, they stopped fighting, which was good, but I knew that butchering them was something I would have to do at some point. Keeping them cooped up and feeding them was not an ideal situation.

My friend who hatched the chicks with me, came to help butcher.  I built a fire in the pit that morning so we could burn the offal as we went.  I only put plant materials in my compost and I didn't care to attract vermin.  My goal was to make the process as peaceful as a killing could possibly be.

We started with Roofio, the meanest of the bunch. He had been dipping his wing at me for weeks and jumped at my son.  I thought thought that would make him the easiest for me to kill.

I used a "killing cone" I made from hardware cloth to hold the bird while I cut the jugular and waited for him to bleed out.  If you have ever held a chicken upside down you will know that they go strangely still due to some effect on their nervous system. Additionally, the killing cone holds their wings securely so there is no panicky flapping of the wings.

The killing cone has a hole at the bottom that is large enough for the bird's head and neck to fit through. We said a prayer of thanks for the bird, his life and sacrifice before killing him. The first bird, Roofio took 2 passes with the knife to cut into the jugular because I didn't move enough of the feathers out of the way. In spite of this, It was very calm and peaceful- surprising if you have heard the stories of the headless chickens running around the yard after grandma killed them! The bird very quickly bled out. The rest of the birds only took one cut and it got easier as the day went on.

Amy prepares to cut the bird's neck.
I used tin snips to cut off the bird's head before dunking it in a pot of very hot (not boiling) water to loosen the feathers.
Cutting off head with tin snips.

Dunking in hot water.
For me, the most difficult part was the cutting it up part.  In case you have never thought about it, the innards of a chicken don't come in a little bag stuffed into the carcass! They are actually all attached to something... usually something gross like intestines, bile ducts, or the crop.  It took me some time (and the help of several YouTube videos) to figure out what I was looking at, where to cut and what places to avoid with the knife at all cost (bile duct).

It wasn't pretty.

The end result wasn't pretty, but I ended up with 5 birds suitable for making stew and stock.  I used every part of the bird possible, including organs and feet. I made the most beautiful hard-gelling stock I have ever made.

Peeled chicken foot.

 When the day was over and I had time to mentally and emotionally process the whole experience, I came to some conclusions: It was emotionally grueling to take several lives, even chicken lives. Praying and thanking the bird seemed to be ways for me to lessen the emotional impact of the act, but I cried when I killed the first 2 birds.

As I go through life as an omnivore I am much more acutely aware of the lives that animals in my food chain have lived.  I want them to have lived well and to have died peacefully. Raising your own animals and knowing your farmer are the best ways insure that they lived and died well.  I also know now to have some hard cider on hand so I can sit on the porch and decompress afterward.

 I am sharing this post at The Prairie Homestead.


  1. Last week was my first time as well. I feel its important like you said to know where our food is coming from and how they lived. But it was hard for me. I felt nauseous for 3 days. Now that a week has past i am actually looking forward to doing it again lol.

    1. We are doing 20 meat birds in the spring. I am already trying to get myself ready.