Monday, December 19, 2011

Nothing like a friendly chicken butchering get together

Today was the day to butcher the chickens.  Steve and Maureen came over to help.  They gave me some pointers about their 40 pound turkey they butchered for Thanksgiving.  I was to show them how I butcher chickens (the expert that I am because we went over to Bee Wench farm just two weeks ago).  Did I remember all the steps?  No.  But I was close and it all worked out great. 

In the morning I got everything set up.  I didn't want to have to keep running back and forth when the next step came along.  I set up the picnic table for the area to clean the innards out of the chickens.  Two sharp knives and two cutting boards were on the table.  I covered the table with a piece of plastic sheeting that I got from Lowe's.  (When you are walking out the door of the store note that they have twine and plastic sheeting free for the taking.  I always do.)  I set up the BBQ to keep the pot of water hot.  I hung up strings along the edge of the little shed to hang the chickens.  Below each string was a bucket for the chickens to bleed out any additional and for us to throw the feathers into the bucket rather than have them fly all over the yard.  I had a rubber cone from Pacific Telephone that somehow came into my possession years ago.  We cut it down so the chicken could be put into it.  I had the hose out by the table.  All was ready.  At least all that I remembered.

When Steve and Maureen arrived, two wonderful people that I've been communicating with on the computer but whom I'd never met in person until today, I showed them my garden and the animals.  They laughed at the sight of my polish hen.  She is pretty funny looking with a big white mop of feathers on top of her little black body.  We had the grand kids catch the chickens.  The ones needing butchering were gifts from my nephew's preschool class.  They raised the chicks but then didn't know what to do with them.  My sister volunteered that I'd take them.  There were nine. 

Three instantly drowned themselves in my water tub in the chicken coop.  The other six grew up just fine.  They were really nice looking chickens.  I don't know what kind they were, something that I'd never raised before.  Anyway, of the six survivors five were cockerels!  This means baby roosters.  You can't have a lot of roosters in the hen house.  They will fight each other  but worse than that they will continuously go after the hens.  So they had to go. 

When I was at Bee Wench farm they cut the heads off each chicken as they killed the chicken.  I wanted to try doing it a different way.  I was told that if you just cut the jugular vein the chicken's heart would still be pumping for an extra 30 seconds or so and this would help bleed out the chicken.  The first chicken Steve cut.  Then it was my turn.  I think I butchered three and Steve two.  Some of them the blood flowed out quickly, some sort of slow and we wondered if we did it wrong.  The chicken was dead so we didn't do it too wrong!!!  The last chicken bled out well but took a very long time to stop with the muscular movements.  We took it out of the cone too quickly I suppose.  It was a good thing that it was the last chicken that we butchered because if it was the first we would not have been confident with what we were doing. 

After the chickens looked like they were done bleeding out we dunked them in the pot of hot water.  Maureen made a fantastic suggestion that I will use next time.  My pot was one of my hot water bath canning pots.  It's big but not really big enough to get the water on all the surfaces of the chicken easily.  Maureen said that we just needed the hot water, we didn't need to use the pot.  You could use a garbage can or anything that's large and will hold water.  I have several large buckets that I use for animal waterers.  One of these would have worked much easier.  I could have added some boiling water after each dunking to keep the water hot.  Next time.

After dunking the chickens in the hot water we hung them back up on the string.  I made a slip knot and while I was going to put both feet into the knot Steve suggested we only put one foot in.  That way it would be easier to get the feathers in the fold of the legs.  It was really easy this way.  I called the grand kids over.  Besides the two that live here we had two more that had spent the night.  Their friend also spent the night but went home about an hour before we started on the chickens.  The four grand kids had to help pluck chickens.  Boy and Girl had no problem with this.  They were eager to show everyone what a good job they could do.  The older grandsons were not too happy about plucking chickens but they didn't complain.  I don't think it's something they'd volunteer to do but they did tell me that they were happy to know how to do it. 

When each chicken was plucked we brought them over to the table for the cutting.  I guess we went too slow and should have done one or two at a time rather than having all five in production at the same time.  The chickens were getting a little stiff and it wasn't as easy to get them gutted compared to two weeks ago at Bee Wench.  Here's where I forgot a step.  I should have had an ice chest filled with cold water.  When the birds were done being processed they should have been put into the ice chest to immediately cool down. 

After the birds were gutted we washed them out with the hose and then put them into plastic bags and into the refrigerator.  But we really took our time.  I think it took a little over two hours total to process the five birds from taking them out of the coop to putting them into the refrigerator.  This evening I took them out and packaged them up with my food saver and put them into the freezer.  While I was packaging them I was thinking that I should cut some of them up.  Perhaps a bag with four legs, another with four thighs, etc.  But I didn't.  All five chickens went into the freezer whole. 

I've been told by a hunter friend that you don't eat the meat right away.  It will be tough.  Instead you wait for several weeks and then cook it. 

I forgot two things today.  First was the ice chest.  Second was the asparagus.  I was going to dig up some of the asparagus plants to share the roots.  I'm digging them up and transplanting them down the fence line in the front yard.  One plant is giving me about 40 crowns for new plants so I still have a lot of plants to give away.  We talked about digging up a plant but forgot when it was time for them to go.  I'll be down there way in a couple of weeks.  Since the asparagus crowns can be planted any time, although winter is the best time, they will be able to get them in the ground while it's still our "cold" season.

All in all it was a good day. 


  1. We had a really hard time removing the neck. As I was replaying this day in my sleep I remembered what we did wrong! We didn't reach down to the bottom of the neck. If we did we could have severed it with a couple of swipes of the knife and just twisted it off. Maybe next time I'll remember!

  2. As I read your post, I was reminded of a few things. The ice bath came to mind. After we split the turkey, one half was cooked immediately. The other half was bagged and put into an ice bath. Later salt was added to the bath to brine the turkey half. That half did taste better.

    It was a great time and your processing line worked well. It was a great time and was a wonderful learning experience for us. Thank you for the day.

    And the directions to G.I. Jim's were excellent and worth the trip up the hill.

  3. Thank-you again for letting us help...or at least for letting Steve help;) We loved touring your farm and learned lots about 'processing' the birds, it was a fantastic afternoon!

    ps. your grandkids were wonderful, not many young people would have participated so willingly...very impressive.

  4. An old turkey fryer would be perfect for the "feather loosening dip" in boiling water, it's a large pot complete with burner and stand. I've been keeping my eye open on CraigsList for one, but nothing yet.

    I'm glad your visit helped spread the knowledge!


  5. ps. and we remembered the asparagus about halfway home....sigh. Hopefully, we'll get together again soon (maybe you'd like to help 'process' a turkey? ;)

  6. If you're ever in a situation when you don't have the helpers and have lots of chickens to process it is possible to just skin them instead of plucking feathers.

  7. It's true that you can skin the chickens, it would go a lot faster if I had no choice but to do it that way. Also, if I was going to smoke or dry the meat I wouldn't have any use for the skin. I do like the skin. It's a lot of good fat calories, which may be harder to come by if TSHTF.