Both my husband and I are not naive to the fact of killing animals for meat. Both of us either watched or participated in butchering chickens while growing up. However, if you are opposed to this practice, then read no further. This article is not for you. I grew up on “Old McDonald had a farm” as I like to say, and love animals. But I also watched my father butchering deer he had killed. And I can remember my parents butchering chickens when I was young. When you grow up with it, it’s kind of a matter-of-fact part of life to you.
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Personally, I prefer to leave the killing part to my husband. I do think it should be done as humanely as possible. My husband had actually helped butcher chickens growing up. But other than one lone rooster about a year ago, neither of us had done it in a very long time. Plus I didn’t want to do it the same way he had as a child. So Wade did some research on YouTube and watched this video. Also a nice article about butchering chickens had popped up in my Facebook feed at the perfect time. We don’t have a food-saver, but in that article from A Farmish Kind Of Life, she mentioned a shrink-wrap type of bag they used. I checked it out and ended up ordering *poultry shrink bags for our packaging.
I wasn’t totally prepared, our bags didn’t arrive till the afternoon and Wade butchered our birds in the morning. Funny thing though, not long before he started packaging them, he started telling me about this video he had watched on YouTube where they used shrink-wrap bags, and a straw to remove air from the bag. I interrupted him and said, “Honey, I ordered those kind of bags for us.”
“Oh,” he said, “I didn’t realize that.” I thought I had told him they were shrink-wrap, but regardless, we were on the same page, whether it was communicated well or not. 🙂 I ordered the supplies and he had watched the video, so we made a team anyhow. 🙂
Prepping To Butcher Chickens
It was nice that for our first batch, we only had six roosters to butcher. And by we, I mean Wade. I mainly sat in a chair and watched. However, I did have a good excuse, because I had just had surgery four days before. Wade did all the set-up. He used the burner on his grill to heat water. At my suggestion, my old water-bath canner was used to dip the birds in. For our first bird, the water temp was too hot, and should’ve been 140-145 degrees according to what Wade found recommended on Backyardchickens.com. So it ended up, he would have to turn the burner on and off between birds.
Beside the grill, he set up our plastic folding table with a cutting board and knife, and two big bowls. And beside that, he placed a large trash can with a clean liner. Inside the trash can/bag, (don’t laugh) he had attached an inverted chlorox bottle to a tool of his with zip ties. (hey, we were diy’ing it!) But feel free to attach yours to a tree or something else. Actually awhile ago, I had found a nice set-up on Craigslist someone was selling with a killing cone, table, and sink. At the time though we didn’t want to spend the money and weren’t ready for it, so we passed it up. It probably was a good deal.
But the bleach bottle with the ends cut off, worked for our purposes of a killing cone. I remember my parents doing something similar. My husband was accustomed to the ax and flopping method. I wasn’t in favor of that. If you prefer going the same route we did here’s a list of what we used. I did link to few items similar to ones we used, although they may not be identical.
Items Used To Butcher Chickens
- *Plastic folding table
- *Cutting board
- Sharp knife
- trash can
- clean trashbag liner
- large bowl or two
- garden hose
- large pot of hot water
- heat source (for us our grill)
- cooler to place finished birds in
- *poultry shrink bags
Wade also sanitized everything with bleach water before he began the process. One more item that would’ve been helpful is a *plucker. Unfortunately, because we didn’t have one, we had to do it by hand. That was the longest part of processing each bird. Wade says he’s going to build one, so I guess we’ll see. One of my cousins built his own.
Steps To Butcher Chickens
The process began by Wade grabbing a rooster and bringing it over to the processing area he had setup. He hadn’t let the young roosters out of their coop that morning to prevent them from eating. Except for the one older rooster that was in a different coop. It definitely made a difference. The last rooster had a full crop and it was more difficult to remove when processing him.
So first, each chicken was placed upside down in our DIY bleach bottle killing cone. This is to hold the animal after being killed. Chickens tend to “flop” after being butchered. It also held them while allowing the blood to drain out for a few minutes. The killing cone was positioned so each bird was directly above the trash can and minimized clean-up. The birds heads were removed with a sharp knife.
After the blood drained, my husband carried the birds to the large pot of hot water. He used a meat thermometer to check the temp, which as I stated before should be 140-145 degrees. With his first attempt the water was too hot, so you may have some trial-and-error here. He dipped the body of the bird into the water a few times, and also held it in there briefly. The purpose of this is to make it easier to remove the feathers. Why this helps, well I don’t know.
Then he took the bird back over to the trash can, and plucked out the feathers by hand. This was the longest part of the process, but can be done relatively quickly if you own or have access to a plucker as I mentioned earlier. After a couple birds, I started helping him with the plucking which may have speeded things up a little.
Next he put the carcass in a large stainless steel bowl, and rinsed it with the garden hose, while rubbing it with his hand. This was to clean the bird and better remove finer feathers etc. that had been missed. Then he placed the carcass on the cutting board. Using the knife he severed the legs from the joints, as well as chopping the neck shorter.
And then of course, he had to gut the bird. He cut a small opening at the back end of the bird. Again some experimenting here to figure out the best way. To release the intestines, it worked to cut on each side of the vent in a “V” shape. Don’t want to cut into that area! He used his hand to remove the insides. Then he had to push thru the diaphragm to remove the heart and lungs. The trachea was the last to be removed.
Lastly, when all the gutting was completed, the bird was again rinsed with the hose, and then placed inside a cooler of water mixed with some apple cider vinegar. This was a tip Wade had learned off the video he had watched. The processing was complete! This was done for all six chickens.
Packaging The Birds For Freezing
If/when we butcher again, I’ll have the shrink-wrap bags on hand. However, we had to leave the birds in the cooler until they arrived later in the day. Wade added some ice, and should’ve put more in. It’s important to have poultry at safe temperatures and I thought we should’ve done better at this. I had thought it would’ve been best to immediately bag each bird after all the butchering was done. However, I was just reading the instructions now that came with our poultry bags, and they say that you should chill the carcass for 24-48 hours! So we sorta did the right thing unintentionally. Except we should’ve done it longer, and definitely used more ice. The directions re-inforced my thoughts that the birds needed to be kept chilled. But now I know if we do it again.
However, it was pretty quick to package the birds with these bags. He simply placed a bird in a bag, and inserted the straw that came with them, into the hole in the end of each carcass. Then he secured a zip-tie around the neck of the bag leaving a small hole that the straw could poke thru.
He had pre-heated a large pot of water on the stove, checking with a thermometer to make sure it reached 180 degrees. So once he secured a zip-tie on the bag, he dipped the whole bag into the pot of hot water for a brief amount of time. The directions with the bags recommend 5 seconds or less. Then while you hold the bag in the air, I guess it reacts somehow, and the air inside the bag is sucked out thru the straw. Wade removed the straw and immediately tightened the zip-tie.
All the chickens were packaged easily this way, and looked nice when finished. All that was left was to store them in the freezer!
If you want to learn more about raising your own meat animals please visit our post Raising Healthy Pork For Less.