Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Butchering Chickens

This past weekend we butchered a couple of the roosters. We didn't butcher the handsome fellow pictured above. He's one we're definitely going to keep. When there is danger, he sounds the alarm. He stands guard outside the chicken house calling everyone in to safety. When the dogs bark, he rushes up to square off with them. He's very brave and protective. He's also got a sweet disposition and comes over to visit whenever I'm outside. We're keeping a spare, too, in case this one's bravado proves fatal.

Anyway, about the butchering. We figured we'd just do a couple, to figure out what was what. Then probably next weekend we'll do eight more and keep two roos and all the hens until we know which hens lay well, which go broody, etc. May butcher some hens later, but not yet.

ANYway... here are my observations. The text is graphic but there are no gory pictures.

Chickens are easy to catch if you let them all out in the morning and throw out some feed (my normal routine) then grab them by their feet while their butts are up in the air and they're distracted by the food. They are very calm when carried by their feet. They remain calm when you lay them across the chopping block. Very co-operative.

It's surprisingly difficult to behead a chicken.

They bleed less than I thought they would.

Butchering isn't as "wet" as I thought it would be. It's more sticky than wet.

We plucked the first bird and realized we'd scalded it a little too long. To make the feathers come out easily, a bird is dipped in water between 130F and 180F and swished around a bit. His feathers didn't come out very easily after several seconds of swishing, so we dunked him again and then his feathers came out really easily but his flesh was barely cooked at the outside edge. In the end we skinned him, and the second bird we skinned without even plucking. In the future, we'll mostly skin without plucking, as it saves heating up the water and all that. We don't really eat roast chicken anyway. Always grilled, stir-fry, soup, or burritos - dishes that utilize skinless pieces or meat off the bone.

I don't see HOW anyone can cut around the vent, then loosen the innards from the neck and pull everything out the vent (that's what I've read you're supposed to do). Everything is too firmly attached, you can't see what you're doing, and my hands are too big to go down in there. We didn't even try that method.

Instead, we did what my Grandmama told me to do, and it's one of the ways Carla Emery describes in her book. We took kitchen shears (note to self: order real poultry shears!) and cut along one side of the backbone, and opened it up. All the innards are easy to see, identify, cut free from the body, and dump out. On the second bird we cut along both sides of the backbone, and it was even easier.

The innards are more colorful and easier to identify than I expected. I expected everything to be kind of grayish nondescript and all mixed up. The lungs were *bright* pink, the liver a rich mahogany color, the gall bladder bright green. The gizzard was surprisingly firm. Hmm... I don't remember seeing the heart. Maybe we have heartless chickens!

It didn't stink as bad as I thought it would.

Chickens like blood. The other chickens made a pest of themselves, nosey things. A couple even jumped up on our makeshift table (plywood across sawhorses, with a plastic tablecloth). We had to shoo them away.

I thought it would bother me a lot, but it didn't really. NOW I'm bothered by the fact that it wasn't more difficult for me, emotionally (what kind of heartless beast *am* I?). My husband just rolls his eyes.

I marinated one chicken and grilled it last night. I used a grill with a propane tank and mistakenly left front, center, and back burners on. I was only supposed to leave front and back burners on. It was crispy to the point of challenging the structural integrity of our teeth :( I was really upset with myself for messing up the cooking after spending FIVE MONTHS brooding, raising, feeding, counting the chickens. GRRR. But, I'll pay better attention next time, and I suppose it's a lesson learned. My husband was very understanding.

Deep in the middle of the pieces, where the meat wasn't burned, it was a bit chewier than store-bought chicken but not unpleasant. It was juicy, despite being way overcooked and the chicken having very little body fat. The breasts tasted pretty much like store-bought chicken breasts, and the dark meat was richer, more like dark turkey meat (store-bought).

I simmered the carcass for several hours, then strained the liquid into a container. I picked the meat off the carcass bones and added them to the strained liquid, then froze it all. That will be soup one day.



At October 04, 2006 5:53 PM, Anonymous pablo said...

When I was but a wee lad at my grandfather's farm in Kentucky, I used to "help" on butchering day by holding the chicken on the block and then later plucking the feathers from the scalded body. The chickens were far too heavy for me to hold up by the legs as I plucked, so I just squeezed them under my arm to keep them in place. That lead to a different kind of vent problem. And I didn't pluck them very well either.

At October 05, 2006 8:15 AM, Blogger Leslie said...

Pablo, you amaze me. I had no idea you were from such earthy stock. We had hung our chickens by the legs with some baling twine to bleed out, and after scalding we hung back up to pluck. Regarding your vent problem (well, not YOUR vent, but...): EEEWWWwwwww!

At October 05, 2006 3:40 PM, Blogger Emily said...

Hi Leslie! Thanks for checking up on me at my blog. The foot's all healed up. I did have to get a tetanus of joys. The shots in the foot to numb it while they irrigated the wound were great fun as well.

Hey, good job on the roosters. We only have two and are thinking we'll keep both of them since they get along fine and are pretty amiable. They have started doing their little "dance" with the hens but we haven't seen any eggs yet, fertilized or otherwise. As for the guineas...grrrrr. They may be great bug and tick eaters but I am ready to chop their noisy little heads off. They never, I mean never, shut up (the females, that is). I love to hear a rooster crow but that screaming squeaky old metal gate guinea squawking is enough to drive one to the loony bin (no offense to all the guinea lovers out there). I think there may be guinea fowl on the Thanksgiving menu this year! Not being an experienced butcher myself, I am not looking forward to "vent problems" - ewwwww indeed!

At October 05, 2006 5:25 PM, Blogger Floridacracker said...

I gave up and skinned ours too during the only (Last) time I butchered a few of our yard flock.
No one would eat it, but me,since they all "knew" the bird.

I believe I gutted mine like a fish.

At October 06, 2006 9:48 AM, Blogger Ernest said...

It didn't bother you, not because you're heartless, but because you went through the natural process. The bird had a good life up until the point, and then was dispatched humanely in a place it was familiar with. No pain and a relatively good life free from fear and torture. We should all have it so easy. (But when they come for me, I'm taking someone's eye out with my rooster claw)

At October 08, 2006 12:02 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Why don't you make a Whizbanger chicken plucker like Herrick did. Check out his blog on the chickens.

At October 08, 2006 12:03 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

2nd part....

At October 08, 2006 12:13 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


At October 25, 2006 1:05 PM, Blogger Leslie said...

FC, gutting like a fish is an apt description of what we did. Hey, it works. I thought I'd have problems with folks not wanting to eat this one but we were hungry, we love grilled chicken, and it looked like familiar food from the grocery store. I think the rabbits will be more difficult.

Ernest, you put it so nicely. I don't feel bad about butchering the chickens, but I do feel good that they're living out in the sun and air chasing seeds and bugs.

Anon, I've been looking at the chicken plucker and we may build one. We usually grill our chicken or eat it in burritos, salad, soup, etc. Usually no call for whole chicken with the skin on it around here. If we develop a taste for roast chickens though then the plucker would be a no-brainer.

At January 09, 2007 6:56 AM, Blogger Harold said...

I've only butchered one of our flock (dog got it. I got her quick. Dead cluck but no damage.) I didn't scald and did the knife up the mouth/brain thing. Hung it upside down by the legg and just dry plucked. It was a chore but I think easier than heating and dunking etc. just for one bird. Gotta do 2 pesky roosters today and will do them the same way. I think scalding is way to much mess/work for less than 5 birds..

At February 10, 2010 9:02 PM, Anonymous Rooster Shamblin said... would you please spend a few minutes checking out my chicken blog. Been raising more than 50 breeds of chickens 40 years.


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