(WARNING: I’ve included a couple of in-progress pictures towards the end of this post and I’ve been very careful to pick ones that look little different to a bird you’d find at the supermarket. However, if you’re very sensitive, you might want to skip this article.)
We killed and dressed/butchered a chicken for the first time in 18+ months on Saturday – the first time since we had chickens of our own.
It wasn’t one of ours – our friend John B hatched some Silver Wyandotte eggs last year and they all turned out to be boys so they didn’t fit in well in his egg-laying matriarchy. They were becoming bullies so had to go. He brought one of the big fluffy boys to our house for us as his daughters have a bit of an embargo on him doing it at his house.
We killed our first chickens under his tutelage in April 2010 – just before we got our own girls. Again, they were some boys whose only crime was being boys – oh and forcibly having their way with John’s girl chickens, that was their crime too. We had already accepted that we had to be willing to kill chickens before we could keep them ourselves – for example, what if one was injured and needed putting out of its misery? or, as happened in this most recent case, if hatched eggs turned out to be boys. But as I mentioned in my blog back then, there was also the bigger picture to consider: if we only bought point-of-lay girls, then someone else was having to deal with the equal number of point of lay boys that were being born. (This great article by Throwback at Trapper Creek puts it better than I can.)
That first time, we found it strangely easy – not fun, not something we enjoy doing but easier than we thought. This time was similar. We thought it might be hard because we are so much more used to chickens now – know them as having their own personalities etc – but probably because it wasn’t one of ours, we didn’t have any issues with that.
Last time, the plucking was a lengthy chore as we hadn’t thought to do the hot bucket of water trick – this time, we did dunk the dead bird and wow, it made such a difference. It was a lot quicker & easier to pluck and we didn’t rip the skin at all. We’ll definitely be doing that every time we have to pluck from now on.
This is the bird almost much entirely plucked clean – it’s still complete at this point, except for its feathers.
The division of duties is that my John does the killing, we both pluck then I butcher/dress it. Seeing how much effort my foot-taller/considerably-stronger boyfriend has to put into it and knowing I easily get painful knuckles, I’m not sure I could physically kill the birds and on the flip side, I’m much more confident with using knives than John is, so it works out well. I was a little unsure how much of the butchering process I could remember from last time, but aside from forgetting to pull out the crop & windpipe until it came out in my hand as a bit of a surprise, I think I did pretty well (my criteria: did I cut/break the intestines and spray poo everywhere? no? then I did pretty well! ;) ) Another thing: since I don’t have a big cleaver for getting through the neck/legs (and am also too scared to use one), I put the knife in place then whacked the top of the blade with a wooden rolling pin. Last time, I think we used a misc wooden block but I think the longer rolling pin worked better.
(That’s me cutting off the head – I didn’t intend for my hand to censor the action, it’s just the way it was. The feet, then wing tips will be next, followed by the gutting.)
The bird turned out to be quite a skinny fellow underneath all his fluff but his legs, breasts & wings weighed just under 1kg/2.2lbs in total so we’ll get a few good meals out of him. The offal – the heart, liver and skin, which I’ll cook for the animals – was another 300g and the carcass (for stock) about 400g. His head, intestines (and other innards) and feet went in the bin; his feathers in the compost.
In the future, if we get/create a bit more space, I’m tempted to raise a dozen meat birds each summer to give us one a month in the freezer. I’m glad we get to experience different parts of the process before we make that sort of commitment though.
Have you killed chickens for meat? What do you find is the hardest part?