Butchering chickens (graphic photo documentary)

How to butcher chickens: a documentary in photographs

Warning: this is a graphic ‘how to’ photo essay on chicken dispatching and butchering, do not read any further unless you are really interested in learning the art of home butchery. Note these directions will work for turkey, chicken and ducks (and their wild cousins). See butchering turkey post for specifics on turkeys.

I was all set to butcher my Cornish Crosses this morning but they are still too skinny! So, instead I decided to butcher some of my larger roosters from last year. Although they are getting along fine with each other, I really do have too many of them. I am going to give one of my favourites away to the friend who lost all her chickens to the marauding bears in January. She has finally gotten herself another flock of gals who are in need of a beau. So, its the Pavarotti understudy who is the model for the accompanying photos. He was big and gorgeous but not new blood, so he has to go.

1. Step One: Preparing the work area.

Clean your work station so it is ready for the job.

Clean workstation ready for the task.

Clean workstation ready for the task.

Mine is about as simple an operation as anyone would want. Here is the list of equipment I work with:

a) An easy to clean table for the gutting and cleaning process (mine is a piece of smooth arbourite that sits on top of my table).

b) Block of wood for knocking the bird unconscious and killing cones to place the bird in to bleed out.

c) Knives sharp enough to do the job easily. I keep an assortment of sizes for different aspects of the job.

d) Plucking machine (not necessary, but helpful on the hands!)

e) Scalder and heat source: in my case is an old beer keg with an end cut off so I can fill it with water which sits on a metal stand so I can get a flame underneath it for heating the water. This is my newly acquired elaborate piece of equipment that is actually borrowed from someone who no longer uses it. Alternatively, place a metal container over an open fire will also work (see Poultry in Motion or Butchering Turkeys for examples).

f) Clean plastic or metal containers for rinsing the ‘keepables’ (heart, liver, gizzard, and neck) and cooling the birds after processing.

g) Various buckets for hand washing, collecting the guts and blood, towels for drying hands, cloths for wiping up, dish soap, running water.

2. Step Two: render the bird unconscious

Grab the bird by the feet then swing the bird over your head and swifty, and with force, bring its head down onto a hard surface so as to knock him unconscious. This is the first time I’m doing it this way since speaking with another farmer about how he kills his birds. He convinced me that it was worth trying. The idea is that you render it unconscious before slitting its jugular and therefore it is a more humane way of killing the bird than simply slitting it while fully conscious. Until today, I have always just slit them once in the killing cones. I must say, this method is preferable and there is a definite ease in dealing with them in the killing cones. When they are not unconscious, they can kick and fuss and even jump their way out of the cones after they are cut. This does not happen when the bird is unconscious. It made for a much more relaxed dispatch process in general.

Rendering the bird unconscious by hitting his head on the wooden board.

Rendering the bird unconscious by hitting his head on the wooden board.

A life defining moment:

I once saw Australian Aboriginal women do this with monitor lizards in the Outback. She drug it from its hole (after tracking it) by the tail and swung it overhead–exactly as I’m doing in the above photo–and brought its head down over a rock. It was shocking at first to see and yet my immediate thought was, ‘That is the kind of woman you need around if you’re ever in a pinch!” I was so impressed with those ladies that I thought, “I have to become one of those kind of women”. It’s taken a few years–not to mention a few tears–but I’m nearly there!

3. Step Three: killing the bird

Place the bird in the killing cone. Then, bring its head through the hole at the bottom. Have your knife ready (it will need to be very shard for chickens, especially roosters because they are heavily feathered in the neck region where you will need to cut). To locate the jugular vein, look at the chicken’s cheek. You will see it’s ear tuft of hair and jowl. The jugular is located at the edge of the cheek/jawline in line with its ear. Imagine the corner of your jaw and then look at the chickens jaw for the same point. Cut there. You will know that you have cut correctly when the blood spurts out of the neck. If it is slowly dribbling, you have not yet found the jugular–keep cutting. Repeat on both sides.

Grab the head and locate the jugular area before beginning your cut.

Grab the head and locate the jugular area before beginning your cut.

4.  Step four: Scalding

Put the bird in the scalder for several seconds and swish it in an up and down motion to allow the water to penetrate through the layers of feathers. The scalder water temperature should be at least 145 degrees F. Opinion varies widely on how hot the water should be. I make sure it is above 145F and no hotter than 170F. If it fluctuates between those temperatures, I don’t tend to worry about it. Simply take the heat source away from the water if it gets too hot. If you cover the scalder with a lid between birds the water will hold its temperature surprisingly well.

Chicken after several seconds of dunking in water scalder.

Chicken after several seconds of dunking in water scalder.

5. Step Five: Plucking the feathers.

Place the bird on the plucking machine. Gently roll it over from side to side so that all the body parts are eventually exposed to the plucker. Alternatively, place it on the table and start plucking by hand! Not all the feathers will come easily, some will have to be hand plucked even with the plucking machine.

The plucking machine saves my hands from a lot of tedious work!

The plucking machine saves my hands from a lot of tedious work!

Finishing touches of feather removal must be done by hand.

Finishing touches of feather removal must be done by hand.

6. Step Six: Remove lower legs.

Once you have the feathers off it is time to start the butchering process. Grab hold of the lower leg and bend it backward slightly. Take the knife and begin your cut at the joint. Cut through the cartilage and avoid cutting the bone. This makes the leg removal cleaner and easier.

Removing the lower leg.

Removing the lower leg.

7. Step Seven: Cut off the head.

Place your hand on the head, tilt the head back and sever between the head and neck. Once you have the meat cut all the way around the base of the head, you should be able to pull the head off. This is better than cutting through the bones in the neck as it leaved the chicken certainly clean of bone shards. Then, cut into the neck skin just below the top of the breast bone. Be careful not to cut into the flesh inside or the crop which is located in this throaty area.

8. Step Eight: Remove the crop.

Cut the skin all the way around the neck so it will be removable. You don’t have to cut as high up towards the breast as I have in order to get at the crop. If you want to retain more of the skin around the breast, then cut up from the neck towards the breast  (instead of from the breast down as I have in the photo) just enough to get your hand into the chest cavity. Pull the crop away from the chest cavity and locate its outlet that goes deep into the body. Then locate the esophagus which lays alongside the crop outlet. Cut both these tubes and remove them from their location. Gently pull the crop and the tubes out of the body and pull the neck skin along with it to remove it from the chicken entirely.

Carefully cutting into chest cavity.

Carefully cutting into chest cavity.

Locate the crop being careful not to cut it open.

Locate the crop being careful not to cut it open.

Carefully cut the crop away from the body cavity.

Carefully cut the crop away from the body cavity.

Note: I’ve taken too much of the skin around the breast away to make the perfect roasting bird. Luckily, this fellow is going to be made into Chicken Byriani by my friend from Hyderabad, India on Friday night so it is not a problem.

Pull the crop along with the neck skin down over the neck and off the bird.

Pull the crop along with the neck skin down over the neck and off the bird.

9. Step Nine: Gut removal

Cut into the stomach cavity below the breast bone and down towards the anus, being careful not to cut into the meat or the guts inside.  Cut down and around the anus. Gently pull the anus and colon away from the bird. Then place your hand inside the bird and pull the organs away from the cavity wall. Turn your hand from side to side to help dislodge the connective tissue. Grab hold of all that you can, including the lungs which are at the back of the bird, and pull it all out of the hole you’ve made. You can either toss all the guts away at this point (a bit of a waste of good nutritional value in the form of lost giblets), or clean the heart, liver and gizzard for use in the gravy and stuffing.

Carefully cut into stomach cavity of bird at base of breast bone.

Carefully cut into stomach cavity of bird at base of breast bone.

Cut towards the anus being careful not to cut through colon.

Cut towards the anus being careful not to cut through colon.

Here is the colon on the inside of the bird still attached to the now removed anus.

Here is the colon on the inside of the bird still attached to the now removed anus.

Gently pull the anus and colon out and away from the body of the bird.

Gently pull the anus and colon out and away from the body of the bird.

Place your hand inside stomach cavity and dislodge all the innards from the chest wall.

Place your hand inside stomach cavity and dislodge all the innards from the chest wall.

10. Step Ten: Prepare the giblets.

Cut the heart in half and wash in clean water. Cut the gal bladder from the liver and wash the liver. Cut open the gizzard and remove its contents then clean and wash it. Place the above in cool water.

The innards of the chicken: heart, lungs, liver, kidneys, gizzard, and intestines.

The innards of the chicken: heart, lungs, liver, kidneys, gizzard, and intestines.

Cut open the gizzard being careful not to cut through the inner sac.

Cut open the gizzard being careful not to cut through the inner sac.

Pull the inner sac away from the gizzard.

Pull the inner sac away from the gizzard.

The giblets cleaned and ready for packaging: neck, heart, liver, and gizzard.

The giblets cleaned and ready for packaging: neck, heart, liver, and gizzard.

11. Step Eleven: Remove oil sac:

At the base of the back just above the tail feathers is the oil sac. Place your knife above the sac and cut fairly deep into the skin. You want to go in and behind the two sacs and come out above the tail feathers but below the sac. In the photo below, you can see clearly a nub where a feather used to be. This is the base of the oil sac and where you want your cut to come out below.

Remove the oil sac at the base of the back above the tail.

Remove the oil sac at the base of the back above the tail.

12. Step Twelve: Prepare for storage

I always wrap the giblets in celophane and place them along with the neck into the body cavity as you would a turkey. This way the are available for use in gravies, curries, or stuffing. They add nutritional value to our lives that we are no longer getting in the form of organ meats thanks to our contemporary lifestyle of store-bought meat. Then I place the birds in zip-lock freezer bags and freeze if I’m not planning on using them right away.

The giblets are wraped in celophane and placed inside the bird along with the neck.

The giblets are wraped in celophane and placed inside the bird along with the neck.

The chicken weighs in at precisely 5 pounds.

The chicken weighs in at precisely 5 pounds.

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89 Comments

Filed under Animal issues, Butchering, Chickens, Educational, How to..., Learning to Farm

89 responses to “Butchering chickens (graphic photo documentary)

  1. Very interesting. I never saw anyone knock the chicken unconscious before. We used to just use a hatchet and cut the heads off. Actually your way is surely less traumatic for the chicken. I hope sometime you show a female with the string of eggs inside. I remember seeing this from when I was a kid and it was fascinating. My mom cooked them as a special treat.

    • Hi Sandie,

      I rarely kill the hens, instead I keep them as layers and breeders. Most of my hens get to live into old age here on the farm; even some of the ‘chosen ones’ roosters get the same treatment. Interesting about the cooking of the egg strings. I’ve never heard of that. Do you know how to do it? And/or have the recipe? I’d be interested if you passed it along (as I’m sure some of my readers would be).

      thanks for the info,

      HDR

    • Lynn

      My grandmother used to get her turkeys from the farmer’s market, and draw them on the kitchen table Christmas morning :-) She always saved the eggs and put them in the stuffing.

      I can’t think it would be much different for chickens. I wish we’d had this when I had chickens years ago, but that’s silly – we only just barely had computers, certainly no internet!

      Thanks!

    • Carol

      I haven’t tried this one my self yet but it came highly recommended !
      Good luck

      PS thanks for the info!

      1 4-5 pound stewing hen, with gizzard, heart, neck, and feet (not the liver, which would make the soup bitter)
      1 onion
      1 large carrot
      2 stalks celery, with leaves
      1 bay leaf
      6 peppercorns
      4-5 quarts water (a quart per pound of chicken)
      salt to taste
      Garnish: Unborn egg yolks from the chicken’s ovary OR “egg balls” (made by pounding the hard boiled yolks of 3 eggs with a little flour and salt, then stirring in the raw yolk of an egg and rolling the mixture into little balls).

      Bring the hen and her parts to a quick boil in the water and carefully skim the foam before adding the vegetables and seasonings. Add the onion, carrot, celery, bay leaf, peppercorns, and salt. Simmer gently for 2 and a half hours. Strain carefully, using the chicken meat for another recipe and throw out the remaining bones, vegetables, and seasonings.

      If you have the chicken ovary at the ready, return the broth to a simmer when you are ready to serve the soup and slip in the unborn eggs.

      If you are taking the “egg ball” route, return the broth to a boil, drop the little balls into the pot, cover, and cook for 5-10 minutes. (You can also cook these in boiling water in advance, then add to the simmering broth when you are ready to serve it.)

  2. Mitch

    Interesting, I use the same method in killing my roosters but i use a metal bar and break there neck which kills them

    I for some reason can’t get to actually slit there throats so I usually get somebody else to do it for me

    Interesting comment about about the egg strings, I would also be happy to read about this too.

    Good luck with the cornish crosses
    Also, I’m having trouble with my incubator trying to get the thermostat temp right it always seems to go over 100 or under not actually 100
    Do you have any ideas for me ?
    To adjust the thermostat i have to move this metal rod its quite confusing so yeah if you have any ideas it would be great

    thanks
    cya
    Mitch

  3. This was an excellent tutorial on how to butcher chickens. Good job!

  4. I am really hooked to these graphic posts. We (ok *I*) would love to move to a farm and do what you do… We (ok *he*) is a wee bit more realistic about it all — but still it is great to actually see what you do, attractive is actually the aesthetic aspects: it all looks very “clean” and civil. Natural.

    Thanks, looking forward to the next “how-to” post *smile*.

    • Andrea,

      Glad you liked the ‘how to’ post. I do intend to do more of them. I’m hoping this fall I will get a moose (or a deer at least) and be able to document that whole process. Wish me luck on that one!

      Incidentally, if I waited for the ‘more realistic’ time to arrive before taking the plunge into this farming life, I’d (we’d) never have gotten here or even begun! Neither of us have farming/agricultural backgrounds and therefore we had no experience with growing food, animal husbandry, living remotely, dealing with predators, butchering animals, or all that food preservation entails.

      But we (ok I), really, really wanted to do this and so we (ok I) pushed to make it happen. If you two (ok you) want to have this kind of life then go for it. I think it is like having children, if you wait for the ‘right time’ you may find the time is over and long past.

      Until then, live vicariously, dream big and roughly plan.

      cheers,

      HDR

      • *she smiles*

        Thanks so much for your encouraging words… I must tell *him* what you wrote (especially the part about kids, we have 5 — yeah, five)…

        I’m a dreaming and we do have two large gardens (which up to the year before last feed us through most of the winter, but now the kids EAT more…), so we have great experience in fruits and veggies, drying, canning — you name it!

        I have a copy of the Encyclopedia of Country Living which I love to read every evening before bed… *sigh* one day, ONE DAY!

        Look forward to your Moose/Deer adventures! (and seeing what happened to the goat afterbirth!)

        • Ah we’re kindred spirits; I too began my journey with the Encyclopedia of Country Living! Bought while living out of a 1970 Volkswagen van and headed to Mexico…

          • *sigh*

            Ah, romantic fool I am…

            Cheering you on from Germany and no longer *dreaming* but *knowing* that one day it will be reality!

            (Perhaps NOT the 1970 VW van…)

  5. Odd that you tear up the skin over the breast so much in pursuit of the crop. I usually pen the birds prior to slaughter so that the crop is empty and can be removed without tearing up the skin. The skin, with its layer of fat, is one of my favorite parts of a roasted bird. Taking the skin off the breast makes for a drier breast.

    • It is not so much ‘in search of’ the crop but rather simply my technique. It was not really my intention to take away so much but I am still in pursuit of a better knife. Got any suggestions? (I’m beginning to think scalpel). I don’t have a way of penning them before slaughter yet! Likely never will (too many predators not enough money).

      • Doris

        Hey, craigslist.com is a good source for a free trampoline. Well, we already have one, but my daughter came up with the idea of fencing around it to contain the little chooks, and there you are, it’s easily moved and easily covered if it should rain. Maybe I can get her to get a pic today. Certainly works for an overnight stay for any you want to separate for a short period.
        Just an idea that is working for me.

  6. You don’t need to pen them up, just remove the feed the night before. As long as you provide water they will be fine. You should be able to just make a small incision in the neck area and then just pull the skin away from the crop area and be able to loosen the windpipe at the same time.

    Great pictures – and it sounds like they turned out good weight-wise.

    • When I butcher the chickens for others, I do pay more attention to the way I cut into the crop area. I knew this bird was for our own consumption and that we weren’t going to roast him, so I wasn’t all that fussed about it (I suppose I should have been for the sake of the photos!).

      I’ve built pretty big hoppers for the chickens in order to cut down the daily workload. I have timed it well a few times for the butchering day of these Cornish Crosses, but they still weren’t even close to fat enough. So, it is not all that easy for me to hold the feed back as I’d have to hand empty the hoppers or time the whole deal really well which of course is the ideal yet elusive situation for me! As for the one I butchered, there is now way of holding back feed for them because they are my stud roosters and live with my egg layers. Unless I separate them the night before, I just can’t do it and I don’t have the facilities to do that yet (probably never will).

  7. Very timely, this. I’m going to be slaughtering my three elderly hens tomorrow. First time slaughtering anything, and no more experienced help on hand either. Thanks for the walkthrough; you mentioned a few pieces of setup that I hadn’t thought through. Will get those ready tonight.

    I doubt any of my hens will be even close to 5 lbs. The color of the fat and the just-killed flesh in a few of your photos almost make it look like fruit of some kind.

    My layers are so old I’m not sure they’ll be much worth eating. But I’ll try coq au vin with one of them and if that one’s no good, then the bones are for stock and the cat can have the meat.

    Wish me luck!

    • Coq au vin will be a very good dish to make with the older hens. Also, if you have a slow cooker, any recipe done in that on the low setting will turn out divine I’m sure.

      cheers,

      HDR

    • Doris

      According to Jarvis, New England Folk Medicine, adding raw apple cider vinegar (1/4 cup/gallon) to their water for two weeks before butchering will soften and tenderize the meat of these elderly birds for eating. I also put cayenne pepper (up to one teaspoon per gallon) in the water. And I have just found out that adding crushed garlic cloves to the water will kill coccidia. I have been teased that my birds are pre-seasoned. lol I love that I don’t have to resort to drugs and chemicals.

      By the way, HDR, what’s your maximum amount of birds to slaughter in one day?
      Thanks
      DM

  8. Moose or deer, heh? Good luck! I was drawn for calf moose again this year, so I’m looking forward yet another hunt this fall/winter.

    • Hi Kevin,

      I got a moose draw this year; my very first so I’m pretty darn excited about it. Perhaps you could direct me to some game meat recipes on your fantastic blog?? And, when are you coming to cook in Bella Coola!

      cheers,

      HDR

  9. Pingback: How to Kill, Pluck, and Clean a Duck « Two State Solution

  10. mona

    pls would you show me how to slaughter rabbits thanks

  11. Anne

    Is it possible to just skin the whole bird, feathers and all, and not have to pluck the feathers?

  12. Hi,
    I’m curious as to what a killing cone is, I couldn’t really tell from the pictures. I assume it keeps the chicken from flopping around while bleeding. Since I seldom do more than eight or ten birds at a time, I just take one to a fruit tree that might like the fertilizer, shove the feet between my knees, stretch the neck out and slit it with the other hand. Your idea about banging their heads on something sounds like a good one, but I’ve never been good at baseball and arthritis prevents, anyway. Gramma did’em with a hatchet, but she’d a lot of kindling practice…and kindling holds still.

    You might like to try slitting the skin up the back of the neck and severing the bones at the body with a pair of handheld pruning shears. You don’t have skin on the neck, but you get a nice wrap of skin that folds under the back to hold stuffing and juices. More room for stuffing is always nice.

    Mary Zeman, Lago Arenal, Costa Rica

  13. JPMorgan

    I just butchered our rooster using your info here.
    It’s been decades since we butchered chickens. You helped refresh my memory and get er done.
    Commercial chickens have way too many growth hormones in them. So we’re going to start raising our own from now on.

  14. Whitney

    Very good tutorial. We’re actually processing our cornish crosses this afternoon, and I do like the idea of knocking them unconscious first. We had planned on just putting ours into the killing cones alive, but I do think your method is less traumatic for the birds. I appreciate the pictures and info– thanks!

  15. Christy

    Any freezer storage suggestions? I purchased these bags http://www.mcmurrayhatchery.com/large_freezer_bags.html. What method do you use and how long does chicken store in the freezer? Also, how many chickens do you normally butcher in one setting? How long does each chicken take you? Thanks so much. Love the blog.

  16. john

    Enjoyed your tutorial. My cornish are now 6 pounds at 7 weeks. What is the percentage of dressed weight over live weight? Half century ago our method was with the bird held upside down by both legs, to bring the ends of both wing tips into the same grasp as the legs, chop off the head on a stump block into which two nails were driven into a V to hold the head and streatch out the neck. Maintain a firm hold and lower the bird to the grass to bleed out. Don’t let go until the twitching stops. I was told bruising could result it the bird was allowed to run and thrash about. Not mentioned was to singe off the hair after the bird was defeathered. Go over the bird quickly with a gas flame to singe the hair. In the old days we rolled up a piece of brown paper bag, lit the end and passed the bird over the flame. Don’t use newspaper because the ink in the paper will leave a black chemical smudge on the skin. The restraining cones are $50 in my catalog…….to much for a po’ farm boy.
    John

  17. john

    OK, I’ll answer my own question. A 6 1/2 pound live weight bird (minus the head, so not really alive) dressed out at 5 pounds w/neck, gizzard, heart, and liver. This is 77%. Without the neck and organs the dressed weight is 4 3/4 pounds for a yield of 73%. This is quite efficient. I have data for a 1000 pound steer which yields 590 pounds hanging weight, 59%, and 465 pounds of retail cuts for 46.5%. The numbers for a 200 pound hog are 145 pounds dressed, 72%, and 109 pounds of retail cuts, 54.5%.

  18. Christy

    Thanks so much John! That was very helpful. We will be butherching our first batch shortly. How long did each chicken take you to butcher?

  19. john

    Christy, It so happens that I actually timed myself. Not counting my set up time, I went from bird to bird in 35 minutes. I set up the chop block by the chicken house; near my home one end of the picnic table was used for picking while the other end had the cutting board for gutting. I had a five gallon pail for waste and a wash tub with cold water for chilling the birds. A garden hose was also close by for rinsing out the birds. A gas burner heated the 16 quart pail of water for dipping. I removed the pail from the burner and placed it on the lawn prior to dipping each bird. A squirt of Dawn dish soap was added to the water so that the water penetrates the feathers quickly. The operation was neat and I didn’t get dirty at all. I have read that the dressed birds should be aged for 48 hours at 38 degrees prior to their next destination whether it be freezer or stove. Anyone have comments regarding the aging process? I dressed five today, placed in plastic bags and into the spare refridgerator for aging. I didn’t want to put too many into the fridge at one time as this would lengthen the time to chill the birds. There were many pin feathers. John

  20. Hey John,

    I too do my birds by hand like you and it takes me about the same amount of time it does you. I noticed that the poultry plucker sped the process up considerably! That made it so I could do between 4-6 birds per hour for chickens. Nice tip about the dish soap in the dunking water (I have never heard that before).

    As per the aging process, I have killed and eaten birds straight away with no ill effects and no noticeable toughness (which I presume is part of the idea behind aging).

    Isn’t it nice when you get those five birds all cleaned out and packed away! I love looking at the birds all packed up like they just came from the grocery store.

    Today, you made good, clean, ethical food!

    I salute you,

    Kristeva

    PS.regarding pin feathers: nightmare always! I tend to hand pluck them with my knife and it takes ages.

  21. Christy

    Thanks so much!! Any tips on freezing them? What is the freezer-shelf life? I’d like to butcher in bulk but I’m not sure on storage.

  22. john

    Thanks for the kudos, Kristeva, five more tomorrow if it doesn’t rain, also liver, bacon and onions (garden) on toast (homemade bread). Your pictured set up is really nice and I see that your plucker is shrouded all around. I borrowed one years ago that was just a frame and wheel, no tin, and let me tell you, I looked like I was tarred and feathered. Christy, I can’t add anything more to the freezing and storage, Kristeva nailed it. You could process and pressure can the chicken in bottles, but it is a lot of work. I put up venison in bottles and have never had spoilage and made stew from six year old venison. Preparation options are limited with bottled meat….. stew anyone?

    • Hi John and Christy,

      The visual of you tarred and feathered is hilarious… The funny part is i CAN imagine! Not unlike my first time with the plucker. I nearly got sucked right into the thing myself. I wasn’t quite prepared for the pull. I was doing turkeys so of course they weigh more than chickens and when I placed my first bird on the wheel it really took me by surprise. I would have liked to see a video clip of it myself. I was laughing just from the sheer shock of it all.

      On the canning note. I do can a lot of my chicken and turkey (and my moose) each year not only to save on freezer space but also for the convenience of it. It is true that the options are limited, but the cans of meet sure make for easy ‘slow food’ suppers when you are dog tired and lack the energy to cook. Because I also dehydrate a lot of my veggies, then soups, stews, and curries can be made lickity split. Just chuck all the ingredients in a pot and simmer till done.

      See ‘Canning meat and poultry’ for directions.

      cheers,

      Kristeva

      • Christy

        Great idea about stews and dehydration…thanks guys!

        John, I just can’t seem to shake the visual of you being tarred and feathered. I was laughing out loud on that one.

  23. Just chiming in to say I’m glad I subscribed to this comment section a while back. The recent conversation has been useful.

    John, I’ve thought about canning the meat from my laying hens when it’s time for a new flock. The last two times I slaughtered laying hens I tried to make the meat palatable, but it was just tough and stringy no matter what I did. I thought perhaps pressure canning would tenderize the meat. Have you any experience with old layers? So far I’ve only made stock out of them. The stock was great, but I’d prefer to find a way to use the meat. Also, I suspect that besides stews, canned meat would do alright in casseroles too.

    • Christy

      That is a great question Kate. I am looking forward to reading the response. We are new to chickens, as our layers are now only 2 months old. I planned to butcher them when it was time for a new flock as well but I had no idea they would be tough! I hope someone has some insight on this. What a waste of meat that would be. Good thought on the pressure canner. Does anyone know at what age hens begin to toughen?

  24. john

    Sorry Kate, I’ve never canned any old layers. I can tell you that the venison that I can is falling-apart tender much like the beef in Dinty Moore beef stew and not gamey. My hens are only 2 months old, but when their time comes, I will draw upon your past experiences any can my old birds. I love stew and cassaroles. The best aspect of canning is that once done, no more energy input is required (think electricity for the freezer). I can all of my green beans and tomatoes and they keep for years. Corn I freeze because the canning time is long, 85 minutes at pressure for quarts, and I don’t like the overcooked flavor. Like Kristeva said, the canned produce is immediately usable, no thawing or long cooking time, heat and eat.

  25. Dawn

    Thanks for the picks! I’ve butchered my share of chickens, but I am always looking for more info on how other people do it. I really like the idea of knocking them unconscious first. I’d be willing to bet they come out more tender that way. I am planning to do some of our two-year old roosters and hens which aren’t good layers in the next week or so and pressure can them. I had read that two-year-olds are the best for canning because younger birds tend to be tasteless after the long cooking time required for processing. I haven’t tried canning yet, but when I’ve previously butchered older birds I found them tough no matter how I cooked them so I’m hoping for better luck with the canning. I may just have to make myself one of those whiz-bang homemade pluckers first though :). Or put the kids to work plucking feathers! I usually singe some of the pinfeathers off.

  26. Christy

    Well our first butcher went great! I have never even cleaned a fish before, so I was suprised it all went so smoothly. 27 Cornish X were bagged and frozen. Man are they ever delicious and nothing like storebought. Butchering was so easy and we developed a sytem quickly. We did knock them out before hanging and cutting throats but almost all of our still flailed around wildly near the end. About 6 of them flailed so badly that they dislocated a wing!!! There were a few that didn’t flap much. I’m not sure if it was anything we did that could have altered that because we did each the same way.

    • That sounds great Christy!

      If they were still flailing around then they weren’t knocked unconscious. You probably need to hit them again. The way I check to see if they are is to touch their eyeball gently with my finger. If they flinch then they are still conscious and I knock them again.

      Kristeva

  27. Christy

    Kristeva,

    Thanks so much! They really looked like they were out. They were completely limp so I assumed they were, but that may explain why some flailed and some did not. We did not pick them up overhead like in the blog. My husband held them and I came up from the side with a board and hit them on top of the head hard. Often times the head would hang limp but the wings would flap while he held them tightly and then hung them up. A few min later they would flap again and then that was it. I was wondering if perhaps I had killed them with the board hit. I am a HUGE animal lover but I realize what we eat in the store has not been raised or killed in a humane way. Our chickens had wonderful lives and healthy food. Knocking them out without them suspecting anything seems much more humane. Ty so much for taking the time to post this blog and take the pics. Everything was so helpful.

  28. Pingback: Culling Chickens | LivingSmall

  29. Diane

    Most of the books I have read on both poultry and rabbit butchering advocate breaking the necks before slitting the throat.
    It is suppose to be super easy to do and I would think much more humane than just hanging and slitting.

    • Hello Diane,

      I read those books too! In fact, that was how I tried to do it at first. It is not nice, nor is it easy as the books make it sound. Having experimented over the years–and learned from others more experienced that me–I have found that this way is by far the most humane.

      Kristeva

  30. Paula

    First time today… 21 Cornish X’s… give you feedback later…!

  31. Saoirse

    My aunt,gawd rest her….knew how to grab that chicken,swing/snap-done in under 3 seconds–and the creature never suffered. I am amazed that people don’t “stun” them before they kill them….we even whack the fish prior to gutting etc.

  32. Bonnie

    …about the pin feathers…I lived on a farm in Italy for 20 years and there it was standard practice to turn on the gas stove (or over any flame for that matter) and lightly singe the whole bird (dried first of course) holding it by the extremities. It smelled like burning hair but it did the trick – no stubble left at all – or holes from trying to did them out! Wash again after to get the burned feather stuff off.

  33. Great, though kind of narley post. Brought back my youth and the butchering days. Dad always had a block of wood with two nails in it for the chicken’s head to go in, stretched it out a bit and just took the corn knife and severed the head. Done. Us kids job was to chase down the flapping chickens. Ugh! I now take my chickens to an Amish lady who butchers and bags them for $2.00. Not worth the mess for 2 bucks. Plus she does a great job. We take them in at 9am and pick them up at 1pm. Much easier.

  34. You, madam, are bad to the bone.

    Thank you for the photo essay – I’m going to be slaughtering my first batch of chickens soon and this is very helpful.

    • You know, I was glad I made the turkey post when I did (that was my first lessons with Clarence). When it came time to do it myself a few days later, I referred to my own photo essay!

      cheers,

      Kristeva

      • “Wait… what did I do first? Ah yes, drink a shot of courage… no wait… that was my last gunfight at the corral…”

        I’ve got a single burner that should arrive in the mail today as my scalder cauldron (from the old German “Schkaltercaaldren,” heh heh) heater – then the chickens are going under the knife.

  35. Gerame

    Thank you so much for this write up. We have a flock of 16 birds now with 25 more on the way. I am butchering my first chicken in 25+ years tomorrow and almost everything you described is how I remember my great-grandmother doing it when I was a child. Our family just moved to the country (40 minutes from the closest anything) and have been on a quest for self sufficiency. The thought of knowing that we have the ability to raise, butcher, and consume food that comes from our little 5 acre plot is a felling that my wife, son, and I all appreciate.

    • Gerame

      We butchered our first chicken today and it turned into a family event. My wife, son, and I all had a hand in turning that 1 chicken into 3 meals for us (all vacuum sealed and ready for the deep freeze) and even a nice meal for the stray mama cat that comes to our front porch with her 7 babies some times. Thank you again so much.

  36. Hi Everyone,
    We grow and process 700-1000 Cornish X Rock broilers for market every year. All of the “experts” around here advocate putting the bird in the cone and cutting the head completely off as quickly and cleanly as possible. I do that most of the time but I have done the cutting of the artery thing, that some people claim gives a better bleed-out.
    Anyway, I have always had too my dislocated wings and always thought that it was happening during the thrashing during the dying process and spent lots of time trying different methods of killing and restraining with not much success. Lately, however, I have been told by the hatchery I buy from ( MT-DI Poultry Farm in Altoona PA) and an experienced local butcher/slaughter house owner, that is happens WHILE THE BIRD IS ALIVE!! I was mortified. I never dreamed in a million years that a chicken could or would flap their wing hard enough to pop out of joint. Sometimes the bone would pop right out through the skin, if you can imagine that.
    So, I have changed my ways and things have improved. However, we still get some wing damage. Mostly small tears in the “armpit” area. But even that damages the breast meat and must hurt like HELL.
    If you are used to barnyard chicken breeds like Rhode Island Reds, Barred Rocks and the like, these Cornish Meat birds are a whole different thing. Handle them like a new born baby, ALWAYS supporting the breast when their feet are off the ground and try not to let them flap AT ALL.

    That’s what I have experienced and still am not happy with my process. Anybody else got similar experiences or ideas to share?? Feel free to contact me at rick@chickfarm.com if you want. Thanks!!

  37. John

    My two cents worth…my mother taught me to grasp both of the wing tips in the same hand as is holding the feet and chop the head with the other hand. Keep holding on and lower the bird down to the ground and hold on for a while. No wing flapping to cause damage. Mothers are always right, you know.
    John

  38. Sue

    I’m a vet and euthanize animals professionally, but always pawned this job off to a neighbor because I didn’t like the struggling chickens would do if you just cut the head off. Thanks for giving us the idea of knocking them out first! Was going to try anesthetic gas like I did on a sheep we planned to bury but decided it would probably taint the meat. This is a nice, simple way of doing it humanely.

  39. Bobbie

    Stress before or during the process is cruel AND produces poorer quality meat. Do not chase birds around – preferably pen them in a small cage for at least 12 hours without food – so you can just reach into the darkened pen and grab each bird quickly and without fuss (by the legs and supporting their weight under the breast with the other hand). This will also ensure that they have not eaten and have emptied their bowels.

    Make sure birds do not (at any time) see other birds being chased, killed or bled out. Move slowly and calmly – and wear similar clothing (they will trust someone they recognise and be calmer and safer to handle). The same applies for all other types of living creatures.

    My mother used to grasp both legs and wing tips in one hand throughout the entire process (until the death spasms ceased and the bird was bled out). She would place the bird gently onto a large block of wood (used for cutting kindling), place a cloth over its head so it couldn’t see and stretch its neck out. Usually, it would lay quite still if it couldn’t see any light. With difficult birds e.g. roosters, she would also hammer two long fencing nails into the block at the correct width apart so the head could be held firmly and the neck stretched. She would hit the bird hard on the head with a wooden mallet (you could use a tyre-lever or large carpenter’s hammer if you wished). One good blow would render the bird unconscious (or even kill it). She would then either chop off its head with a small, very sharp tomahawk axe – or slit its throat from ear-to-ear close to the head (slitting the throat did seem to result in a better quicker and less messy bleed-out). Immediatly after slitting the throat, the bird was held neck downwards into a tall bucket to bleed out – which doesn’t take very long.

    If doing a few birds, the legs could be quickly tied after death (or use a metal hook/loop around the feet) so that they could be looped over a stick or bar placed horizontally across the opening of the bucket.

    If using a plucking machine, wear plastic protective clothing – and do not just drop the bird in – hold it by the legs to control where and how the fingers work on the bird. Finish the job by hand to get a bird with no broken bones, bruising, or skin tears.

    Depending on the size, type and age of carcass (as well as the efficiency of the freezer), meat of any sort will keep for only a certain time without affecting the quality and palatability. I try to use frozen chicken within three months. Information about refrigeration and freezing times for different products should be included with the refrigerator/freezer – or is available online.

    Good luck…Aussie chick.

  40. Bobbie

    I forgot – slow cooking is better for older birds or roosters. Casserole, stewing, boiling, slow-cooker, or pressure-cooker methods are much better than quicker methods such as roasting, frying, grilling etc.

  41. We had some chickens we butchered at 1 yr old. They were hens and tasted so bad, no matter how I cooked them. They tasted a lot like rooster, just an awful taste. I felt so bad, like it was such a waste.

    • How odd. I’ve never noticed a difference in taste between hens and roosters! There can be a texture difference with the age of the bird for sure. The older the bird, the longer cooking is needed.

      Kristeva

  42. Yep, it tasted really gamey. I can eat just about anything and it even made me gag. It was so bad we had throw it out (after trying to cook it in several ways). The 8 week olds were so tasty, so the only difference between the good and bad experiences were the age of the chickens.

    • I’m probably getting used to the more ‘gamey’ taste. Though I think of it as ‘real’ tasing rather than gamey. Now when I buy chicken at the store I think they have no flavour and the spongy texture turns my stomach! In fact, my first hunted game hen that I ate reminded me exactly of my free range chickens! All of whom I butcher at much older than 8 weeks. Mine are done at 16-22 weeks.

      Kristeva

  43. Now that you mention it, 8 weeks didn’t sound right, I think it was 16 weeks. It was when they were JUST ready. They tasted sooo good and have great flavor. The old birds tasted just like the roosters though, so strong and pungent (in a bad way).

  44. Jeanne Barton

    I always skin and crock pot my old laying hens. They are tender and tasty after simmering for hours. I cut the carcass in half to fit the crock pot, cover with water, add roughly cut onions, large chunks of carrots, and two bay leaves. Garlic is good too. Come back in a few hours, and when the meat is falling off the bones , remove the carcass and the meat and cut it into small pieces. Strain the broth, season with salt and pepper to taste, add new carrots, celery,onions, garlic, whatever you like, add in the chicken and simmer until vegetables are done. Roosters seem to be more tough, so I cut the meat into smaller pieces so it doesn’t matter.
    My attempts at plucking have been dismal, but I will try the scald trick, or maybe the flame technique. That’s how they remove bristles from luau pigs in Hawaii.

  45. Great tutorial! I will definitely try the head bang method next time. Until now I have used the chopping block with sturdy nails method. I learned about the nails in a novel, The Milagros Beanfield War by John Nichols.

  46. Joshua Beall

    I tried whacking them over the head. It went like this:

    *Whack* — bwock bwock! {wings flapping wildly}
    *Whack* — bwock bwock! {wings flapping wildly}
    *Whack* — bwock bwock! {wings flapping wildly}
    *Whack* — {Chicken’s neck snaps, skull shatters, and blood splatters everywhere, coating me and anyone nearby. Chicken is not unconscious, but completely dead}

    So, there must be something I’m missing about the technique here… what’s secret?

    -Josh

    • Hello Josh,

      The secret is practice. Don’t worry. My first time went kind of like that too. It’s inevitable when we are learning something new. It’s a delicate balance between unconscious and smashed skull. If you don’t want to keep trying, then simply slit their throats. I don’t bother doing this with turkeys because I am not big or strong enough to swing that size of a bird confidently over my head and still have the aim to connect the head with the board!

      So, the secret is the aim (check the distance between your arm length, length of bird, and board you are connecting with), and strength of swing. It is ok if they are dead in one swing too. The suffering is over quick; just better for the bleed out if the heart is still pumping.

      good luck!

      Kristeva

  47. Pingback: Butcher chickens | Gwinnettgas

  48. Great post, I like your way of dispatching the chickens by swinging them around and wacking their head on something. I will try this when I start raising chickens. You make the whole process look easy. More people will feel confident to try it themselves after reading your post. Thanks for posting this.

    Gordon

  49. Bridgette Halbig

    Greetings from Krestova, Kristeva!
    Thank you so much for the graphic documentary. I have just, very successfully, butchered two of my four month old roosters (out of five). This was my first time, and it took approximately 40 minutes per bird. I was not prepared to ‘knock’ him out – although I do think that is a very good way to go about this. I need to build up my confidence I think! I did make my own cone out of a large cranberry juice jug (worked well), and used a fish filleting knife (worked great) to cut the jugular, and then a quick pierce into the roof of the mouth to the brain. I did find that the larger bird really took awhile, like two minutes, to stop moving completely – he even made a strange little scream. I know I completely severed the jugular (blood came out quickly) and I pierced the brain, so I found this quite disturbing. The Speckled Sussex weighed in at 4.5 pounds, and the big one, a Barred Rock, was 5.5 pounds.
    It was never my intention to butcher any of my ‘girls’, but my last 12 chicks came unsexed from a local lady. My red heeler, Enzo, ‘accidentally’ ate one (he claims it fell into his mouth – that’s what his look said anyway), and five are roosters, which left me with six are hens. Reseach has told me to expect 50% roosters in any batch, so I guess I wasn’t surprised.
    Once again, thank you for giving me the courage to take this task on; I appreciate your direction, your website, and your determination to live as one with the land. Cheers my lady!
    Bridgette Halbig
    Krestova, BC (between Nelson and Castlegar)

  50. Tara

    Since I’ve been having troubles finding an answer online I thought I’d try asking u. First off.. Thx for tutorial. Great!
    My question is about 5 year old laying hens. They have stopped producing eggs and we are going to butcher them. Is the meat going to be awful? Let me know what you think :)

    Thank you

    Tara

    • Hi Tara,

      They will be tough but very flavourful. Use them as soup making meat!

      Kristeva

      • John Hallis

        I butchered & skinned a 2 1/2 year old rooster with 1 3/4 long spurs. He was mean, kept attacking the dog and me. The meat was dark, and tough, even after one hour in the pressure cooker…very stringy. I ground up the meat with pickles and mayonaisse to make sandwich spread. I told him what would happen if he kept attacking us!!! Johnm in WI

        • Hi John,

          That’s exactly how I decided who would be my first butchering victim. I had a really bitchy hen that picked on a bunch of chickens that I’d rescued from a massive intensive hatchery. Those poor hens didn’t know what life as a chicken meant until I got them home and they started hanging out with my free range flock. They were pitiful little creatures who could not even stand on their own legs for the first few days! The most precious moment for me was watching one of them lay on her side and stretch her leg and wing out for the first time in her life. The wonder and relief on her face was priceless. So, when my bully hen picked on these new chickens I put up with it for a while thinking it would take a few weeks for them all to integrate. But after several weeks/month or so, I’d had enough of watching her. She bullied her last hen and I thought, that’s it, you’re the first to go!

          Good luck,

          Kristeva

          • Paula

            The graphics are great and got me through my first flock. I did hybrid Cornish hens, which I would not do again because I did not like the species. Next time it’s meat birds at 5 months.

            My next event is the geese… Tiny Tim had no idea what it takes to get a Christmas goose…. they have such lovely necks and so many feathers!

  51. Thank you so much. The pic make it so much easyer for me. When you can see how its done by seeing I know now I can’t go wrong because I can not read very well.

  52. midwestgrandma

    Lived on a farm for awhile and they took me out back to show me how to kill chickens. Grandpa took an axe and they said, after the first kill, I fainted and went into shock that lasted two days. (I was 12).
    I honestly don’t remember that day or two days after. Grandma says if I had gone one more day being catatonic, they would have had to take me to the hospital.
    They never showed me how to butcher the cows, sheep or chickens again.
    Grandpa says I flipped out when the chicken started jumping around.
    Rendering the chicken unconscious first seems like the best idea.
    Anyway, very good blog.
    Thank you for showing us how it’s done.
    You’re facial expression looks like it was hard on you too. But we need to eat meat.
    I tried going vegetarian but my doctor said even though I followed all the veggie rules, my body required animal protein.
    Take care, God bless.

  53. Pingback: Ducks Have a Place on the Sustainable Homestead | Pets and Animals

  54. Wow, great picture tutorial indeed. I’ve been giving much thought to raising meat birds lately and will employ this swinging method at the start.

  55. Arv

    I used to raise chickens. The only thing they’re good for is egg production and their meat. Leghorns are the best egg layers but they’re very noisy, unfriendly, skittish and they’re a pretty stupid breed in general. As if any breed of chicken exhibits much intelligence! I had a leghorn rooster that attacked and injured a siamese cat I once owned years ago. Needless to say that rooster became a very tasty dinner for my family:)

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