City mouse acquires country mouse skills

My first attempts at knowledge transfer

Tami and I pick out the first roosters to be dispatched.

Tami and I pick out the first roosters to be dispatched.

City mouse met country mouse recently over a chicken carcass here at Howling Duck Ranch. I have a city friend who, inspired by my posts about slaughtering turkeys and chickens humanely, was keen to come up for a visit and learn something about taking control of his own food source. He brought his four year old daughter Meah along, and his partner Tami. As we discussed the planned cull, Virgil recalled the scene in Lonesome Dove (the great TV western which I recommend to all my friends and visitors) where Clara’s two girls announce the arrival of visitors to their lonely ranch and blithely ask, ‘Can I kill a pullet for dinner, mama?’ As he relayed the story to me he concluded, “If a ten year old little girl can be excited by it, a 30 yr old man oughta be able to do it, too!”

The day of the slaughter of my meat birds dawned and I got up early, as you have to when there’s so much preparing before and cleaning up after. It was after I’d got the gas heating the water barrel, and were about to select our first two roosters, that Virgil and Tami emerged warily from the house. Virgil walked over with confidence but Tami approached the turkey barn verandah with apparent hesitance. I checked in with them that they really wanted to do this and they both nodded. Tami and I went first to the barn to pick out the first victims. I showed her how to catch a chicken which she mastered adeptly.

Once back outside, I promptly demonstrated the technique of knocking out the bird by whacking its head against something hard, in my case it is a saw-horse, to render the bird unconscious before slitting the jugular. It makes for a more humane dispatch.

Virgil's first attempts at using the chicken plucker.

Virgil's first attempts at using the chicken plucker.

Virgil was keen to try, and quickly mastered the art of swinging the bird overhead but controlling the wings and legs so as to not break any bones unnecessarily as you do this. He was an equally quick student of slitting the jugular and showed no revulsion at doing so. At the sight of running blood Tami excused herself. I later learned that she went back to the house and tried to keep from fainting; a confirmed city slicker would have stayed there, but—to her credit—she overcame her squeamishness and reappeared to help us. “That’s why my tatoo says ‘Mind over matter'” she explained when I told her how impressed with her determination I was.

Showing Tami how to gut and dress the chickens.

Showing Tami how to gut and dress the chickens. The scalder was not hot enough on the first bird so we ended up having to do a bit more hand plucking before gutting the bird.

Meah, Virgil’s not-quite-four-year-old daughter, wisely raised with no illusions or squeamishness about where her food really comes from, was simply thrilled that she was looking at tonight’s dinner. She watched keenly as I demonstrated how to scald, feather-pluck, and gut and dress the birds. She prattled on asking her dad if we were going to eat the chickens for dinner. It was all the more disappointing for little Meah when we realized that by the time the bird was roasted that night, she should be asleep. We promised her cold cuts the next day as Virgil put her to bed.

While dressing out the chickens, Tami showed her knowledge of veterinary assistant work by examining the organs and explaining how they looked healthy and why. In one instance, she was able to show me lesions on the gizzard, possibly due to the bird having eaten something sharp (I have found a nail inside the crop of a turkey).

That evening, over glasses of wine, we honoured our meal, commented on its delicate flavour, and analysed the day’s emotions. Both our visitors felt ready, both in the knowledge and emotions departments, to slaughter their own birds in future.


Filed under Butchering, Chickens, Educational, How to...

9 responses to “City mouse acquires country mouse skills

  1. Mitch

    How nice of you to show them , I buthered 2 roosters just the other day and i tried your technique of swingning them and knocking them out, It really does work well
    The bird died almost istanantly,

    that night we had 2 nice roast roosters

    Anyway How have you been latley we havent talked in a while?


  2. Lonesome Dove with Robert Duvall, one of my favorite films.

    Thanks for sharing how you butcher your animals, everyone that eats meat should at least have some concept of this. After all it is a reality and you do great job of portraying it.

    • Thanks for those supportive comments Mike,

      You know, I was vegetarian for many years and even vegan for several of those. Then, I worked my way through to accepting that I can’t grow soybeans or lentils where I live, and mustered up the courage to ‘do what I had to do’ within the boundaries of my geography and health needs. I would love to be able to grow pulses here and not depend so much on the animal protein, but it is not to be. So, I have worked hard at learning to do good by my animals and not be a hypocrite. It is not easy to do and the painful irony is that once you begin to raise your own food animals you end up realizing that they are sentient beings and more like us humans than not! Then it becomes REALLY difficult to do. It is quite an emotional journey to say the least.

      Glad to hear you are a ‘Dovie’! It is pretty much a prerequisite viewing for all my friends. I watch it once a year if I need to or not.

  3. Never seen the film or TV series but I do love the Lonesome Dove books – apart from the Streets of Laredo, which is a perfect illustration of why I never want to know what happens after the last page of the last chapter of my favourite books.

  4. We just sent our second batch of laying hens “to a better zip code,” and I used your sawhorse and overhead swing method, as I did before. I had problems though. Some of the birds tucked their heads down pretty well, and thereby missed the sawhorse. So I had to swing a few more than once. Even some that got clocked didn’t stay stunned as well as I would have liked. I’m considering changing to a lead pipe to knock them out. I just want to hit them once before they have any clue what’s coming. Any comments or tips?

    • The lead pipe is a good idea, but you may need an extra pair of hands to help because they will do the same head tucking thing with that too. Another option is to swing them from their head above your head and break their necks with a snap of your wrist. Good luck!

  5. Kristeva, when we sold our older laying hens at stewers, the East Indians were our best customers. They lived in the city and would kill the chickens here, so as not to cause a ruckus in town. Their method was so simple, I adopted it if I had to dispatch a chicken quickly. They simply pulled off the head. They held the chicken under their arm, and pulled. Usually it worked well, if they had a particularly tough one, the would stand on the head, and pull by the feet. It was always so fast, and non-violent.

    • Yep, I’ve seen it done that way in Mexico as well. I would never try it because I struggle to get their heads off after their dead and I’ve cut through a lot of the neck muscle. I’ll leave that method to others!

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