Saturday, September 01, 2007

Chicken Butchering

Make sure your tools are ready. You need a sharp hatchet or ax, a place to chop their heads off (for me, this is two nails a chicken head's width apart in a log), a pot of hot water, something to singe with, a clean sink to do the gutting in, and a place to cool them and age them. Keep in mind, this isn't the only way to do this, but it works for me and I've probably done it more than anyone else you know.
Select a rooster. I usually do two or four at a time. One is not enough for our family a meal, and more than four is tiresome without a lot of help. Which you'll see, I have some help for parts of this that really need more than two hands.

Actually, you've selected the roosters the night before last and put them separately and given them free choice water but no food. It is much easier and cleaner to gut something who's gut isn't full.
This is the hard part. Take your warm, breathing chicken and with its legs in your left hand, put its head between the nails. This is a bit of a hard fit. Then you stretch the legs out behind so the rooster is stuck there. Don't worry, he's not there long and if you know anything about chickens, you know they get real calm when held upside down. Then in one determined chop, hit as close behind the nails as you can. Don't be alarmed if the head doesn't entirely sever -- he's dead anyway.

And the first time you do it, you'll swear he isn't dead. He'll flop. I keep a hold on his feet while he does the worst of it. You don't want them bruising if you can help it, and held upside down they bleed out a bit better. After most of the flopping is done, I put him in down (in something usually, it could be a box but right now I'm using a roll of fence wire that happens to be there -- they fit neatly in the woven square and upside down too) and go get the next one. I usually chop two at a time, no more, no less. It just makes the timing work out better.

After chopping the second one's head off, I take the first one and scald him. I've heated this water hot before I came outside, and I brought the water with me then. Its exact temperature matters less than your judgment -- if the water is hotter, hold him in there less long. I think I've never had it seriously too hot because it has to wait on me to kill them. If I'm doing two sets of roosters I probably have two pots of hot water though because I don't think it would stay hot enough through four roosters. Notice how you hold him so absolutely all his feathers are in the water.

The feathers that take the most scalding are the wing and tail feathers so if you can grab them and they come out right away, he's scalded enough. The other feathers will literally come out by the handfull. Strip from top to bottom. After the feathers come out, the pin feathers come out and you have to go back and get those. None of this should be hard. It takes a while and it might feel like it will never get done, but it will. Think about roast chicken or something pleasant.

Here I am going for the wing pit feathers! Look at those scrawny drumsticks! These are not meat chickens (they are "dual purpose" black sex links) and they don't look or eat like it. I won't raise meat breed chickens because I did once. They are not healthy chickens.

Here I have recruited a daughter to help with the last of the pin feathers.

Singing is mostly for the hairs. These chickens didn't have many hairs. Here we are using a fagot of dead pine branchlets. It was windy and we were having a hard time. The flame should be bigger. We used rolled up newspaper on the next one.

Ok. We're inside now and they've been washed off and the feet cut off. He's beginning to get stiff. There is a place right under the anus that you can cut into and not cut anything you don't want to. That's where I make my first cut.

I stick my finger in that first cut and work my way around. With some chickens you can almost pull the anus loose but this one I had to cut. You want a really sharp knife for this so you don't have to use much pressure to cut so you won't cut yourself or the chicken's guts.

Once the anus is loose, I just pull it out some and stick my hand up in and tear the membranes that attach the guts to the inside of the carcass. It is work around, work around, work around, feel, work around, pull a bit, work around. In the above photo I've got the guts started out but I'm now way up in there working the windpipe loose. With the head off, you just pull everything out the rear end. Rinse the bird and put him where it is cool.

These are the edible parts of the guts. They come out attached together. That's the gizzard on the left, the liver in the middle, and the heart on the right. Be careful as the bile duct is attached to the liver and it is a trick to cut out. Not hard. But don't leak bile on anything. Usually I can get it without leaking bile at all. But gosh darned if I can figure out how to describe how I do that. It isn't hard and you can see how to do it when you see it. Just cut out a little of the liver to make sure you don't cut into the bile duct.

I just take the heart out of the membrane and maybe trim the top of it if it has any length of blood vessel on it.

Now, the gizzard. This is a delicacy in these parts. The gizzard is, essentially, a birds teeth -- where it grinds its food up. So this muscle is strong. Both sides of the gut will be attached to this and you have to cut them loose. The gizzard is a flattened oval shape and you need to cut around the longest circumference. But not all the way around, just 3/4 or a little more.

When you do and you open the gizzard up, you will find stuff. This one had hay it looked like, and sand which is what they've had for grit. I dumped this blog out (in the chicken bucket, not in the sink).

Now what you have is the gizzard opened up. Rinse this then take off the inside membrane. Very easy to do. You can save the innards until you have enough for a whole innard meal or you can fix it when you fix the rest of the chicken. We plan to roast these chickens and will just roast these innards with them.
There was a time when people were a tiny bit more in touch with their food than now and they knew that aging meat was a good thing. Most meat needs to be aged. Period. And I acknowledge that "aging" is a euphemism for rotting, just a bit. The meat drawer is a good aging chamber. I put the chickens in a light brine (I don't measure, just water and salt) and put them (in a bowl because the bags always leak eventually) in the meat drawer. Minimum of two days. I don't know what the maximum would be but I'd guess a week wouldn't hurt them. We usually end up eating them the third day.

There ya have it. There is something deeply spiritual about this whole process. I know it doesn't come through in the description but it never fails to move me. We cared for these chickens every day for 16 weeks. It was breathing in my arms. It looked at me as it was dying. I thanked its spirit. I learned things about it from how tight its innards were to what its gizzard held. We raised it, we killed it, and we will eat it consciously, deliberately, examinedly, and with principle.

20 comments:

Mike said...

Great post! But you left out one crucial thing.... the smell :-D Takes some getting used-to, doesn't it! Me I don't mind, and I totally agree with your sentiments on how your approach to your meal is completely different than with bought Chicken.

I should be cleaning out the chicken house, but its raining. Also an excuse to procrastinate further on culling a batch of Cocks... ;-)

Alecto said...

Wonderful!!! (thank you)

patsy said...

you did it, here comes peta. i butchered my own birds for years as well as worked at tyson and i can tell you that a pair of sicissors blunted on the end are a god sent in butchering a chicken and of course a sharp knife.

Madcap said...

We got lucky yesterday - Patch managed to shoot another young grain-fed pigeon while he was out working with his dad at the farm. Lovely taste, and we didn't even have the "bother" of raising it. I poked around the innards a bit after Chive cut the breast meat off - and thought of you!

CG said...

Ok Patsy, what do you use the scissors for?

Alecto said...

By the way, the first photograph of you holding the chicken looks like something RW's mother would paint. Her work is wonderful, I wonder (if he's reading this particular post!) if he couldn't just get her to have a look...

patsy said...

the sicssors are great for cutting around the vent after one cut between the tail and vent with the knife. no punchered gut. also use to cut gall and open gizzard. if you cut your chicken into pieces you will find many places where the sicssors work will esp. on breast and wish bone. also to cut rib cage from back.

zane said...

THanks for the post, CG. I did some skinning and gutting of old layers once, and this is something I want to be able to do well. Great information and I appreciate the matter of fact tone. For me, something of the spirit of the task does come through, in a simple, understated way. As always...

Ren said...

The first time I saw a chicken butchered, that flopping around thing really bugged me. I think that would be the hardest part to get used to.

~Fathairybastard~ said...

Damn. I think I'll keep buyin' the boneless. Call me spoiled.

Teri said...

I like to dry pick instead. If you do it as soon as they are killed, it goes pretty well. I've dry picked turkeys and geese too. You do have problems with the wing feathers and I sometimes will soak those to get them off.

karl said...

we just butchered seven of our meat birds yesterday. i agree with your health comment of meat birds. we take extreme measures to keep them healthy and acting like chickens.

Caylan said...

can you talk more (in a future post) about why the meat birds are not healthy?

Hedgewizard said...

What caylan said. Nice article - Chile pointed me in your direction, and it's nice to see it explained in clear language!

laura said...

thank goodness for the search button at the top of each blog or i would never have found this. i just sent the link to this post to my friend in california who is considering butchering a rooster. i hope it helps her. she does the twiddled blog.

ChickenMomOf6 said...

Would you tell me at what age or size you butchered your dual-purpose birds? I've got 14 barred rock cockerels, almost 14 weeks old, and they are tiny still! I wanted to butcher at 16-17 weeks, but they won't be ready. I don't want them to be tough, and I don't want to pay to feed them longer than I have to. I'm not looking for something like a store chicken, obviously, but they are much smaller than my last butcher roosters were, who were sex-links.

CG said...

ummm, I just do it whenever I feel like it. I've had sex link boys and I think I've had barred rock boys and I don't remember much difference in their growth but different batches are different. Except for meat breed birds, I probably haven't butchered many of the others before 20 weeks but I'm you are smart to not want to feed them extra. I'm just usually not that organized.

jenny said...

I just butchered my first chicken yesterday and this post was in my head as I worked. I had my uncle help me to "show me the way" and he did it very similar to how you did. I'll be doing it solo from now on, and will be doing the nails in the stump trick. Thanks for the idea.

I had planned to get meat birds, but then you say you don't get them anymore. Can you explain?

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for your website. As a little girl we always ate our own chickens and I always held the chicken while Dad chopped. After number of years my partner and I have only just recently got a flock of Gold Laced Wyandottes. We decided that we would eat the roosters and I needed a bit of extra encouragement and a reminder about what to do.
Last night we (me, my partner and his little sister) captured the rooster at dusk just after he had gone to bed. The rooster was very easy to catch and I made sure we soothed him so he was calm and relaxed. I assumed the position of holding the chicken while my partner took the axe for the very first time (his little sister was watching for the first time too). We said special thank you and then the chop was done cleanly and quickly. I held the chicken firmly until it had stopped wriggling and we all plucked it together.
Little sister and I gutted and cleaned the chicken together and it is now ‘resting’ in the fridge before we cook a lovely roast tonight.
We are all such big consumers and if we were all more connected to the things we consumed the world would be a better place. Fuel doesn’t come from the petrol station, timber doesn’t come from the hardware store and chicken doesn’t come from the supermarket.
We feel proud that we grow and eat our own chickens. It is a sustainable way to eat and it makes us feel more connected.

CG said...

Jenny -- somehow I hadn't answered you and the new comment made me realize that. Meat birds are bred to grow, not to be chickens. They don't move much and if food is not constantly (and I mean constantly) in front of them (and I mean in front of them, not even a short walk away), they peck each other dead. If you don't butcher at 8 weeks or so, they begin to fall over dead, I assume of heart attacks from being so big, and not having been bred to actually live but to be butchered. They also tend to have leg problems even earlier than this. I don't like encouraging this sort of breeding program. There are so many good dual purpose breeds out there, I like them. I generally don't begin to butcher them until at least 12 or even 16 weeks, and even then one is in no hurry, they'll keep.

And Anon, congrats.