Monday, April 26, 2010

Processing Meat Chickens

While I've raised layers for about three years, this weekend was the first time I was able to participate in learning how to slaughter meat chickens. And I'm happy to report it was a great experience! My friend, Debbie, is an excellent teacher, very patient and good at explaining things. 

For the faint of heart, I've been careful in selecting only certain pictures to show the process, but this is a homesteading blog, girls!

We processed 8 Cornish cross chickens (the white chickens) in about 2 1/2 - 3 hours  since everything was already set up. You can see them here along with some layers that Debbie was raising before introducing them into her existing flock. Cornish Cross are the most commonly raised meat birds, gaining an exceptional amount of weight in an 8 week period. You don't want to go beyond the 8 week period because they begin to get too heavy (they stop walking around) and they begin developing pin feathers.

I'm sparing you the beheadings and going straight to the scalding, but trust me... we all took a turn. (My husband did not think it would be appropriate to post too much blood and gore).  However, you can see Debbie draining the blood from the bird.

Anyway, after we removed the head and drained it, we dunked the bird up to its feet in a hot water bath. This helps you to remove the feathers easily. (Notice Debbie's painted nails and jewelry - she's a TRUE Southern Belle; a real Steel Magnolia!)

Next comes the plucking; and if you've done the water bath just right, the feathers come off easily without tearing or scalding the skin. There's an art to this. Debbie says when the steam starts to smell like chicken soup, pull her out!

A quick rinse will show you what you left behind. We didn't use a pin knife, but this tool can help you get any remaining feather pins if necessary. Debbie has skill... no need for fancy tools here!

Now it was time to remove the feet which she's saving for good chicken broth (right, Wardeh!)...

And cutting under the breast to open up the cavity a bit allows you to remove the heart and liver which are saved as well. (Some things just have to be done by hand!)

Then you can remove the rest of the internal organs and discard them...

Almost done... cut off the tail and remove the vent by cutting just under it and in a v-shape up to the cavity that is already cut open. (This is all discarded as well.)

And finally, the neck is removed and saved for broth along with the feet. At this point, you can keep the bird whole or cut it up however you're family prefers. 

I was really proud of my oldest daughter who joined me for the morning. I want my girls to learn these things early on so that it is a way of life. She's interested in food science and possibly culinary arts, so I'm sure Julia Child would be proud of her, too! 

In the end, it was a great morning getting a lot done, made even better by sharing it with friends. I think this is how it should be. Thanks, Debbie! I can't wait to get started raising my own!

To learn more about raising meat chickens, you might want to read this article from Mother Earth News which will introduce you to the subject.


  1. thanks for a great and informative post

  2. Wow Amy, you did good!!! The first thing I noticed was Debbie's nails!!!! Too funny. Well, I'm thinking if it took you 2.5 hrs for 8 ought to take us 2.5 wks for 50!!!!!!

  3. Great article and wonderful photos! You captured all the important details. We have raised meat chickens and turkeys but you have made the process much simpler than the way we did it. Thanks for posting this. I may just try this again!

  4. Good for you (and your daughter!), Amy! We use a killing cone- is that what your friend used as well? For your readers who would like to see one and don't mind a little bit of chicken harvest (that's what we call it) gore, here are our links. The first shows the cone, the second shows how an automatic plucker works.

    Our kids are fascinated by the process and always want to watch. There is no doubt where the chicken we eat comes from:-).

  5. Thank you so much for posting a "how-to" without using a "gadget" to clean or pluck. It's really helpful for me to see it done. I've raised the meat birds before, but I had them processed. I've been thinking about doing it myself next time. It would be so much cheaper. If I may ask, how did you kill the chickens? I've seen the killing cones, which look human. Thanks so much.

  6. Wow, that was great! I was just talking to our neighbor yesterday about processing meat chickens- his family used to do it when he was younger. I am so excited to do our turkeys in the fall. Everything seems fairly easy but I am going to have to prepare my mind for the actual kill.
    Debbie's hands in all these shots made me grin! :) They look so lovely doing such "dirty work!" How nice it is to have a friend to show you the ropes and bravo to your daughter for coming along to help!
    Thanks for sharing your day!

  7. Very tastefully done..your husband would be proud.

    And I have to say...good for you! Wow...I'm not sure I'm there, yet...YET. Someday...maybe...I think... My face was squinted up the whole time I was reading...! lol!

  8. I should mention that there are a few additional details that you will need to be aware of if you actually do this. For example, you don't want to cut the intestines or break the spleen or whatever that thing is with all the green bile. Also, if you're really good at removing the internal guts, you'll get the esophagus or whatever with it. Otherwise you need to remove it as well. And you need to stop feeding your birds at least 12 hours before slaughter.

    A word of advice. Get a really deep pot so that when you drop the birds in the hot water bath (not sure of the correct temp? -150 degrees? - the water that is displaced won't be an issue. Otherwise you'll need to add water, wait for it to reheat, and it slows the process down.

    As for the actual killing, we did not have a cone. We made a noose and stretched the neck over a board and used an ax. A cone would be easier, but I appreciated Debbie's method because it proves that you don't need anything really special to process birds if necessary. I believe she mentioned that she followed the directions in The Encyclopedia of Country Living.

  9. Thanks Amy! My husband just volunteered to help a friend from church process his birds when the time comes. The friend has never done it and we've only processed our turkey last Nov, and a chicken that drowned. I also am getting ready to order the Encyclopedia of Country Living!

  10. THHP, thanks for adding the links. I remember watching that video of the plucker on your site last year. I still can't figure out how it does it without beating up the meat? But it looks efficient! I saw on they rent these in certain areas.

    I forgot to mention that Debbie showed us how to skin the chicken, too. This is good if you don't care about having the skin on the bird. I just didn't post pics because it was harder to tell what she was doing in the photos.

    Kelly, The Encyclopedia of Country Living is an excellent resource to have around the house! Good choice.

  11. Great post, thanks for the details. I really would like to raise some broilers, maybe I will get enough courage next year!

  12. Great job! We started processing our own chickens a few years ago, then got out of it because of the "busyness" of life. We started again a few months ago and I realized we had forgotten how much better the meat is!

    Here's a tip: on older birds, wear rubber gloves during the plucking process...they help grab hold of the hard-to-pull feathers!

  13. Not to get controversial, but what about raising heritage breeds that aren't bred for growing so fast? It seems to go hand in hand with raising your own meat-get the kind that hasn't been modified to fit the commercial growers interests. Just a thought...

  14. Wishin' we had enough room for both layers AND meat birds, but alas. Our henhouse only holds our 10 layers and 1 rooster. And the organic free range chickens from the grocers are about $4.00 #.
    Would it be worth it to add on to our henhouse??? Maybe!

  15. Kelly, I'm right there with you... researching it as we speak and looking for the right birds and source for ordering. So far I'm looking here:

    And looking into this organization:

    Cindy, have you considered a tractor? That's what I think I'm going to do. It's much more cost effective and allows for a semblance of free ranging. I'll have to house them at night because of the cold here, but I have my old mini chicken coop that should work (much like a dog house).

  16. One more thought. I want to use organic feed so I can avoid GMOs in my meat. Better check with your feed store that they carry what you need beforehand. It might have to be special ordered. Don't get your chicks till you KNOW you've got the feed you want ready to go!

  17. Disclaimer.. I HATE butchering chickens... Not sure quite why.. I can be very hands on in assisting with surgerys on dogs and cats and even gerbils and butchering/processing goats, cows etc is no problem...I think it has something to do with putting my hands inside a CHICKEN.. BLEH! I even dont like fooling with chicken in the kitchen but do it because I like eating it....

    Years ago my grandma and mom went in together on a huge chicken order. They set up a date to butcher and over we went. Grandma grew up butchering chickens and actually LIKES it!!! Her is how we did it. We strung up the chickens from their feet on the clothesline and down the line we went...cutting heads off with a good sharp knife. The birds were left to hang there till the blood was done running out and the chickens quit jerking around. The next batch of chickens got hung up for butchering and the buckets of dead chickens got taken in huge buckets to the basement garage. We had a pot for scalding and grandma had an ancient motorized chicken plucker set up. We had a huge table set up with processing stations all around and then down the line we went (there were 5 of us kids working and then GMA and mom.) We all had to do each step of butchering before getting assigned to a station just so that we each knew how to do the whole process. Mom ran around taking pictures of us and caught a few not so pleased expressions on my face.. Good education anyways.... :)

  18. Oh, good point on the feed! I buy Onate Farms or Mills for my hens. I can't find anything about them online, but the feed store where I buy it thinks it's organic-or at least pesticide free. Could be GMO corn in it though. The scary part about GMO's is that they can cultivate with non GMO's and eventally EVERYTHING might be genetically altered. Our birds free range and get a lot of kitchen scraps, so we only give about 2 cups if feed per day for 12 hens.
    Thanks for the links too-I've read about the freedom ranger. They look like a pretty bird too.

  19. Thanks for sharing your story, Mommy. I have a friend who only buys her chicken already cut up because she can't stand deboning a whole chicken! Just try not to think about it too much and do it!

    Another caution... if you let the blood just run off in the yard, it can attract unwanted visitors later such as raccoons. It might not matter for everyone, but if you have a small homestead and you butcher near your layers or other small livestock, it could be an issue.

  20. Thanks for this informative post. We plan on having our own chickens at some point, so I guess I'll have to learn to do all of the less glamorous aspects of homesteading! :)

  21. Way to go!
    I actually have great memories of butchering chickens on the farm growing up. So far, I haven't interested my husband into trying it for ourselves. But some day...I want our children to know how to provide food starting with the live bird!

  22. Really interesting post Amy. Eventually I hope to get to this point, but for now I really enjoyed the photo tutorial...I enlarged each one! : )


  23. I LOVE the fantastic nails butchering chickens! I even showed my Hubba, LOL

    Great post!

  24. Oh my goodness, good for you! This is something I just haven't been able to tackle yet (if ever) but it would save a bit in $ to DIY. On the other hand, it would take me forever to get the job done, so maybe I should just drop them off at the butcher...

  25. Ah yes, we'll be doing that in 8 weeks ourselves. We've been doing it for a few years and have got it down to quite the "assembly" line. Hubby and I, by ourselves, can process 25 whole chickens in about 3 hours. With 2 other helpers, we can process 50 chickens, cut up into breasts, legs & wings, in 5 hours.

    A few tips that we picked up from a licensed butcher that helped us a couple of times:

    1. don't cut the heads off to slaughter the birds, just slit their throat behind the jaw. You want most of the blood to drain, and by slitting their throat it allows the heart to pump longer and drain more.

    2. after doing the above, place the bird upside down in a traffic cone (we have relatives that have plenty of those) screwed to a support (we place it between 2 sawhorses). The bird's going to thrash around and it can break wings, legs, or bruise the meat. There is JUST no way to make this part of the job pleasant.

    3. When dipping the birds in boiling water to loosen the feathers, I count to 20 then pick up the bird and test the biggest feathers on the wings or tail to see if they remove easily. If so, you're good to go. If not, return to boiling water and count to 6, repeat testing the feathers and repeat boiling & testing until the feathers come out.

    4. We pluck by hand. Take your hand and start on a leg: firmly grasp the leg and twist your hand around it. The feathers should have been loosened enough by boiling to have MOST of them come off in your hand. Then, firmly rub the heel/palm of your hand over the bird, using your fingers only to get the stubborn feathers. This saves your fingers from getting cramped and tired. To remove pin feathers, use a strawberry huller.

    5. We do not remove the feed before slaughtering. If the birds have a full crop, it's easier to remove. Grab the crop and slide it to one side of the neck and cut along the opposite side. Move the crop to the cut side and finish cutting the 2nd side. THEN cut the neck off, taking the whole crop with it. We do this before dressing the rest of the bird.

    6. When processing large numbers, have several coolers or covered pails/garbage cans available. Fill them with cold water from the garden hose and toss the cleaned/rinsed chickens in there. Frequently check the water in the containers and change it as needed to keep it cold. Doing this chills the meat as quickly as possible. When we did the cut up chickens, the breasts went in one cooler, the legs in another, wings in another. Made it easier to package them without having to sort.

  26. RhondaLynn, Theses are GREAT tips! Thank you so much for taking the time to write them up in the comments. I'm going to keep this list. We did use a cooler and sorted items in zip lock backs which were placed in ice water. But that tip about slitting their throats was new info to me. I had seen it done on some videos, but they never mentioned why you should do it this way. 25 Birds in three hours is FAST. Hope I get that good!

  27. Wonderful tutorial!! Thank YOU!! I am now a follower!! XXOO


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