How To Process A Backyard Chicken

A local farm had a seminar last week on how to process backyard chickens.  It was $25 a head, so I took the Missus for an afternoon of fun and frivolity.  Gotta hand it to her for being such a good sport.

I’ve killed chickens before (once with an axe, once with a machete) but I’ve never processed a chicken for consumption from start to finish.  You can watch videos on Youtube, but just like riding a bike… it’s something you need to actually do yourself to really learn it.

And I figured learning how to process a backyard chicken under the supervision of somebody who already knows how to do it — especially when I’m not hungry– is a far better plan.

The farm had seven or eight young roosters that they wanted to dispatch.  I was surprised by how docile the roosters were.  Even our hens aren’t really happy about being picked up.  Supposedly, they get more docile with age.  We’ll see.

Anyway– I was the first up.  The instructor handed me a rooster.  He had a “killing cone” (Google it) already attached to a wall with a bucket underneath for the blood to drain.  In a nutshell: You put the chicken head-first into the cone and then pull his head out the other side.  Then you stretch his neck and use your knife to slice the jugular (hot dang, those Mora knives worked great!  I’ll do another post on those for sure, as I’ll be ordering more myself).

how to process a backyard chicken 1

It’s a very humane process and much, much less stress than using an axe (for both me and the bird!)

After the blood has mostly drained out of the corpse, you cut the head off.

I was worried my wife would be squeamish.  But when you’ve got a half dozen people standing around all doing the same thing, it makes the entire experience seem like not such a big deal.

Then we put our chickens on a table waited for the rest to finish.

How To Process A Backyard Chicken 2

The next step was dunking your bird in a pot of almost-boiling hot water.  You hold the carcass under the water (with a big pair of tongs or a fork) for a minute or two.  Then we took the chicken over to another bucket and pulled the feathers off.  (Tip: Wear latex gloves!)

I was surprised how easy the feathers came off.  It took probably 10 minutes, but some of the others had more trouble.  I think it has to do with how long you keep the chicken under the scalding hot water: It needs to be long enough to loosen up the feathers but not so long that it cooks the chicken.

The difficult part was butchering the chicken.  Fortunately, those Mora knives we had did a tremendous job.  I wouldn’t want to butcher a chicken with a dull knife.  A sharp knife makes all the difference.

Still, not being a chef or having experience butchering a chicken before, it was difficult to know where to cut and where not to cute (the bile sack!).

But we did it.  We got the chickens butchered.  Afterward, you rinse the chicken off under a hose.

I have no idea how people don’t get salmonella?  But apparently, they don’t.  Wash your birds and area, well!

I Just Killed My First Rooster

My heart rate is still elevated, even though I killed my first rooster more than half an hour ago.

It was the second bird I’ve ever killed.  Growing up in the city, they don’t teach you this kind of thing, but they should.

We bought eight chicks about six weeks ago.  4 Buff Orpingtons and three Rhode Island Reds.  We ordered all females, but if you don’t order a “sex-link” breed, it’s a crap shoot as to what you’re getting.  They tell you that they can tell with 90% accuracy.

So, we ended up with one rooster.  Here’s a picture I took about a week ago.  In the last week I’ve been amazed at how much weight he put on.  His rooster-esque features became even more pronounced than in the picture below, too.

Rooster

We live too close to the neighbors to have a rooster.  Even chickens, although it’s legal to have them, I worry that their noise and any possible smell will ruffle some feathers, no pun intended.

Whatever.  The rooster had to go.

I called a local feed store owner I know, but he told me that he can’t own roosters, either.  There is a local “chicken rescue” and for a $5 donation, they will “rescue” the chicken and either place him in a home or keep him and guarantee he won’t be eaten for food.

Won’t be eaten for food?  WTF… we’re talking about a rooster here, not a house cat.

Plus, I’m way too cheap to spend $5 to have somebody come and get my rooster.

I thought about putting him up on Craigslist.  At least then he might go to a needy home.  But this time of year, Craigslist is flooded with ads for roosters that people are giving away for free, and it didn’t look like there were many takers. Plus– to be perfectly honest– there was a certain part of me that felt it would be a good experience to butcher the rooster, myself.  You know… go through the process with a full belly and when I’m not in dire need for a bite to eat, and rather than doing my “dry run” during a grid down scenario when I can’t afford to make a mistake… better to learn by doing, now.

What kind of mistake?

I don’t know.  Maybe not knowing how to grip the rooster properly.  Or missing with the axe and cutting myself.  I mean… you can watch how to do all this stuff on Youtube, but until you actually do it a few times yourself will you really KNOW HOW TO DO IT.  Experience is the best teacher.

My wife– while supportive– still felt a little “down” about me killing something that we raised since day 2 of it’s life.  But she also understands that six weeks in our backyard is a fantastic life compared to nine weeks in a professional poultry production house  where the birds are raised in boxes with no light or room to move and pumped full of antibiotics because they are forced to  stand in their own excrement before being butchered, never allowed to free range or know what it’s like to hunt for a worm in the tall grass, like our chickens do.

So, before I describe how it went down, you’re probably wondering about the first bird I ever killed?

It was from the same batch.  Three days after we got the chicks, one of the Buff Orpingtons got blocked up and wasn’t defecating.  We did all we could, but after a few days she was in such bad shape that the other chickens were trampling her, she wasn’t eating or drinking and she pretty much couldn’t move.

But she  was still alive.

I used my machete on her.  Picked her up from the empty stock tank we were keeping the chicks in, placed her on a 2×4 and whacked her on the neck with my machete.  She squacked and made a horrible scream for life.  I wacked her a second time, determined to put a quick end to it.  Her body convulsed and in an instant, the chick was dead.  It was the humane thing to do.

How It Went Down

When I killed the rooster a half an hour ago, I was dealing with a much larger bird.  Imagine a bird about 70% of full size.  I’d guess 4-5 pounds with a wing span of maybe 1 1/2  to 2 feet.

For those of you who’ve never done it: You grab them by the feet and hang ’em upside down, then lower the rooster’s head toward a piece of board.  They kind of lay their head on the side of the board and are (fairly) still.

Then you bring the axe down.

 

Grow More Food With 50% – 80% Less Water

These two kids over at Globalbuckets.org have the right idea: It looks like they took a page from the “EarthBox” self-watering container concept and applied it to the 5 gallon DIY bucket planter — then added the trash bag plastic as a mulch of sorts to prevent evaporation.

Smart.

They call it a “Global Bucket.”  Yeah, a little too hippie for me too.

Whatever.

When I was their age I was busy trying to figure out how to play strip poker on my TRS-80.  At least they’re doing something productive.

From their web site:

“Is it possible two cheap plastic buckets can help reduce global malnutrition?

Sounds crazy, but there’s some amazing technology that can be created by combining two cheap 5-gallon buckets along with some other low cost or free materials. The result is a low cost foolproof system of growing food.

Benefits of the 2-bucket system:

1) 50% to 80% reduction in water usage.

2) 100% reduction in weeds…never pull a weed or use herbicides.

3) Once planted, very little attention is required.
4) Foolproof: People with very little training (like us!) can reap bountiful harvests.
5) All you need are a few square meters of space…even rooftops, industrial wastelands, etc”

They’ve also got an automatic watering system device they’ve created– that I’ll need to look at in more detail later to figure out how it works.

In the meantime, if you don’t want to hassle with running around to build your own buckets (or you’ve got a wife like mine who doesn’t want to look at orange Home Depot buckets in her backyard!) then take a look at the “Growbox”: It’s an improvement over the Earthbox and it’s less expensive.