I’m a couple of months behind with this post, but I did finally get the pictures uploaded for it so I figured I had better write it up. I have a lot of people ask me about my chicken raising and slaughtering set up. I’ve been raising meat chickens in some capacity for as long as I can remember, in my fathers chicken coop until I turned 15, when we started raising them in a pastured method in our fields using chicken tractors. I’ve raised and killed thousands of birds this way and so this post is an attempt to put on paper answers to many of the questions I get in regards to the killing and cleaning of them. I will leave the raising them for another post.
WARNING, SOME OF THESE PICTURES ARE GRAPHIC IN NATURE….IF YOU CANNOT HANDLE BLOOD OR DEAD ANIMALS PLEASE DON’T READ FURTHER….IF YOU DO, YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED, DON’T EMAIL ME COMPLAINING.
After being inside under a heat lamp for 3 weeks after we get our day old chicks, they have all their feathers and we move them to their new home in one of our fields. 5 to 8 weeks after that they are normally ready to be slaughtered. This gives us roughly a 5 lb dressed bird on average, though many years we average higher.
We never feed the night before the “day of doom”. This helps the bird’s system clean out and saves unnecessary mess during the eviscerating portion of the process.
We always set up the day before to test out equipment, pre-heat our water, and make sure we can get an early start in the morning. The first step in the process obviously, is ending the chickens life…..otherwise the rest of the process wouldn’t be very humane.
These cones serve a couple of purposes. The bird is upside down which tends to calm the chickens and put them to sleep. It also contains them so that their muscles are relaxed. A quick slice to the jugular in the neck and they quickly bleed out. This keeps their system from going into shock like it would if you chopped off their head with an axe, severing their spinal cord.
Many people wish they had a chicken plucker to speed up the process of doing their birds….but this piece of equipment makes it all possible. This is an automatic scalder-dunker that I built years ago.
In the bottom of the barrel are two hot water heater elements. These heat the water up, which we monitor, and keep at 148 degrees F. This is the perfect temperature for dunking birds so that they release their feathers. Hotter and the skin gets fragile and tears, not hot enough and the plucker won’t do its job. The “T” bar that the legs are attached to is raised up and down by an air cylinder which is run off an air compressor through a solenoid and timer. This runs in a 6 second cycle so that the birds are pulled up and down continuously until they are deemed done.
Next for the most famous piece of equipment!
Nope….thats pulling off heads and cutting off legs before the plucker.
There we go…the famous automatic plucker. This version that we built at the same time as the dunker has a stationary barrel with a spinning bottom. It will do two chickens at a time and with a little rinsing while the birds are on their feather detaching merry-go-round, they come out pretty clean.
I didn’t get any pictures of the next part, so I will do my best to describe it. First, cut off the oil gland on the back of the tail. Then make a horizontal cut just above the anus of the bird. Next pull open that skin above and remove all the inner organs. Certain ones we harvest as they are very delicious parts of the bird.(see more below). Rinse the bird inside and out. We then remove the neck(set aside for broth) and cut off the extra skin around the neck. The last step gives our birds a very professional look and makes them simple to bag up. We tuck the legs into a couple of cuts in the skin at the bottom of the breasts.
Above is pictures the finished bird along with the heart, liver and gizzard which we save. All these go into barrels of cold water to cool down. We usually add large buckets of ice to keep the water cold. its amazing how quickly they warm up a 50 gallon drum of water. One quick note on the detaching of the liver. Attached to the liver is the gallbladder. This must be removed without breaking or the gal that is in it will contaminate any meat it touches. I usually just pinch it with my thumb and finger where it connects to the liver the remove it that way.
The green gallbladder attached to a chicken liver.
One of the final steps and one that the children often like to help with, is to cut the gizzards in half and peal the inner lining from them. It can be a bit tricky to get that lining started, but usually that keeps the kids busy……
Oh…that and the tim bits!
This is a whirlwind explanation of the process, but it’s not a complicated one and there are many more rudamentory methods that could be successfully employed. We do about 100 birds every summer for two families. It is an all day event from the first bird to having them in the freezer. The actual processing time is only 3-4 hours thanks to the equipment. Normally one person can run the killing, scalding, and plucking side of things with 3 to 5 people needed to keep up on the eviseration crew.
It is a lot of work, but having quality, organic, economical, naturally raised meat that tastes better than anything you can buy is worth it.