the spring we ordered a box of unsexed chicks from Murry McMurray
Hatchery. It is now fall, and we've had a couple of good frosts.
The air, this morning, is hovering around 34 degrees, and we're
going to cull most of the roosters and put them in the freezer.
By this time of the year the chickens are having a hard time
finding bugs... and the grass has stopped growing so there is
less an less for them to graze on... right when they need more
and more energy just to keep warm. The roosters aren't gaining
any more weight, but they're eating a lot of expensive bagged
feed. And... they're discovering they're roosters, which means
fights are breaking out in my yard. Definitely time to pack some
of them into the freezer.
We slaughter birds on a cold sunny day. Cold, because we want
the birds to chill before we start processing them. Sunny because
you just haven't lived until you've tried to process birds in
the rain. Did that once. Don't need to do that again.
It seems obvious enough, but we want to be wearing clothes we
don't care about when we do this. Chickens have two central nervous
systems, and it is the second one which causes them to flap and
twitch long after they're dead. No matter how experienced you
are, one bird will give an almighty clap of his wings at the wrong
moment, and you'll end up with spatters. We Wear old clothes we
don't care about, and wear leather gloves which will give us a
good grip on the birds.
The night before, we remove the food from the coop about 2 hours
before the birds usually stop feeding, and if we are free ranging
our birds, don't throw them their evening snack. We pick a sturdy
branch, swing support, bar... whatever we're going to hang these
birds from, and fasten a series of cords with slip knots at the
end. Making the loop very generous, we'll be slipping the feet
of a live bird through them and we don't want to be fumbling unnecessarily.
The earlier in the morning we do this the better. Pitch dark
is ideal. We go into the coop before daylight with a flashlight.
Select the bird we want and smoothly grasp the bird by the feet
and around the body. Lifting him off the perch and droping the
body, gently pushing the head until the bird is upside down and
we have him by the feet. The bird will be quite calm. Missed crack
of dawn? Not to worry. The birds will just be more active, and
we'll need to be a little more agile to catch them.
Walking the bird to the hanging cords, we slip the loop over
the bird's feet, and tighten it down. The bird is now hanging
upside down in mid-air. And I can't emphasize enough how remarkably
calm the bird is.
the bird firmly by the head. We pull down, and using a sharp knife
which is small enough for us to manipulate and handle easily with
our gloves on cut right through the throat, and the arteries on
both sides. The blade should not be flexible. A paring knife,
hunting knife, or... we're actually using a jackknife here, works
very well. The bird may give a sharp squawk. This is the air in
the lungs releasing through the voice box.
We could, of course, do the stump-and-cleaver thing. However,
you have to get the bird into position, hope the head doesn't
move, and have good aim. This is a whole lot less trouble.
bird will flap a few times, so we step away from it once we've
cut the throat. Go back into the coop and fetch out the next bird,
systematically going through the birds we want to process.
It is essential to allow the birds to cool before we begin processing
by our method. If the birds aren't cool enough, the meat won't
hold together as we try to remove it but will "shred"
instead. We can get the meat off, but it takes longer, and it
won't come off in nice recognizable pieces, but in shreds. We
wash our hands, make a cup of coffee, and don't worry about the
birds. They need to cool, and they're insulated with feathers.
So this isn't something that is going to happen in the next ten
minutes. Generally we give the birds a couple of hours of hanging
time to bleed out and cool down when the air temperature is between
32-36. If the air is up around 40 we'll push that further. Up
above 40 (spring slaughtering for example) we resign ourselves
to shredded meat.
Processing the birds