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The Farm at Morrison Corner
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Slaughtering Chickens: These pages are for those interested in how we process our birds. They are graphic and illustrated with color images. If you are not interested in how chickens become stir fry, don't read these pages!

Any book you get on raising chickens will include a section on slaughtering your birds and processing them into meat. Traditionally, this includes a pot of boiling water for dipping the bird (to release the feathers), plucking, eviscerating, then packing the (whole) bird for the freezer. We tried that. Much too much effort for only a modest gain in meat, and our little freezer wasn't big enough for the produce and the poultry! So. After several years our processing method has evolved into something we can live with. This is how we process our chickens. Posting it on the web does not in any way imply our method is correct, nor that it should be duplicated elsewhere. This is simply what we do and is posted for comparison purposes only.

In 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.

Grasping 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.

The 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

 

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