We sent our two largest broilers to ice camp on Sunday. We didn't have any spare clean hands to hold a camera once we got started. So I don't have any footage or even still pictures of the slaughtering process itself. We're still in the market for someone to hold a camera while our hands are occupied. But I did take some pictures just before we got under way. I thought I'd share these and also some of the videos I've turned to for help figuring it out on my own.
Obviously, if this subject is going to upset you, stop reading now. I think most readers here will be comfortable with this topic, and I think the methods we use are pretty humane. But this is a post about killing animals for food. If you're categorically opposed to such things, here's your notice.
A place to work - This is our solar cooking station equipped with a cutting board, knives, latex gloves, and containers to receive various parts of the chickens. We save or use just about every part of the chicken except the intestines, gall bladder, oil gland and the head. What doesn't come into the kitchen gets used or buried somewhere in the garden.
Slip knotted cords - these will hold each bird by the feet. We have sometimes used a killing cone in the past, which takes care of the movement problem. With the birds hanging freely like this you need two people to stabilize the chicken; one to hold the wings against the body, and another to hold the head as they bleed out. The wings should be held closed because otherwise the bird can flap so hard that it bruises its own wings. In a commercial operation the resulting discoloration would make the bird unsalable. Stabilizing the head ensures that the movements of the bird (either voluntary or involuntary) don't send blood flying everywhere. Holding the head at an angle away from the cut also speeds the bleeding out, thus hastening death and limiting the suffering of the animal.
Wheelbarrow with mulch - We situate this directly under the cords or the killing cone that holds the bird. It will collect the blood from the chickens and be used around our fruit trees. This saves on cleanup and preserves the value of the blood as a fertilizer. For the number of birds we slaughter at any one time, even a small amount of mulch will suffice to soak up the blood; there just isn't that much of it.
Knives - A well-sharpened boning knife, paring knife and a cleaver. The boning knife is used both for cutting the chicken's jugular and for the small amount of cutting needed during evisceration. The paring knife is sometimes not used at all; it's there as a just in case alternative to the boning knife. The cleaver is useful for decapitation and for cutting through the neck, which I've always had trouble doing with a boning knife. If you don't have a cleaver, a good strong pair of kitchen shears might work for the neck. Whichever knife is used for the killing cut needs to be very sharp in order to spare the bird as much suffering as possible, and working with a sharp knife during evisceration always makes things much easier. We devote time to getting the knives ready the day before slaughter. But as you'll see in the Joel Salatin video below, there's really very little cutting necessary in the whole process.
Scalding water - A large pot is required. I use a water bath canning pot. The water should be roughly 145-150F/63-66C. I heat the water above that temperature before hauling it outside, so that it's just right when we've gotten through the first few steps in the slaughtering process. When slaughtering more than a couple of birds, I leave a kettle simmering inside so that we can top off the pot with hot water, keeping the water at the right temperature for all the birds. The birds displace a lot of water, so the pot should not be completely full. When it's chilly outside I set the pot on cardboard so that heat is conducted away a little more slowly.
DIY Chicken plucker - This works well for the very small number of birds we process at any one time. It probably wouldn't be workable for anyone slaughtering more than a dozen birds at once. A day ahead of time we make sure to have the batteries for the drill charged up. When we're processing only one or two birds at a time, we sometimes don't even bother with the plucker as it's quick and easy enough to pluck a bird by hand if you get the scalding right. We try to pluck the feathers into a garden bed that is ready for lasagna mulching. Feathers are high in nitrogen and break down quite slowly. So they'll feed the soil very gradually while adding a bit of structure for soil microorganisms. Strangely enough, yellow jackets will steal the small feathers, for the protein content I suppose, if you don't cover them with mulch right away. An older post of mine details the DIY plucker.
By the way, if you like your chicken skinless, you can skip the plucking entirely and just peel the skin off the entire bird. This isn't a great idea if you plan to roast the bird whole, since the skin keeps the bird from drying out. But if your birds are destined for other preparation methods, and you don't want the fat from the skin, you can save some time and effort.
Chilling bath - We use a cooler, filled with all the ice we have on hand and water from the garden hose. This brings the temperature of the eviscerated bird down very quickly, and can hold 4-5 broilers, but really only one turkey at a time. It's wiped down with a bleach solution before and after use.
Bags, scale, permanent marker, freezer - Once the birds are nicely chilled, I drain them as well as possible, weigh them, bag them up, and write the weight of the bird on the bag. We let our broilers live a little longer and get a little bigger than many farmers so I use 2-gallon freezer bags, which I'll sanitize and re-use just for our own chickens. I wouldn't like to count on our larger birds fitting into the 1-gallon bags. The two birds we slaughtered on Sunday averaged just over 6 pounds (2.7 kg). I put the giblets from all birds into one container, to be used when it's time to make gravy for the Thanksgiving turkey. (We grill our turkey so we don't get pan drippings to work with.) Then the birds and giblets all go off to ice camp.
I've learned all I know about slaughtering and eviscerating chickens by watching videos and doing it myself. I've never come across a text description or even still photos that have helped me as much as video has. Here's a sampling of videos that show the process in detail. These first two videos don't show the exact method I use, and there's a lot of extra material covered, but they're definitely useful for amateurs and novices who don't have expert help on hand.
Respectful chicken slaughter - Part 1
I think it's an especially good tip to locate the chicken's jugular by feeling for the jaw. I've never been able to precisely identify where a chicken's ears are, so that point of reference hasn't been useful to me. The jaw can be easily felt. You may not make a perfect cut the first time you do it. When you get it right, you'll know by the steady stream of blood that the cut produces. Practice makes perfect, though the obvious difficulty is that homesteaders work at such a small scale that getting enough practice on a regular basis isn't easy. That's why I watch critical parts of these videos a few times over the day before slaughter.
Respectful chicken slaughter - Part 2
Good tips in this video on how to use legs and other parts of the chicken.
Joel Salatin - chicken evisceration
If you're contemplating your first poultry slaughter yourself, you might want to study other homesteaders' take on the process. Paula recently posted about her own chicken slaughter. And Kristeva had a post quite a while back with good pictures. If these videos and posts don't answer your chicken slaughtering and processing questions, I'd be happy to try despite my meagre experience. On the other hand, if you have any tips that you'd like to share, please sound off in the comments.
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