How to Butcher a Chicken, Part 1: Preparing Your Work Space; Killing, Scalding and Plucking Chickens

These Birds Are All Ready to Go

Thoughts on Equipment

Butchering a chicken takes commitment. While not a hard process, is it messy, smelly, and can be time consuming. It is best done outdoors, unless you want your house to smell like raw chicken (and everything a chicken eats).

It doesn't require a lot of special equipment, but if you have many of chickens to butcher, I recommend making some investments.

My parents and I, plus one friend part of the time, did 100 chickens over three easy days, and calculated, with the help of certain equipment and our combined experience, that each bird took a total of 10 minutes from chicken house to freezer. WIthout the special equipment, the time could easily have been doubled.

If You Just Have a Few Chickens, Here's What Is Necessary

If you have just a few chickens, any picnic or kitchen table, kitchen knife, clean sink, and large pot of hot water will do. If you are cutting your chickens into pieces, you'll want to have ready a baking pan or large bowl to set the pieces in, as well as something leak-proof in which to put the guts and other waste.

But if you have many chickens to butcher (more than 25), here is a peek at some equipment that will help you streamline the process:

The Recommended Equipment...If You are Butchering More Than 25 Large Chickens

At least three large tubs for hauling finished chickens; four or five is better. Knives designed for meat cutting. Freezer bags - we needed 2 gallon-size; if your birds are small or skinny, recycled bread bags may work. Frozen bottles of water are gr
At least three large tubs for hauling finished chickens; four or five is better. Knives designed for meat cutting. Freezer bags - we needed 2 gallon-size; if your birds are small or skinny, recycled bread bags may work. Frozen bottles of water are gr
A chicken plucker. This one is based on the Tub Style Mechanical Chicken Plucker design, sold below.
A chicken plucker. This one is based on the Tub Style Mechanical Chicken Plucker design, sold below.
The "fingers" on the plucker grab the feathers as the bird(s) spin in the tub.
The "fingers" on the plucker grab the feathers as the bird(s) spin in the tub.
If you can keep it hot enough (wind is a problem here), a turkey friar makes a handy scalding pot.
If you can keep it hot enough (wind is a problem here), a turkey friar makes a handy scalding pot.
Add a bit of detergent to the water to help the feathers release. We kept the friar in reserve, in case we needed more hot water in a hurry, and used...
Add a bit of detergent to the water to help the feathers release. We kept the friar in reserve, in case we needed more hot water in a hurry, and used...
...an "ultimate" type scalder, made from a 50-gallon drum, wrapped in insulation, fitted with a hot-water heater element on the bottom. It takes overnight to heat, but holds heat well.
...an "ultimate" type scalder, made from a 50-gallon drum, wrapped in insulation, fitted with a hot-water heater element on the bottom. It takes overnight to heat, but holds heat well.
Our work table, a stainless steel sheet with "lips" on 3 sides. We also had handy 2 garden hoses with spray nozzles.
Our work table, a stainless steel sheet with "lips" on 3 sides. We also had handy 2 garden hoses with spray nozzles.
Indoors in the meat room (my father processes a lot of meat), a no-touch hand-washing station is excellent. The water is controlled by a knee-press pedal. That's an automatically-heated knife scalder next to the sink.
Indoors in the meat room (my father processes a lot of meat), a no-touch hand-washing station is excellent. The water is controlled by a knee-press pedal. That's an automatically-heated knife scalder next to the sink.
3 deep stainless steel sinks are proper, and required for licensed facilities.
3 deep stainless steel sinks are proper, and required for licensed facilities.

Scrubbing Sinks and Equipment, Sharpening Knives, Freezing Water

It had been a while since the whole room had been thoroughly disinfected, so we scrubbed...
It had been a while since the whole room had been thoroughly disinfected, so we scrubbed...
...everything, including the inside of the meat cooler, which was rather sticky.
...everything, including the inside of the meat cooler, which was rather sticky.
We sharpened a selection of knives, different makes and sizes for different hands.
We sharpened a selection of knives, different makes and sizes for different hands.
Freeze more water bottles than you think you will need, as they take a long time to re-freeze, once thawed.
Freeze more water bottles than you think you will need, as they take a long time to re-freeze, once thawed.

Preparing Your Work Space and Equipment

Have all of your outdoor equipment ready in advance. If you choose to use a scalding barrel, such as the one shown, you would be wise to begin heating it the night before you intend to process your chickens. That is a lot of water to heat!

Also, save some plastic bottles (we used 2-liter soda bottles), to freeze water in. You will want to place these in your chicken washing and rinsing water, to help keep the meat cool. Freeze them in advance, and keep them frozen until the moment you use them.

In your final finishing and packaging area (probably your kitchen), scrub everything in sight with soap and mild bleach water...meat is easily contaminated.

Sharpen all knives, have your hauling tubs rinsed and ready, and lock all interested pets away from your work areas.

As you can see in the following pictures, we had a quite professional work space to process chickens in. Adjust these instructions to fit your situation.

Step One - How to Kill a Chicken

There are, naturally, many ways to do the deed. Some are less disturbing than others.

My brother, for instance, felt a bit strange after the chicken he was trying to hatchet looked up at him with one golden eye, its head partially cloven to reveal the brain. He had missed the neck. Knowing the bird was dead did not help him to feel any less bothered.

Still, he was frantic with laughter while the same chicken somersaulted about without its (finally) missing head. I believe that is a sight everyone should see at least once.

If you are brave, you can try wringing your chickens' necks. I am not brave. I am afraid that act would leave me with the same feeling as the sound of my grandmother crushing large black beetles in her cellar.

There is another disadvantage to wringing chickens' necks. They do not always bleed out properly. This makes an impure final product. Chopping the heads off often prevents a thorough bleeding, as well, as it stops the brain and heart functioning too soon.

I will therefore show you one of the most sanitary and humane ways to do in your birds, by slitting their throats.

How to Properly Slit a Chicken's Throat

As discussed in my previous article on raising meat chickens (see below in the "links" section), their hips sometimes give out. This ones gave out the night before this photo was taken. He will be the first to go.
As discussed in my previous article on raising meat chickens (see below in the "links" section), their hips sometimes give out. This ones gave out the night before this photo was taken. He will be the first to go.
These are chicken killing cones. They hold the bird and usually prevent a lot of struggling or flapping, before or after death.
These are chicken killing cones. They hold the bird and usually prevent a lot of struggling or flapping, before or after death.
These Cornish Rock birds are easy to catch. Naturally, some chickens won't be. Do your best to walk right up to one and grab its body.
These Cornish Rock birds are easy to catch. Naturally, some chickens won't be. Do your best to walk right up to one and grab its body.
Transfer your hold to the legs...
Transfer your hold to the legs...
...and if needed, the neck or breast. These birds are heavy.
...and if needed, the neck or breast. These birds are heavy.
I told you before how dirty they can be. You may want to wear gloves while catching them.
I told you before how dirty they can be. You may want to wear gloves while catching them.
Insert the chicken head-down in the cone...
Insert the chicken head-down in the cone...
...gently pulling its head through the lower opening.
...gently pulling its head through the lower opening.
The chicken will usually become calm once enclosed by the cone.
The chicken will usually become calm once enclosed by the cone.
Insert your knife into the brain. This stuns the chicken, making the death more humane.
Insert your knife into the brain. This stuns the chicken, making the death more humane.
This photo shows just where to do this.
This photo shows just where to do this.
Quickly make one slice across the throat, without detaching the head.
Quickly make one slice across the throat, without detaching the head.
Let the bird's blood drain a few moments.
Let the bird's blood drain a few moments.
Sometimes a chicken will flop out of the cone, and finish bleeding on the ground.
Sometimes a chicken will flop out of the cone, and finish bleeding on the ground.
Even in the cones, there is some shaking and kicking (death throes), and you can see how blood-spattered things get. Wear old clothes.
Even in the cones, there is some shaking and kicking (death throes), and you can see how blood-spattered things get. Wear old clothes.
If your work station is not  near the chicken pen, use a wheelborrow to transport the dead birds. It will get bloody.
If your work station is not near the chicken pen, use a wheelborrow to transport the dead birds. It will get bloody.

Chicken Killing Advice From David, a Reader

Put a bleeding cup on their head to catch the blood in the killing cone so you don't have it splattered all over the place. Don't let your chickens graze where you butcher and eat the blood of your kill. slit the throat along the neck, not across, and hit the juggler for the best bleeding. open the mouth then pierce the brain behind the comb to release the feathers. Dry plucking would be so much cleaner than all that mess! It's not that hard!

If You Have No Chicken Killing Cones...

Milk Jug Chicken Killing Cones (Make Your Own)

How to Wring a Chicken's Neck

Notes On Scalding and Plucking Chickens

The next step in chicken processing is to scald the birds, so they pluck easily.

We like to do this with the water at about 150* F. This is considered hot, and will sometimes make the skins come off during mechanical plucking. Some people prefer to do their scalding at about 135* or 140* F.

The idea behind scalding is to losen the feathers, expanding and softening the openings in the skin. It is necessary for efficient plucking. Of course, you can choose to skin your birds, feathers and all, as shown in the video below, and eliminate the need for scalding. It is up to you.

A mechanical plucker is also not necessary. It is convenient, and quick. But it takes an experienced person only 2-3 minutes to hand pluck a chicken, so it is not a huge obstacle. I will show below how best to hand pluck a bird.

How to Scald and Pluck a Chicken

Now is a good time to put some of the bottles of ice in your chicken cleaning water. First run the coldest water you can.
Now is a good time to put some of the bottles of ice in your chicken cleaning water. First run the coldest water you can.
A bit of detergent makes the water penetrate better, and so helps the scalding and plucking. Have a thermometer clipped to the side of the scalder.
A bit of detergent makes the water penetrate better, and so helps the scalding and plucking. Have a thermometer clipped to the side of the scalder.
Dip each bird by the feet, clear into the hot water.
Dip each bird by the feet, clear into the hot water.
Hold about 15 seconds (the lower the temperature, the longer - up to a couple minutes), then pluck immediately.
Hold about 15 seconds (the lower the temperature, the longer - up to a couple minutes), then pluck immediately.
Two to three birds in the plucker is enough at a time.
Two to three birds in the plucker is enough at a time.
Rinsing the plucker while it is running is a good idea.
Rinsing the plucker while it is running is a good idea.
The wet feathers will pile up in a clinging mess.
The wet feathers will pile up in a clinging mess.
The plucker whirls the birds against the "fingers" and strips the feathers from nearly every part. Once in a while, a wing or leg gets broken.
The plucker whirls the birds against the "fingers" and strips the feathers from nearly every part. Once in a while, a wing or leg gets broken.
Burn the hair off, if desired. Yes, chickens have hair.
Burn the hair off, if desired. Yes, chickens have hair.
A blow torch makes the job easy, but any flame will work.
A blow torch makes the job easy, but any flame will work.
You will still need to squeeze out the pin-feathers, which will inevitably be missed by the plucker.
You will still need to squeeze out the pin-feathers, which will inevitably be missed by the plucker.
A partially broken, partially-skinned bird. He had a rough plucker ride. Also, the plucker rarely takes off the wing-tip and tail feathers.
A partially broken, partially-skinned bird. He had a rough plucker ride. Also, the plucker rarely takes off the wing-tip and tail feathers.

"The Chicken Washer" - the Redneck Way to Pluck a Chicken

How to Pluck a Chicken by Hand

Begin by scraping (with a bit of a scrubbing motion) with your hand down the leg.
Begin by scraping (with a bit of a scrubbing motion) with your hand down the leg.
Make another pass or two down the side and under a wing...
Make another pass or two down the side and under a wing...
...then the belly...
...then the belly...
...breast...
...breast...
and thighs...
and thighs...
...and back.
...and back.
Pull out the tail feathers, if you intend to keep the tails (we cut them off).
Pull out the tail feathers, if you intend to keep the tails (we cut them off).
Lastly, scrub and pull out the wing featherrs.
Lastly, scrub and pull out the wing featherrs.

How to Skin a Bird, Feathers and All; Also, a Gutting Method

Total Process Shown (Clean and Low-Key)

© 2009 Joy At Home

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Comments 35 comments

Ivorwen profile image

Ivorwen 6 years ago from Hither and Yonder

I think I would rather kill the chicken than see it in pictures! Great information, Joy.


Jarn profile image

Jarn 6 years ago from Sebastian, Fl

Great article. Extremely informative. I reckon I could butcher and prepare chickens now, though I'm not sure I'd want to deal with the mess. It seems like it would take a while to strip off the feathers the plucker missed. What do you do with all the feathers when you're done?


Joy At Home profile image

Joy At Home 6 years ago from United States Author

Ivorwen, I think I would feel the same, if these were somebody else's pictures!

I just want people to know what to expect.


Joy At Home profile image

Joy At Home 6 years ago from United States Author

Jarn, the mess isn't such a problem...as long as you keep on top of it and have plenty of room and rags handy. Another reason to butcher outside, in warm weather. Being on a farm, we leave the guts and feathers and whatnot for the cats, dogs, and coyotes.

Regarding the tail and wing feathers, it actually doesn't take more than a few seconds to finish stripping them off. Once scalded, as long as the bird doesn't cool too much right away, they come out easily. Once in a while, a pin-feather gives us some trouble, and the first year Mom raised chickens (Rhode Island Reds), I actually used pliars to get some of them out. But usually their not a problem.

We throw the feathers out with the guts and such, as they are so dirty and gooey (with skin secretions, poop, etc.), they aren't good for anything. It's not at all like plucking the down from a wild duck or goose.


no body profile image

no body 6 years ago from Rochester, New York

I was just a little boy and on a Saturday I saw my Cousin chasing a goose around until he caught it and chop off its head and let it go. I still remember it flopping all over the yard. I can't say I was traumatized. I don't have nightmares or anything. I didn't even join PETA. But then that same week or maybe a few days more than a week I go over to my gramma's house and there she was cleaning a whole bunch of chicken's on her kitchen table. And the smell I still remember it. I was a bit traumatized by that. I'll never join PETA though. It was a great hub. Many blessing to you.


Joy At Home profile image

Joy At Home 6 years ago from United States Author

No Body, I'm sorry you've had so many bad experiences with chicken butchering!

I know what you mean about the smell. The first year, even though we didn't do that many chickens, and, being Rhode Island Reds, they were smaller than the Cornish Rocks, and easier to handle, when we were finished, I didn't want to *look* at a chicken for the next week. It's a smell I've never quite gotten used to, even though I've butchered chickens for several years now. It's so much more overwhelming than beef or other mammals, and is stronger than wild birds, too. This is why I recommend the actual butchering be done outside.


teendad profile image

teendad 6 years ago from Richmond, VA

I commend you on all the work it must have taken to put together this series of hubs. I don't think I have the stomach for this kind of work, but I think it's important for people to understand where our food comes from and how it is processed. I recently survived a tour through a cattle slaughterhouse, and I found this information on chickens fascinating.


Joy At Home profile image

Joy At Home 6 years ago from United States Author

Teendad, thanks so much for your encouraging comment.

Though I have never been in a large-scale commercial cattle slaughterhouse (just the small one in my hometown), I have helped butcher many cattle, and sheep.

I'm sure glad I learned on the job, in a natural farm setting, so things seemed normal.


no body profile image

no body 6 years ago from Rochester, New York

I just reread the hub. We have become such wussies in this modern era, haven't we? Great grandpa and even grandpa used to go into the woods kill breakfast, lunch and dinner. The gentlewomen of the house used to prepare it in the traditional gory ol' way and no one thought anything of it. Now we don't want to see how even other people do it. There are people claiming we have no right to eat animals at all. Some even want to have lawyers represent animals in court to sue owners and masters. I know what we've become but WHAT have we BECOME? it is like the Bible says the world in the last days will say good is bad and bad is good. I praise the Lord for people who give us our food and do the processing with humanity and no cruelty. I am a surviver and would do it if I had to but thank God for you!


Joy At Home profile image

Joy At Home 6 years ago from United States Author

No Body, I found your comment funny, in an encouraging way. :-)

My husband and I still hunt a lot of our food, and yes, our kitchen sink - and floor and table - have seen their share of gore. You should have seen the Schwan man's face (years ago when we still bought that kind of junk) when my husband carted a deer's hindquarter through the room while I was making an order.

My husband never thought much about the oddity of the situation; just stopped and said, "I got a big doe this year!"


Rooster Shamblin 6 years ago

http://roostershamblin.wordpress.com/ would you please spend a few minutes checking out my chicken blog. Been raising more than 50 breeds of chickens 40 years.


Joy At Home profile image

Joy At Home 6 years ago from United States Author

Rooster Shamblin,

Thanks for the link. Your information looks quite useful. I've added your link in the Links Section above, also, and will on my other chicken hubs, as well.


De Greek profile image

De Greek 6 years ago from UK

My Hero! You have touched on a subject close to my heart. AS I plan to retire to the wilds of Greece in a couple of years, I wanted to learn how to do this.!

However, you left me unsatisfied. How do you remove the guts, which I suspect might be an important part of the process :-)


Joy At Home profile image

Joy At Home 6 years ago from United States Author

De Greek, see Part 2. :-)


Chip Bell 6 years ago

I have a few chickens I might butcher some eventually as they are breeding and there are more and more of them. I don't plan to pluck I plan to skin the birds as the skin is not healthy to eat and gets in the way of seasoning.

Also wanted to let you know about some of the crazyness that's out there. The pics are great and they are informative but their are some bad elements on the net that might try to use those pictures as propiganda.

Animal rights whacos actually think that animals = sentient beings.


Chip Bell 6 years ago

This is an example of just how crazy some of the animal rights and environmentalist garbage is. Far more disgusting to read than butchering any chicken but worth a look none the less.

http://www.vhemt.org/ The Voluntary Human Extinction Movement.


chickchick 6 years ago

having a camp or bon fire going before butchering makes easy clean-up of all unwanted extras from butchering


Joy At Home profile image

Joy At Home 6 years ago from United States Author

Chickchick,

Thanks for the tip. A bonfire would help very much in some situations. :-)


Joy At Home profile image

Joy At Home 6 years ago from United States Author

Chip Bell,

Thank you for the link. My first reaction is, "Wow, pretty weird stuff." I am well aware - and have been most of my life - of how excited some people get over farming and food processing practices, among other things. But I've chosen to hold my head up and say, "Screw you," to all the weirdos out there who clamor like so many magpies. The rest of us don't need to cower under their clamoring, and I believe people deserve to know how to process their own food, regardless of its origin.

The movement you cited seems to be pretty serious, and I'm also keeping an eye on the proposed "wildlife corridors" and other gimmicks for controlling peoples' lives. Thanks for the heads-up, but I'm choosing to keep living my life the way I'm convinced I should live it, and help others do the same.


Muhammad Hayyat 6 years ago

ITS REALY AN INFORMATIVE LINK. I LEARNED ALOT FROM IT


johnnynaakea 6 years ago

Wow! This is super informative. Thank you for sharing. You have a gift for teaching.


Joy At Home profile image

Joy At Home 6 years ago from United States Author

Johnny,

Thank you for the compliments! I'm continuously more pleased that this series is really helping people.


Roosters profile image

Roosters 5 years ago

An interesting article, I wish I had seen it before I had ever butchered a chicken myself. Some really good top tips.


Joy At Home profile image

Joy At Home 5 years ago from United States Author

Roosters,

Thank you very much.


INEXPERIENCED 5 years ago

This is a well done page with lots of good information. I have been wanting to start keeping my own meat chickens for years so I can know exactly what they eat, how they are raised, etc. So far I have one and try to keep him happy cause I think a happy chicken will make a better meal then one who lived a miserable existence. He's my "guinea pig" since I have taken him in to see how well I do with the whole raising, getting to know, then killing, and eating process.Thanks for the info and heads up on what to expect.


Joy At Home profile image

Joy At Home 5 years ago from United States Author

Inexperienced,

I am so happy this article has helped you on your way! I know it's not exactly a pleasant topic, but I figured someone had to show how it's done, and that someone may as well be me. :-)


william.fischer29 profile image

william.fischer29 5 years ago

Great article! I found great tips and ideas here!


Joy At Home profile image

Joy At Home 5 years ago from United States Author

William,

Glad to be of help!


David 2 years ago

Put a bleeding cup on their head to catch the blood in the killing cone so you don't have it splattered all over the place. Don't let your chickens graze where you butcher and eat the blood of your kill. slit the throat along the neck, not across, and hit the juggler for the best bleeding. open the mouth then pierce the brain behind the comb to release the feathers. Dry plucking would be so much cleaner than all that mess! It's not that hard!


Joy At Home profile image

Joy At Home 2 years ago from United States Author

David,

I'm looking forward to your own informative articles, should you choose to contribute what you consider to be superior information where it can be found readily by others. Good tips.


Evelyn 2 years ago

That is just fucked up and inhumane! Killing animals for food is wrong. If anyone did that to my bunny, I would kill them. Animals deserve to live on this planet, not die so you can eat them. All you people that think this is co, you are fucked up in the head!


DoveFreexrolo 4 months ago

Aricltes like this just make me want to visit your website even more.


Joy At Home profile image

Joy At Home 4 months ago from United States Author

Evelyn, you are unlikely to see this reply, but as your comment was labeled "Spammy" and I didn't see it 'til just now, I will answer it:

To each his own.

I, too, would be upset if anyone killed my pets. Yes, I have pet poultry. This may surprise you. Some breeds of chickens (and turkeys, ducks, etc.) make good pets; others don't. Cornish Rock chickens don't usually make great pets.

I also have lots of wildlife living around me (which I don't eat), sheep, a dog, cat, and have had milk goats. I grew up with beef cattle and guinea birds, among other things, and we respected the deer, rabbits, pheasants, and other animals who shared the farm. I am not an unbalanced killer bent on destruction. I am a teacher, who wishes to show people how to be both more responsible and self-sufficient.

I am sorry you feel the need to make unfounded accusations. You obviously grew up with a different reality than I did. I bet there are some things I wouldn't get about your life, too...but I'm not going to yell at you for it.


Joy At Home profile image

Joy At Home 4 months ago from United States Author

David, your advice is good advice. Btw, I have dry plucked, and in spite of the mess, I prefer the wet plucking with this many chickens. You have done such a clear job of outlining how to be clean that I have copied your comment into the article above.


Joy At Home profile image

Joy At Home 4 months ago from United States Author

Dove, thank you! That's good news.

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