How to Butcher a Chicken, Part 1: Preparing Your Work Space; Killing, Scalding and Plucking Chickens
These Birds Are All Ready to Go
The photographs shown in this article were taken during a real chicken butchering session, and are graphic.
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 the Equipment That Is Absolutely 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
Scrubbing Sinks and Equipment, Sharpening Knives, Freezing Water
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
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
"The Chicken Washer" - the Redneck Way to Pluck a Chicken
How to Pluck a Chicken by Hand
How to Skin a Bird, Feathers and All; Also, a Gutting Method
Total Process Shown (Clean and Low-Key)
Helpful Chicken Processing Links
- Herrick Kimball's Main Page (Original Whizbang Links)
All things Whizbang, plus many other useful and interesting farm-related ideas and links.
- Butchering chickens (graphic photo documentary) Howling Duck Ranch
A straight-forward, more-text, less-pictures version of how to butcher chickens. The birds shone are lanky.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2009 Joilene Rasmussen