No doubt many of you who are interested in homesteading have put some thought into whether or not you will butcher your livestock. After all, they are an investment that you have made of time and money, in raising them, feeding, and protecting them. When the time comes to take a life, will you be able to do it? All I can say is claiming that you will butcher and actually performing the task are two separate entities.
When we bought our first flock of chicks, we somehow ended up with a rooster in our group. We decided to take advantage of it and allow him to fertilize the eggs and provide us with beneficial fertilizer. I would be lying if I didn’t say that we didn’t bond with this animal. It’s never your intention to create an emotional bond with livestock, but when you care for them day after day, it’s hard not too. Over time, like all roosters, Bernie had become increasingly more aggressive. For months we have skirted around the fate of this rooster, and after we were able to successfully hatch a brood of chicks from our incubator, we decided that today was the day – it was time to kill him. Being a first time homesteader, I firmly believe in stretching myself and developing my skill sets. One of these important skills to learn is caring for and butchering livestock.
I believe that animals were put on this earth to serve a purpose and further believe that as long as the animals are cared for and killed humanely, then their lives had meaning. Our chickens are 100% organic and live a very good life where they have lots of room to roam around and eat to their hearts content. Like many of you, we are trying to be self-sufficient and raise or grow as much of our own food as we can – on our own terms. Part of the self-sufficient cycle is eating the food sources you have raised. That said, we did a lot of research on homesteading websites and watched videos on butchering before we were ready to do it. This video on killing the animal and this video on cleaning it were very helpful.
Killing and Processing the Chicken
Once the rooster was caught, we wrapped him in an old towel and allowed him to settle. I stroked his beautiful feathers and we all thanked him for his life and the baby chicks we were now caring for. Somehow I ended up with the knife in my hand. I have to tell you that although I have put thought into the fact that we were going to be butchering the chickens, I never thought it would be at my own hand. Nevertheless, I used the knife and cut his throat. I am still trying to process this moment.
He bled out quickly and at one point squirmed his way out of the towel we had wrapped him in. His wings were flapping and blood had splattered all over me – I swear I looked like I had stepped out of a scene from Braveheart. We allowed his blood to drain in a bucket and I went to wash up. As a side note, I would suggest wearing rain boots when butchering animals, as the blood tends to drip on your shoes and makes a mess.
The following are the steps we took to kill and clean the chicken to get it oven ready.
- Before butchering the bird, have all tools and everything in place before you start. You will need a very sharp knife, rope, a bucket, an old towel and rain boots.
- Start a large pot or stock pot of water on the stove. You don’t want boiling water, but extremely hot, near the simmering point.
- Get your chicken and wrap it in an old towel. Find the back of the jaw bone of the chicken. This is where you want to start cutting. With a very sharp knife, use a good amount of pressure and cut the throat of the bird from the back of the jawbone to the jugular vein. To help the chicken bleed out more quickly, try not to cut the windpipe. You can also break their neck shortly following the cut to the neck.
- Allow the chicken to bleed out completely by hanging it from its feet with a rope. Use a plastic container for the blood to fall into. This step should take about 5 minutes.
- Dip the bird into the hot boiling water to loosen up the feathers and begin plucking. We set the bird in the hot water for 20 seconds and the feathers easily came off.
- Wash the carcass in the sink and go over the body ensuring you have removed all quills and feathers.
- Grab the leg and exert some pressure to the find the joint connecting the foot and the leg and cut the feet off. If you plan to use the entire bird, you can use the feet to make chicken stock.
- To begin eviscerating the chicken, open the cavity, find the end of the breast bone and with a sharp knife and make small cuts around the area and around the anus area. This is where you will be able to grab the internal organs and such. Try not to damage or break the intestines or it can ruin the meat.
- Stick your hand into the chest cavity and remove the organs and intestines. There is a slight smell when the cavity is opened. I wasn’t aware of this and wished I had held my breath. Note: You may need a knife nearby to cut any connective tissues inside the cavity.
- Wash the cavity and the outside of the bird thoroughly and then prepare for cooking.
I’m going to come out and say that butchering is not my thing and definitely not something I look forward to for family fun activities. I would kill another animal to feed my family, but I’m definitely not a fan. This process really taught me a lot about the cycle of life and how important it is to respect all life forms. After we finished eating the rooster, I wanted to save everything – nothing wasted with this dinner. I plan on making a soup tomorrow out of the remaining carcass.
The hardest part of this was killing the rooster. In all honesty I believe that taking a life would be hard for anyone whether it’s your first time or your twentieth; after all, this is what makes us humans. I have never taken a life and killing the rooster was very difficult for me to do. It is my hope that Bernie, the rooster didn’t suffer and that he was happy until the end.
The next time we decide to butcher a chicken, we will probably do more than one at a time. Although the process of butchering and cleaning went fairly quickly, I would rather have the meat cleaned and ready to go instead of killing one chicken at a time.
The End Result
As a side note, many suggest you butcher your chickens while they are young (less than 1 year old) and still considered pullets. This is when their meat is still tender. My rooster was about 8 months old, so he was fairly young. After cooking him on low heat for 1 1/2 hours, his meat was tough. I’m assuming that since he was male, his meat wouldn’t have been tender anyway. Does anyone have any insight in answering this question?
I hope my experience is able to help some of you who are either considering a homesteading lifestyle or are considering butchering your chickens for the first time. It is never fun to take a life, but I respect this animal for giving my family sustenance.