When we bought our latest flock of 18 chickens, the plan was to raise some as egg-layers and some as meat birds.  As longtime city slickers, neither of us had ever butchered and processed a chicken, so we knew eventually we’d have to learn how and give it a try.

Eventually turned out to be sooner than we’d anticipated.

Chareva moved the chicken coop yesterday, and when she stepped inside afterwards to top off the supply of food and water, she discovered to her horror that two of the chickens had gotten trapped and mangled by the wire mesh.   Both had broken legs – one poor bird, in fact, had a leg torn off.  (Yes, we will be revisiting the design of the coop to figure out how to avoid a repeat incident.)  The only merciful option was to put them out of their misery.

So Chareva quickly reviewed how to process a chicken on YouTube and got to work.  (If the sight of someone killing and gutting an animal grosses you out, you’d best stop reading now.)

First she hung the birds upside down and slit their throats to bleed them out.  Then she removed the heads.

When the birds stopped moving, she dipped the bodies into a pot of hot water to loosen the feathers.  Then she hung them upside down again and started plucking.  Most of the feathers came off pretty easily.


Online videos suggest using a propane torch to remove the fine feathers.  We don’t have a propane torch, but a makeshift version seemed to do the trick.  (As we discovered later during dinner, the tiny feather shafts that remained stuck in the skin had the consistency of crispy rice.)

Next came the tricky part:  removing the organs without spilling the contents of the guts inside the carcass and ruining the meat.  Chareva worked slowly and methodically, gradually working her way through the neck and tail with small cuts until she was able to release and pull out the organs.  At this point, I was convinced she would have made a fine pioneer woman.  Nothing about the entire process fazed her.

The birds were small, so she elected to cook both of them for dinner.  She added olive oil, garlic and rosemary, then roasted them on top of some sweet potatoes from our garden.  The rosemary came from our garden as well.  Aside from the olive oil and a side of green beans, this was pretty much a farm-to-forks meal.

Like I said, the birds were small, but the flavor was excellent.  When I was a kid, I liked chicken.  As an adult, not so much.  Chicken usually tastes bland to me.  I thought my taste buds had changed, but now I’d say it’s more likely the chickens that have changed.  I don’t know what kind of chickens I ate as a kid 45 years ago, but I doubt they were factory-raised chickens pumped full of hormones. Heritage-breed chickens raised outdoors on a farm are chickens done right.

Next time, of course, the “done right” part will include butchering the chicken because it’s fully grown and ready for the oven.

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55 Responses to “The Farm Report: Accidental Chicken Dinner”
  1. Obadyah says:

    Kudos on making the best out of a bad situation!

    When life gives you wounded chickens, make chicken dinner.

  2. Hmmm, could have entered that dinner in a 3-legged race…

  3. Matt Bailey says:

    Well done!
    We had similar situation come up here last December, only with a two thousand some-odd pound bull.

    Wow. I’m glad we didn’t have to process that much meat, since I don’t have a giant freezer.

    • Matt Bailey says:

      He kept literally walking through our barbed wire fences. We roped him with the intent to sell, he snapped his foreleg during the fight. We called the local processing plants, and they wouldn’t take him, because he might have been laying down in the trailer by the time we got there, and that would have made it against the rules for them to process him for us. Yes, it is against regulations for them to kill our own live bull, process him, and give the meat back to us. So we shot him and spent noon till midnight skinning and quartering the beast, and a friend who owns a little deer processing operation hamburgerizing the meat on the sly, that also being technically against regulations. Twenty-three crates of meat in all.

      I’m guessing you ate a hamburgers for a long, long time.

      • TonyNZ says:

        So I’m guessing from your comment that your government prevents you from doing something like we do in New Zealand. It’s called home-kill and most country butchers do it.

        They will come to your property, kill the cattle, skin/gut/bleed etc and take all the offal away with the carcass. They then hang the carcass in their refrigerator (important for the most tender meat) for 7-10 days, butcher it all up and then you can pick it up in boxes all individually packaged in steaks, roasts, mince, sausage, dog bones etc. Costs about NZ$2.50 per kilo carcass weight (US$1.50 per pound).

        Carcass weight is the weight left after the guts, skin, head, shins etc. are removed.

        Really good value for someone like me that, whilst I have no problem with killing and eating an animal myself, find it a lot better value for someone with the tools, skills and walk-in fridges required to do the job to come and do it.

        • TonyNZ says:

          What’s that, America?

          Sad but true. When people in the U.S. say “Hey, it’s a free country!” the proper response is a hearty chuckle. We are devolving into the Land of the Regulated and the Home of the Entitled.

          • Matt Bailey says:

            Yeah, but the rifle I used to put the thing out of its misery is about as much paperwork in to have in NZ as having a packing plant is in the US ;-) I’ve actually scrutinized the laws of many nations looking for a freer place to live, and come away with the sad realization that libertarianism taking hold in the US is the last hope for anything resembling liberty. New Hampshire begins to look appealing.

            A breakaway republic looks even more appealing.

          • TonyNZ says:

            Until the remainder decides that the breakaway republic is a security threat or ‘undemocratic’. Then they come and invade in the interest of global peace.

            I’m reminded of a line from Casablanca:

            “There are certain sections of New York, Major, that I wouldn’t advise you to invade.”

      • Chareva says:

        While in the Peace Corps in West Africa, I lived in a little herding village. Population 150. One day I walked through the town center (consisting of a tree and a well) and found several men butchering a cow. It had an accident of some sort and they had somehow brought it back to the village. Each family brought the largest bowl they owned and had it filled. Indeed, it was a big job!

  4. Don in Arkansas says:

    You need to hang on to that woman! She’s definitely a keeper.

    I came to that conclusion on our second date. The 16 years since have only proved my conclusion correct.

  5. Tom says:

    I’m impressed that she could do this! My wife would never do anything like this. Me on the other hand, I am a deer hunter and this would not faze me at all. The finished product looks great!

    I suspected it wouldn’t faze her. Nothing much does. She’s a sweet lady with a steel core.

  6. Clint says:

    Best burial ever Tom, thanks for sharing!

  7. Pierson says:

    Good God, that’s grisly. Still, is it really better than store-bought pastured chicken?

    I don’t think I’ve eaten a store-bought pastured chicken. We bought a pastured chicken at a farmer’s market once. Our tasted like that one.

    • Jim Butler says:

      Can’t speak to chickens, but I can tell you that heritage turkeys are very different than the freaks you buy at the store. After eating a heritage turkey, a store-bought turkey tastes very washed out, or watered down. Flavor in the heritage birds we raised was much more intense and deep.

      No comparison at all, and I suspect the same is true for the chickens. I’ve worked closely with several folks from India over the past several years. They all said they were absolutely amazed when they first went shopping in one of our big grocery stores, but they couldn’t believe how flavorless our chicken products were.

      Jim

      After Sunday’s chicken dinner, I can see why. The difference in flavor is pretty dramatic.

  8. Sally Myles says:

    Oh bless you all it must have been gutting (no pun intended) to be inadvertently responsible for the necessary dispatch of the chickens. Congratulations though, on honouring them by eating them. Their lives weren’t wasted. Glad they tasted good too.

    Chareva felt pretty bad about the suffering, even though it was brief.

  9. Firebird7478 says:

    I’m turning vegetarian. Wait, this isn’t April 1st.

    If this episode didn’t turn me into a vegetarian, I think I’m safe.

  10. Craig says:

    A very big part of a chicken’s diet should come from eating bugs and grubs. You see chickens and eggs in the grocery store that boast, “From hens fed a natural vegetarian diet,” when there is nothing natural about a chicken eating a diet, which is obvious if you spend just a few minutes watching an actual chicken walking around looking for little critters to eat.

    Yup, that’s why our chickens live in a coop where they can pluck bugs from the ground.

  11. Kathy in Texas says:

    My brother-in-law raises some very high-dollar Black Angus bulls for breeding. One year a thunderstorm presented them with a very expensive freezer full of beef – when a bull was struck by lightning!

    Sorry for the early demise of the birds, although I’m sure they had a good (albeit short) life in Chareva’s care.

    Your girls are very lucky to be growing up with such a mom. And a not-so-bad dad either.

    The girls elected not to watch this episode, but the idea didn’t seem to bother them. Sara just passed her hunter-safety course and is lobbying to go hunting sometime, so I guess we’ll find out how she responds when she kills her first dinner.

  12. Mark. says:

    I recall my first dissection of pickled frogs in junior high. Everyone was squeamish except several jolly, gutsy girls… I suspect that Chareva would have been among them. At least in this case the results are delicious.

    We dissected cats in my college physiology course. Some of the cat lovers weren’t happy about it, but it didn’t bother me at all.

  13. Tami says:

    Fine mesh on the base so their feet cant slip thru.

    I remember my first chicken kill. We scheduled ours tho :)

    I read up on the bloodless method of dispatch, went to the coop and selected the victim. Used method until I heard the click, put deceased chook on the ground where upon it flapped its wings and wobbled about. Thinking I hadn’t done it properly, and may have tortured the poor creature, I picked it up and again attempted to dispatched it. Still it flapped. I made my daughter hold its head while I pulled on the body thinking nothing could survive, and the bloody thing flapped again. So I got an axe and cut off its head. Not much lives without a head.

    Got told later on when relaying my tale, that chickens do flap about immediately after death. I was essentially trying to kill a dead chicken. Daughter didn’t eat chicken for a little while after…maybe two weeks :)

    Sounds kind of like Chareva’s first experience trying to kill a fish.

  14. Nate says:

    Impressive! You really can learn almost anything watching YouTube how-to videos.

  15. Mike Chard says:

    Tom, you didn’t need YouTube for a resource — all you needed to do was ask me since I did this to about 50 or so chickens every summer as a kid. No need to slit their throats first — just chop their heads off and they’ll bleed out fine — more humane. Also, to get the guts out just split the breast open — much easier than any other method. To quote M*A*S*H*, this is meatball surgery, not finesse stuff.

    Having said that, I’ll never see Chareva in quite the same way again. And BTW, remember those are skills that could easily be directed to you should you commit some unfortunate transgression…

    I appreciate the advice from an old pro. I wondered about just splitting the breast myself.

    Between witnessing her skill at dispatching a chicken and her inexplicable accuracy on the rifle range even without a scope, I know better than to commit any unfortunate transgressions. I don’t want my last memories on earth to be of her shooting and gutting me.

    • Walter Bushell says:

      And then you are too old to broil, she’d have to make stew, sing rickety tickety tin.

      At least the stew would be sufficiently fatty.

    • Current wisdom is that by slitting the throat, the spinal cord remains intact and the brain keeps the heart pumping for a little bit, which helps bleed the chicken out. Cutting the head off stops everything. Not gravity, of course, so if they’re hanging up that’s still working for you…

      Cheers

  16. Liz says:

    This is great (though I’m sorry about the injured chickens). Chareva rules! Stay on her good side :)

    I do my best.

  17. Frank says:

    Google ‘Warning Cone Chicken Slaughter’ and take a look at the image results. We have some farm friends in Idaho that use this technique to confine the birds for dispatch and bleed out. They also use a homemade de-feathering machine. It is a rotating drum with a bunch of rubber fingers that they would hold the bird against while it was in motion.

    I wouldn’t mind having a de-feathering machine. I don’t think I’ll need a cone with Chareva “The Butcher” Naughton around.

    • Kattbelly says:

      My friend who raises chickens on her vineyard asked a local small chicken farmer if she could bring her chickens that she wanted to kill to them so they could use that de-feathering machine. It works AMAZINGLY well at taking all the feathers off. Those little rubber finger things get the chicken clean as a whistle in just moments. If there’s a place near you they may let you bring your chickens to process. My friend’s thinking of getting one for herself.
      I remember as a child living on a small family farm how tedious plucking chickens was. It seemed like you could NEVER get all the pin feathers off-ugh! We took to raising rabbits for meat cuz they were super easy to skin.

      I’m definitely in the market for one of those de-feathering machines. If that flock grows to a decent size and we’re eating farm-raised chicken often, it would be well worth having.

      • Elenor says:

        There’s an actual (self-published) book on Amazon (where else?) showing you how to MAKE your own ‘rubber-fingered plucking machine.’ Don’t remember the title or anything — but saw it and read the reviews and said to myself: “Self? If, someday, you start plucking chickies, you go finds this book and automate!”

        ‘Rubber-fingered plucking machine’ sounds vaguely pornographic.

  18. Howard says:

    You don’t want the chickens to get too old before eating them. They get really tough & and not really very tasty. Did I ever tell you about our old rooster Charlie? If not, I’ll tell you the tale when we meet again in May.

    When I was little, I got quite a bit of practice helping my grandmother pluck chickens. I wasn’t strong enough at the time to snap their necks, though.

    I should also tell you about the event that transformed me from the “scratch” (low-point) man on my rifle team to the high scorer. I used a similar technique on a lady in one of my NRA classes to snap her out of the “I can’t” mode. Her next five shots took less than two seconds and made a group about the size of a quarter at seven yards. Her husband’s eyes got big as saucers, and I noticed he was a lot less cocky during the rest of the class.

    Seeing your wife become a dead-eye will do that.

  19. Kem says:

    Interesting… Small chickens?! Back in the day, a frying chicken weight was 1.5 lbs. and had little or no fat. Unlike frying chickens today whose weight is 3.2 plus lbs. and ladened with fat, more like a stewing hen. The small pin feathers can be removed by placing your thumbnails on each side of the pin feather and applying pressure. The pin feather will simply pop out and then is easily removed. It’s worked for me for years. I am from… Back in the day. LOL

    I appreciate the “back in the day” tip.

  20. “I guess we’ll find out how she responds when she kills her first dinner.”
    I’ll be interested for me killing wild animals is much, much easier than killing home grown beasties.
    My friend told me a great technique for killing chickens which was to hold the head in my hand a whirl them like a helicopter. It was fast and humane, sadly the head came off in my hand and the body went flying through the air to land in a stream, then the chicken began flapping and it looked for all the world like it was trying to swim out and get me.
    My chickens are layers I only eat them if they stop laying or if the fox gets them, don’t care for them too much though.

    I wish you had that scene on videotape.

  21. Stephen B says:

    I’m glad I’m not a chicken!

  22. Vic says:

    Sorry that happened. We use a tractor as well. We actually decapitated one once. We had a support piece that ran across the enclosure, honestly we just over-estimated the intelligence of the birds, since we move them very slowly we assumed they would just get out of the way. Not so much. So that support was cut off and we added support higher up and additional at the corners. Also when we move them I take a rake or hoe and bang the top or sides to keep them moving with the tractor. Sounds like a good job for the girls.
    The bottom of ours doesn’t have wire, it is just open. The main problem we have is, when moving them around in the garden, they dig so deep that I have to check often to make sure they don’t dig their way out! We are also sure that the one who insists on laying on the ground has had more than one egg buried.

    We moved the coop verrrrry slowly yesterday, with Chareva banging on the back of it while I pulled it forward. No more maulings yet.

    • Chareva says:

      Actually, we don’t have a tractor yet. We pull the coop with muscle power. Makes it all more grizzly, doesn’t it?

      The manual labor might explain why our vegan troll assumes you’re a smelly wife.

  23. Chuck says:

    A knife specially for cleaning game birds may help you out. They have a gut hook to help pull everything out.

    http://www.orvis.com/orvis_assets/prodimg/3E0CF0HH.jpg?01AD=3s49LKbv8k129J-vV9Lr7m21el1JIPK3SkL1y_9Yky1gUJgbmllIbOQ&01RI=F37F72FDAB6F9B3&01NA=

    Squirrel hunting is a good way to introduce a child to hunting (they’re also vey tasty). That’s how many kids back in the day were introduced. The season is really long and it teaches you to be silent and patient. You can also practice your stalking skills when you hear one barking in the distance. If you can master the art of cleaning a squirrel, everything else is a breeze.

    I agree. I told Sara if she wants to take up hunting, she’ll have to start with squirrels and rabbits, since she’ll be shooting a .22 rifle. I’m not putting a 20-gauge shotgun in her hands until she’s bigger and stronger.

  24. Kim says:

    Good for you! Slaughtering chickens isn’t as hard as it seems at first. They bleed out so quickly. I took a class and learned two things that might be helpful.

    1. Get them upside-down and then cover their eyes with your hand. They stop resisting immediately, almost like they’ve gone to sleep.
    2. Add a little bit (maybe a teaspoon?) of dish soap to the hot water you dip them in to remove feathers. The soap will help the water penetrate the feathers, because they are naturally waterproofed with oils.

    Hope that helps with the next few! Enjoy your chicken dinners and be sure to make stock out of the leftover bones (and even feet). Lots of good-for-you stuff hiding in the bones, like calcium and magnesium.

    All good suggestions, thanks.

  25. Forever Vegan says:

    What a disgusting act of savagery. Karma is a real bitch and has a tendency to come around. The fact that you’re essentially getting off at how well your smelly wife can disembowl a dead animal is a bit disturbing. I can’t wait until the meat eaters die off due to global warming cow farts and just the intelligent vegans are left to rule the world.

    Piss off.

    -a vegan for life

    Heh-heh-heh … I had a feeling I’d hear from one of the vegan nut-jobs over this one. If karma is a bitch, just wait until all the critters who died in your precious soybean fields come back and bite your ass.

    Out of curiosity, if cow farts cause global warming and global warming kills people, how exactly are the vegans going to survive this catastrophe? You see the flaw in your logic there? Probably not, which is why “intelligent vegan” doesn’t apply.

    • Firebird7478 says:

      Sometimes I wonder if this isn’t some meat eater who follows your blog faithfully coming in here under an assumed identity to ruffle your, um, feathers.

      Well, that’s the problem with vegan zealots: they’re so nutty, it’s difficult to distinguish them from people who are acting nutty just for fun.

    • Carnivore says:

      This is for FOREVER VEGAN from YourTrulyCarnivore:
      Question was:

      Out of curiosity, if cow farts cause global warming and global warming kills people, how exactly are the vegans going to survive this catastrophe?

      Possible answer: Vegans are not people.

      BTW ,we, the people, the meat eaters, are manufacturing the supplements for them and we like the money, so please continue eating your grasses in your pastures. More meat for us.

      For Chareva: Kudos!!!! That’s GirlPower!!!

    • Rae Ford says:

      “Out of curiosity, if cow farts cause global warming and global warming kills people, how exactly are the vegans going to survive this catastrophe? You see the flaw in your logic there? Probably not, which is why “intelligent vegan” doesn’t apply.”

      It’s funny. I was thinking the same exact thing after I read that. After all, animal fat is essential for peak brain functioning.

      • Ed says:

        Everyone knows that veganism grants them superb immunity. That’s why they never die. They just look and smell dead.

        I’ve certainly seen a few who look like extras from “The Walking Dead.”

    • “Smelly”….old school insult!

  26. Babs says:

    We have also learned so much for free on Youtube! My husband fixes our cars and I knit wool socks thanks to Youtube! And then I read a couple weeks ago they are going to make you start paying.

    Anyway, what do you do if it’s summer time? What about the bugs?

    I don’t know if bugs jump on the chickens once they’re butchered. I guess we’ll find out.

  27. Cinnamonbite says:

    That’s all you have to take out of a chicken? I thought you had to take out intestines and stuff…well, like ALL the stuff. Whatever’s in there that’s not…meat.

    So was it gamey? I’ve had fresh cow and it was the nastiest thing I’ve ever eaten in my life. So bad that when the zombie apocalypse comes, I will probably become a straight-up vegetarian, it’s so nasty.

    But my biggest thing, it’s the killing. I know those were suffering but, yeah, it’s the killing. I thought I could do it once. I was learning how to clean a calf. They were practicing for the rodeo, horse stopped to hard, broke the calf’s neck. Everything was going well. Cut it’s throat, let it bleed, cut around each ankle…and suddenly I get tunnel vision and everything is getting dark.

    Everything came out, but we tossed the intestines. We kept the liver and heart for dinner.

    No, it wasn’t gamey. It was tasty, unlike the bland chicken from grocery stores.

    We had dinner recently with friends who are avid hunters. They served doves they had bagged that day. Delicious, not gamey at all. So when the zombie apocalypse comes, I’ll be hunting.

  28. David says:

    As far as chicken, I did get tired of the whole boneless-skinless breast after my mom kept buying that like around 10-12 years ago but I find I like the thighs so much better. But I would like to try a farm-raised chicken someday.

    I ate those boneless-skinless breasts back when I thought it was good idea to avoid the fat.

    • David says:

      I ate them mostly because I had no choice. Of course I never fully enjoyed them and never realized how unsatisfying lean meat without fat really was.

  29. Rae Ford says:

    About how long was the whole process from initially stringing them up to being ready to begin the cooking preparation?

    I didn’t check the time, but I’m sure it was under an hour.

  30. Kathy in Texas says:

    My favorite part of this post is that Chareva is “all business” and not hamming it up for your camera – just keepin’ it real. She’s awesome! And I hardly ever use that word.

    She never hams it up for the camera. That’s Sara’s job.

  31. Nick S says:

    Smaller birds with better diets taste so good – my in-laws raise theirs on a steady diet of table scraps rather than traditional chicken feed, and the meat from those birds is wonderful.

  32. Ash Simmonds says:

    Next time chicken slaughter becomes necessary, try The Bear’s chicken recipe:

    http://highsteaks.com/thanksgiving-duck-with-herb-n-spice-butter-under-the-skin/

    Looks good.

  33. Damocles says:

    “When we bought our latest flock of 18 chickens”

    When you bought them, did the chickens get delivered as a pack of eggs?
    Or how does the distribution work?

    They came in little freeze-dried packages. We had to add water and then microwave them for 20 seconds.

    Nope, just a flock of baby chicks.

  34. Chareva says:

    We mail ordered the day old chicks from a hatchery http://www.mcmurrayhatchery.com/barred_rocks.html

  35. Elenor says:

    Ah – here are the book about easier chicken processing at home! Never read them, just put them in my Amazon wish list long ago… Hope to someday have cause to use them!

    Anyone Can Build a Tub-Style Mechanical Chicken Plucker
    by Herrick Kimball (Paperback)

    and

    Anyone Can Build a Whizbang Chicken Scalder
    by Herrick Kimball (Paperback)


    Linda actually had a copy of the Whizbang Plucker book by Kimball that she loaned me after we’d finished up the hoop shelter yesterday. It’s very clear, and only took about an hour to read. I’m getting pretty serious about building one.

    I may check into the scalder, too, but I didn’t mind that as much as the plucking.

    The Older Brother

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