Sunday, July 13, 2014

"Now it looks like chicken": 5 tips for your first chicken d-day.

Our freezer is full and my morning chicken chores just got a little bit shorter. Chicken d-day has come and gone. For two people who have never hunted, or really never killed an animal bigger than a fly, the whole process went smoothly. It took about 3 hours and 4 shots of bourbon. I thought about writing a step-by-step tutorial, but I don't want to waste my breath.

**Disclaimer: Photos within may be considered graphic by some.**

There are so many resources from experts online and in books, that you don't need to see photo after photo of how we killed and butchered our meat birds. We found a lot of helpful resources online, but in the end we followed this book like it was our bible. I can't recommend it enough. It's so approachable, the photographs are tasteful (borderline beautiful), and there was nothing we encountered while slaughtering and butchering that Adam Danforth does not beautifully detail in his book. Buy it. Great coffee table book...

So instead of giving you a step-by-step guide, I'm going to give you a list of 5 tips for beginners. These aren't "make sure you don't cut open the intestine and spill all the poo" kind of tips, these are just sensible, reasonable tips for preparing you on what is ahead from our first time killing and butchering our meat birds.

1. Do it in the morning. 
First of all, even if you are not a morning person, most people just have a much clearer mind in the beginning of the day. Plan to slaughter the birds in the morning and recognize that it is going to take a good chunk of time from start to finish. Is it a hot day? Maybe plucking the feathers out of a chicken is the last thing you want to be doing as flies buzz around you in 95 degree heat. Start early. Have plans later to hang out with friends? Well, consider the fact that you are killing animals all morning and then decide what you want to do. Doing it in the morning will help you plan out your day and the birds will actually be a bit calmer (from what I have read, too).

2. Remind yourself of your purpose with each step (and cut). 
Why are you doing this? What made you start this whole process from day 1 when they were just little chicks? Maybe you are fed up with factory farmed, antibiotic ridden chicken. Maybe you decided it is important to be closer to the production of your food. Maybe you foresee the impending mass food shortage and decided it was time to learn how to do this stuff on your own. Who knows! But there was a reason, otherwise you wouldn't be holding a knife in your hand, ready to cut the jugular of a chicken. Remind yourself of those reasons over and over again, from the first cut, to the scrubbing down your kitchen counters with bleach. It is hard and emotional work, but if you have a reason or a purpose, it is worth it. (Note: In the 2 below pictures, the birds are not dead yet, just hanging to calm them).

3. It is hard work. 
We only had 5 meat birds to kill. S had been really keen on the idea of getting 20 more birds to raise and process at the end of the summer. Killing, scalding, plucking, and butchering..oh my lord. Bottom line, if we were to do more birds - buying or renting a tumbler-plucking mechanism would just be a necessity. Our muscles are sore and plucking/butchering is tedious work. It also made us realize that we truly will not be able to do the lambs by ourselves the first time around and will need to bring in a professional to teach us. This shouldn't scare you away and if it does, just reference #2. If it does scare you away completely, just remember to thank your local farmer and know where your food comes from!

4. It's okay to have a sense of humor (or maybe it's not...I'm not really sure). 
If you are the praying type, maybe you need to say a few words before you do the deed. If you use humor as a crutch (as we most frequently do in this household..), then maybe you need to crack a few jokes. Lighten the mood! Killing animals should be an incredibly uncomfortable act, otherwise you might be a sociopath (just kidding). Taking an animal's life (which is exactly what you are doing here) is a serious thing and it should be treated that way. In the end however, if you have chosen to jump off the factory-food bandwagon and do this on your own, you are going to need to figure out what works for you psychologically. We found it a bit necessary to take a couple shots of liquid confidence. I thought I was going to be fine until my turn was up (butchering and pulling out the innards). I was not. I had to drink. That's okay!

5. It does "look like chicken" in the end. 
I'm not sure why I thought our final product would look any different than the whole birds you get in the store, but once you cut the feet and the head off, your "oh!" moment hits and you realize that this is chicken, something you have been eating your entire life. Which leads to me to another thought...how have we become so far removed from the animal that gives us it's life for food in this society that we don't even recognize the connection between the live bird and the carcass? Who knows.

Oh...and a few last logistical tips for you practical folks: 

You should definitely withhold food from the birds for 24 hours! I read contradicting statements around the internet and thought it wouldn't be a big deal to feed them last night. Umm..I was wrong. For so many reasons.

Learn and understand the chicken's anatomy, especially if you want to keep some of the innards (heart, lungs, gizzard) for cooking/making stock, etc.  Adam Danforth's book has a great reference.


  1. Awesome, we are going to get that book! The boys did it by feel and did very little research about dispatching the chooks. The main was to get the feathers loose to making plucking easy. The second time around they did the birds it took 3 hours and they did six. Unlike the first attempt of killing two took about 5 hours. Learning all the while.

  2. I definitely recommend the book! I can't get over how beautiful the pictures our. Whenever we have company I flip through the pages to show them haha I haven't wanted to waste anything so have made stock with carcasses, saved the necks, feet, and organs for stock, etc. Apparently the feet are supposed to make the best stock!

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