***Warning: This is a pretty graphic post about how to butcher a chicken, complete with pictures and lots of description. My intent is to help people who are preparing to butcher their first bird.***
On a recent Sunday morning, a local Eugene friend invited people over to learn how to properly kill and butcher chickens. She raises broilers every summer in her urban backyard, feeding them organic food and letting them free-range under the blue sky. These guys fill her freezer and provide her with meat for the year. Although I have killed a couple chickens before, I was curious to see the “proper” way to do it.
Broilers have been breed over the years to be rather dumb and gain weight incredibly quickly. By the time they are only 8-12 weeks old, they need to be butchered lest they eat themselves so fat that they can’t walk or have a heart attack. The chickens we butchered were actually roosters, but the meat from broilers tastes the same really. This is not the case for egg-layers, whose roosters taste tough and lean.
When you catch a chicken, it is important to make sure your hands are covering their wings to prevent them from flapping out of your hands. Once caught, hold them snugly to your body. I think most animals get a calm feeling when they are held snugly. Perhaps it’s the heart beat they hear or maybe it’s just comforting for other reasons. I ended up doing a lot of the killing because I was pretty good at the catching without causing the birds to really freak out.
The birds are held by their feet, then gently turned upside down. Chickens get disoriented when they are upside down and after a few seconds they become very calm, their wings kind of relax out. After they become disoriented, we slid them down into a small construction cone with the top cut off and a bucket down below.
One person held their feet at the top and the other person (often me) took a knife and slit their throat. I covered their face when I did it, to continue to keep them as unaware of things as possible. They bleed to death from there, which I am told is one of the most humane ways to die - the blood rushes out of your body as you pass out. There is usually some twitching at this point, even though the bird is dead quite quickly, as the body shuts down and nerves react. The blood streams down into the bucket below the cone.
Once the bird is done bleeding, the head comes off and they are plunged into a very large pot of water that is about 140 degrees in temperature. The bird is submerged for about ten seconds, which loosens the feathers without cooking the bird. The bird is then defeathered, starting with the wings and tail feathers which are the hardest to remove. The other feathers should come out pretty easily by just wiping them off. If they are not coming out easily, the bird needs to go back in the water for a few more seconds.
There was a separate station for working on the inside of the bird. It is good to keep these as two separate areas to ensure everything stays clean.
With the chicken on its back and using a sharp knife, cut down the neck until you find two tubes. One will resemble a vacuum cleaner hose, which is the esophagus. Cut this off as far down as you can and discard. The second tube will be the one leading to the crop.
My friend didn’t feed the birds the day before, which meant cleaning the crop would be less messy. Follow the crop tube down until you find the attached bag, which is the crop (pictured below). Pull this out as far as possible, cut and discard.
Turn the bird around, still on its back, and begin the cleaning. Start by cutting a “Y”, which means a straight line from the bottom of the breast bone, about two inches. Then cut to either side at a diagonal down to either side of the tail. Make sure you only cut deep enough to pierce the skin. The intestines are right under your knife and you really, really want to avoid cutting those open.
With your knife angled almost straight down, cut a horizontal slit right below the anus along the tail, connecting to the two end points of your “Y”. In the picture below, the person was holding the knife to demonstrate where we would be cutting.
You have now cut straight down a few inches, along either side of the body cavity, and then along the underside of the anus. You should be able to now gently pull the anus out, which will also pull the intestines and such out.
Once you have some guts pulled out, put your hand inside the bird. Using the side of your hand like a spatula, move along in internal body cavity to loosen any guts from the walls. This should help you gently pull everything out. Be very gentle with the galbladder, which will be an almost black organ with a texture similar to the intestines. This is the absolute worst thing to puncture, as it holds all the bile and super gross stuff.
You may choose to keep the heart and liver as you clean the bird. Plunge those into cold water if that is the case.
Once cleaned, the bird needs to be rinsed with a hose and plunged into ice cold water for it to cool quickly.
On average, the eight week old roosters weighed around 5 1/2-6 pounds. My friend was sweet enough to send me home with a bird to eat and chicken feet for our dogs to enjoy. The feet are also good when making chicken stock, but unfortunately we just don’t have the freezer room right now.
Maybe it’s because I have killed a couple chickens before, or maybe because I am really aware already that something died to become my dinner, but I didn’t leave feeling sad or disturbed. These birds are breed for one purpose: meat. And I feel like the ones I handled were pretty calm and died very quickly. It makes me happy to know they saw sunshine and ate worms in the green grass before their time was up – something most chickens that end up as dinner never experience.
I know not everyone will agree, and I hope that means they are vegetarian! It is a process I think every meat-eater should experience at some point in their lives. In the end, it makes us more grateful when we sit down to enjoy a cider-braised chicken for dinner.