Butchering Chickens is Not as Easy as it Looks

A basic chicken processing setup
Part of my chicken processing set up. The big pot is for dunking the chickens to loosen their feathers prior to plucking.

We are experiencing typical spring days where it can reach 60 but the night drop to the low 40s or even into the 30s. We might even see snow again in the next day or two. I am enjoying the warm weather, but the cool temps are making man cave is darn right chilly.

I feel stupid lighting a fire on a day when it is in the 60s, yet my basement work area is 64. When I am working or walking outside, that is t-shirt weather. When I’m sitting at my computer, I need to put on a sweatshirt. Keep in mind that all winter it was warm and toasty, usually in the mid-70s. If it gets below 62 in here, I think I’m going to light the fire. At night, though, so no one can see the smoke.

Chicken Butchering

The warm weather has allowed me to focus on outside projects, including burning yard waste and transplanting starts to the garden. My most challenging job was to butcher a couple of chickens. This was something I had never done before. To prepare, I watched three different YouTube instructional videos from well-known homesteaders and farmers. I had watched enough videos previously to have a pretty good setup with a folding table, lots of 5-gallon buckets, and a propane burner to heat my water to help loosen the feathers so I could pluck them.

YouTube helped make me a decent beekeeper, but my experience with slaughtering chickens was nowhere near as smooth.

Catching the Chicken

My struggle began when the chickens refused to leap into my arms so I could stuff them into my killing cone. All the YouTube videos start with the chicken already in hand. I quickly discovered why these YouTubers don’t show you the challenge of catching your birds. The same chickens who crowd around me when I have a cup of scratch run like the coyote in a Looney Toons cartoon when I am trying to lay my hands on them.

The roosters are not especially fond of me to begin with. I think they see me as a threat. They will tolerate me at feeding time, but can get aggressive at other times. I’ve had to kick a couple of them. Needless to say, this didn’t endear me to them. When I tried to corner one to grab it, he made like the road runner escaping the coyote. Those little birds are fast!

A killing cone made from a plastic bucket.
A homemade killing cone constructed from a plastic bucket. This holds the chicken head-down while the blood drains out of its neck.

After wasting quite a bit of time and looking as stupid as the coyote right before he plunges off a cliff, I decided a change in tactics was called for. Since I didn’t have a net (I will next time!) I considered lassoing a chicken, but I don’t have a lasso or any experience. Mayne, I thought, I could lean over the fence, slip a noose over the rooster’s head and yank. With my luck, I’d get shocked by the electric fence.

Whom and I kidding? I got out my .22 pistol and headshot my least favorite rooster. He went right down and started doing the death flaps. I grabbed him, stuck him in the killing cone and cut his neck, letting the blood drain into a bucket beneath it. We were back on track.

Plucking a Chicken

By the time the deaths throws were over and the blood had slowed to an occasional drip, the water in my big 32-quart pan had reached 150 degrees. I dunked the chicken in for 75 seconds, using a wooden spoon to keep him under. I pulled him out, hosed him down with cold water, and started to pull handfuls of feathers out.

Plucking, which had concerned me since the professional use a fancy machine, turned out to be the easiest part of the entire process.

Cutting off the feet and the wing tips were also easy. I was beginning to think I had this. Little did I know…


Joel Salatin, Justin Rhodes, and all the other YouTubers make ripping the guts out of the chicken look easy. A snip here, free the crop, pull out the trachea and the esophagus, then another snip at the bottom, widen the hole in the abdominal cavity until your hand fits inside, grasp, and yank everything out. It looks easy, and it keeps fecal matter, bile, and stomach juices from contaminating the meat.

Except my bird was not a nice chubby meat bird. My rooster was a wiry fellow. He looked more like the roadrunner than that broad-butted Foghorn Leghorn.

My rooster was so narrow, I could not get my hand up there. I stuck in three fingers, grasped and yanked. There was a tug and a release, but I succeeded only in ripping out its heart. I could see the intestines just fine, but the liver and other organs remained out of reach.

I guess I should have been watching videos on butchering smaller birds, like Cornish game hens or quail. Oh well. I would just have to make do.

Let’s just say that by the time I was done, this was not a bird you would want to stick on the rotisserie and admire as it went round and round. It certainly would not meet my wife’s criteria of looking like it came from the grocery store. I ended up cutting him into parts and stuck the parts into a couple of zip-lock freezer bags and moved on to the next bird.

This fellow was larger and things went better, but it will be years before I am ready to make a YouTube video on chicken butchering. I think I will stick with harvesting eggs.

A Valuable Experience

While this was more trouble than I expected, it was a valuable experience. I proved I can butcher a chicken if necessary, I just can’t do it pretty or fast. Had I been starving, we would have eaten well and in the end, that’s all that counts.

My set up was good. I had all the tools I needed, except for a net, and I did many things right. I just need more practice. If the local extension office ever offers an in-person class on butchering chickens, I’m going. Hands-on beekeeping practice has helped me. Maybe hands-on chicken processing will as well.

Hopefully, the lower rooster-to-hen ratio will benefit our hens. The randy roosters had been wearing the tail feathers off the poor hens.

At this point, I’m hoping it does snow. I could use a day of rest!


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