This article won’t change your life. It won’t win any prizes. But it will give you the ability to take a small, live animal and humanely dispatch it then process it for personal consumption. So rather than read this less-than-riveting article, I would suggest you print it and file it away for when the time comes to use it.
A little background on my experience with both chickens and rabbits: I started raising layer chickens about 10 years ago and really enjoy the fresh eggs as well as the convenience of retrieving food for our family. After having layers for several years, I decided to try my hand at meat chickens. After all, how hard can it be to raise those little fluff balls for eight weeks and then butcher them? It shouldn’t be any different than raising the fluff ball layers, right? Wrong. Not hard but definitely different!
As far as rabbits, I have been raising New Zealand rabbits for about five years. The original thought was that when TEOTWAWKI happens, the rabbits would be the primary food source for our two dogs. The rabbits would prevent our family food supply from going to our beloved pets. Since then, I have enjoyed the ease of raising rabbits along with the quick turn-around of raising the next generation of food. Yes, rabbits can and do multiply quickly.
Let’s start with processing chickens. Although you can “learn” to dispatch, eviscerate, and cook chickens from watching Youtube videos, it is a lot easier to have someone guide you through the process when you attempt this feat. And what are you going to do if/when the internet is unavailable? Or you can’t find an experienced person willing to help you? I have many articles on how-to that are printed off and in a notebook for such times as those mentioned.
Processing chickens starts that day before you plan to butcher them. Give them no food from at least 12 hours prior to the event. Fresh water is fine- just no food. Make sure that you have all the items on the list that you need. Here is the list I use:
- 2 Sharp knives
- 1 hatchet or heavy duty snips (I use Craftsman Handi-Cuts)
- Killing Cone or an empty, cleaned-out gallon milk jug
- Several hand towels or rolled paper towels
- Table on which to work
- Several large buckets
- Several gallons of clean, cold water
IF YOU PLAN TO DEFEATHER THEM YOU WILL NEED THE FOLLOWING:
Large stock pot filled with water
Thermometer for water
Chicken plucker with access to electrical power
Long handled wooden spoon
In the following instructions I will explain how to de-feather them both manually and mechanically.
Day of the Processing:
STEP 1- Setting up the dispatching area
If using a killing cone, find a post or tree and attach the cone securely, approximately two to three feet from the ground. Because the chickens REALLY DO FLOP AROUND after their heads have been removed, make sure the cone is secure. Place one of your buckets under the cone to catch the heads and the blood that drains from the bird.
If using a milk jug as a killing cone, take your milk jug and cut the bottom out of it. Then find a post/tree to nail or power-screw it to, upside down. This will work almost as well as a store-bought killing cone. Then place one of the buckets under the securely fastened cone to catch the heads and the blood that drains from the birds.
STEP 2- Dispatching (Killing) the Chicken
Grab a chicken and flip them upside down. This generally calms them, although there are some chickens that take great offense to being in this position. Place the chicken’s head into the cone/ milk jug and pull it out through the opening. Keeping one hand on the head, grab the snips and cut off the head at the neck. The snips work better than the hatchet in this situation due to the increased chances of striking your hand holding the chicken’s head, rather than the chicken!
Another way to remove the head is to place a loop around the chicken’s head and place the other end of the loop over a nail on a board that is laying flat. Grab the chicken’s feet with one hand and keeping tension on the chicken so it is stretched out, use the other hand to chop off the head. A hatchet works well in this situation, whereas the snips work better in the first situation using the killing cone. Then to drain the blood, place another loop around the chicken’s feet and attach to a nail on a tree/post with a bucket under it to catch the blood.
To De-Feather or Not?
For the first several batches of chickens that I processed, I did not have a mechanical chicken plucker. This was not a problem because I simply removed the feathers when I eviscerated the chicken. (Eating the skin is not something I prefer to do, unless the bird has been fried to a crisp- like grandma used to do!)
Then on my birthday one year, my wonderful husband purchased me a chicken plucker and a killing cone. This was a welcomed surprise, as I have little use for dazzling jewelry or expensive perfumes on the farm, LOL! Now with the convenience of a killing cone and a plucker I can process a dozen birds by myself in under 4 hours- and that includes clean-up.
STEP 3- Removal of the Feathers
(If you decide to not remove the feathers prior to eviscerating the chicken, go to STEP 4)
Mechanical and Manual De-Feathering
Remember that large stock pot filled with water? That water needs to be between 140 degrees and 170 degrees. If it is any warmer, it will start to cook the chicken and when you place it in the mechanical plucker, the skin will take a beating and shred. I heat up my water on the outside grill about an hour prior to starting the process. Keep your thermometer in the pot to closely monitor the temperature. A lid for the pot also will help keep the temperature constant.
Once the water has reached the desired temperature, now is the time to begin beheading the chickens. Don’t start until the pot of water is ready!
Once the beheaded chicken has been allowed to drain for four to five minutes, grab the chicken by the feet and place it in the pot. Having a large spoon nearby to immerse the entire bird is suggested.
You will only need to soak the bird for 30-60 seconds. This opens the pores so the feather can easily be removed. You can tell when the bird has “cooked” enough by trying to manually pull out the feathers on the wings. If they come out easily, then you are ready for the next step. If they do not come out easily, allow the chicken another minute in the pot.
Now it’s time to use your plucker. Make sure that it is plugged in appropriately (using an extension cord that can handle the current. You will also need a water source, such as a garden hose, preferably with a nozzle shut off. Turn the plucker on and carefully place the chicken in the barrel. Keep your hands out of the rotating barrel at all times. Spray water into the barrel as it rotates. In as little as 30 seconds you will have a naked bird!
If you decide that you want the skin left on your bird but do not have a mechanical plucker, never fear! You can have your chicken and its skin by simply removing the feathers the old-fashioned way – using your hands. Just start pulling feathers after removing the chicken from the pot of hot water. Then place the feathers in a bucket for easier clean-up.
STEP 4- Eviscerating (Removing the guts) the Chicken
Some people cannot stomach (excuse the pun) the idea of removing the guts of an animal. But it doesn’t bother me for two reasons: 1) Doing this action will help feed myself and my family, and 2) Biology has always fascinated me. As I remove the innards, I try to identify them and recall what their purpose is in the animal, ie: lungs are very small and help the animal breath.
Now take your bird to the table where you have your knives, towels, and a bucket for guts.
Remove the feet by cutting through (what I call) the knee joint. You don’t have to break the bones, but it helps if you bend the joint to loosen things. Then use your sharp knife and cut through the ligaments and tendons. These feet can be given to dogs as a special treat. Do not cook these as bones can splinter after being cooked and can kill the dog when ingested.
Lay the chicken on its back. Then starting at the vent (what is sometimes called the butt hole) and using the tip of your knife, make a cut on both sides of the vent, going upwards and outwards. Your cut should look like a “V” with the vent at the bottom center of the “V”. This cut is not very deep- just deep enough to cut through the skin.
Once the vent cuts are made, use your fingers and stretch the skin to make the opening bigger. Gently but firmly pull the innards out. Be careful to not break open the intestines. (if this is accidently done you will know it by the smell.) Read the next part before you throw the guts in the bucket…
If you wish to save the organ meat for human or animal consumption, now in the time to do so. Even if they don’t eat them, some people save the hearts and livers to cook up for their dogs or cats. The liver (looks like cow liver, only smaller), lungs, and heart are the common organs that people save. If you don’t want these organs, then put them with the guts in the bucket.
The heart and lungs are deep inside the body cavity and should be removed. Sometimes you need to “claw” them out.
(To be concluded tomorrow, in Part 2.)