As a farmer, my main goal is humanely raised meat, and animal products. I want to know my animals. I want to know what they ate, what antibiotics (if any) they were given. I want to know they had the privilege of living the life God intended for them. As contrary as it may seem, a huge reason I raise my own meat, is for the animal. Although I may end up slaughtering them, they have the right, as every creature does, to live. To feel grass underfoot, and the sun warming their backs. The photos that go along with this post are graphic. If you can’t handle seeing where your food comes from, or how it looked before it was wrapped in plastic, beware. When you look at these photos, you should feel something. I will always embrace butchering day as a sorrowful time. I love to fill my freezer, but doing so comes at a cost.
Most people withhold feed before butchering. It makes it a much cleaner process. We usually do feed, mainly because it makes me feel better. Going forwards we will probably always feed, but probably significantly less. That way they get some, but aren’t stuffed full.
Before grabbing a bird, it’s important to have all your supplies ready. I have my cutting board laid out, along with all my (sharpened) knives, and a hose fitting with a sprayer attachment. Also nearby is a trashcan for entrails. On the patio next to my station, we have a heat source heating water, and next to that is our homemade plucker. Behind the shed we have two traffic cones set up to be kill cones. We wait until our water is almost hot enough for scalding before we go and get a chicken.
The walk down to get the chickens is somber. If ever there is a moment that makes you feel stoic it’s picking out the first chicken to slaughter. I’d like to take a moment here, to mention something I thought was profound when I looked back through these photos.
My husband grabbed up this chicken, and cradled it as he took it to the kill cone. To be honest, there are usually whispered condolences on both our parts. Trying to keep them as calm as possible is important to us. I see no reason for there to be undue stress on this animal. Even if it’s “just” a chicken. To compare this to a factory farm is impossible. They often suffer broken wings and legs as they are being loaded on the truck to go to the slaughter house. They are then again handled roughly as they are stuck in machines that hold them upside down.
Once to the kill cones the chicken gets slid into the cone, often with help to make sure the head goes into the hole, and doesn’t get caught sideways. We usually pull the head out gently, just to make sure there is one, swift cut. The knife gets drawn across the neck, under the jaw bone. When done correctly the blood starts flowing quickly and strongly. Although this may seem a horrible way to die, it’s very peaceful. As peaceful as death can be. Cutting them across the neck renders them unconscious in a few seconds. We then just let the chicken bleed out, and let the body stop flailing.
Once the chicken is dead, it’s moved to the hot water. It’s dunked a few times in the water, until a wing feather pulls out easily. At this point it’s laid out so the feet can be removed, and then transported to the plucker. The plucker is turned on, and water is sprayed into it as we drop the chicken in. Within minutes we have a nice, clean, feather free carcass!
From there it head over to the cutting board. Its head is removed, along with all the organs and entrails. I usually cut the tail off, and make a little slit for the legs to go through. The liver, gizzard, and feet are saved.
Everything else gets tossed. We end up dumping all those extra bits way out in the field. Within a day or two everything is gone. The chicken is given a final rinsing, any extra feather parts removed, and gets to rest in ice cold water. Once we have quite a few chickens done we place them in shrink wrap bags to seal them, and they are labeled and placed in the freezer.
Butchering day is long, messy, smelly and exhausting. However, opening your freezer to beautiful, local, humanely raised meat is worth it all.
A few years ago I faced a fork in the road. I had suddenly become awakened to the truth about our slowly devolving food system. I learned the truth surrounding fast food, poisonous additives, and the inhumane, unethical manner in which we treated the meat we eat. To say I was horrified was an understatement. This passion about knowing where your food comes from has just grown as I get older. I cannot understand how society not only doesn’t know what is happening to their food system, they do not care.
As a farmer, as someone who eats meat, I often feel a lot of heat and judgement for my choices. Although I do not run a big operation, nor is that ever my intention, I do raise food for my own consumption. That means I do, and will always try to produce enough meat, dairy, eggs, vegetables and fruits for myself and my family. Lest someone assume that I do this because it will in any way make me rich, let me assure you that is a hilarious assumption. Also, do not presume I raise animals for consumption without compassion, love, care, and respect. Because I grieve for every animal I kill.
I have loved animals since I can remember. Farm animals are no different. Even the fat, rolly poley chickens who look atrocious at times, and smell. I care for those chickens from the day after they hatch. When I receive them I dip all their little beaks in water, I clean their cage, offer them tasty snacks, and fill up their water more times than I can count. Once they go outside I continue to provide nourishment and water, even though they are free to roam about a chicken tractor. They scratch through grass, catch bugs, and doze in the sun. And I worry about them when it rains, or when it’s hot, or at night when the coyote howls. I check on them as often as I can, I call them “butterballs” or “kids”, and they cluck an excited chorus when they see me...and the food bucket coming. I dread butchering day, I will always dread butchering day. It puts a very honest perspective on being an omnivore. Because no matter what meat you eat, something gave up it’s life for you.
I eat meat, I enjoy meat, but I realize fully what has happened so that I get to eat meat. I avoid factory farmed meat at all costs because I think it is an evil, vile thing. There are a lot of vegans and vegetarians that crucify us meat eaters, and I kind of understand. When you look at how modern America has chosen to raise animals, it is nothing less than atrocious. It is wrong. Period. It’s black and white. Chicken raised factory farm style never goes outdoors, never chases bugs, and are treated horribly on their way to slaughter. Beef cows are stuck in feedlots up to mid leg in manure and gunk. Pigs are raised in cages, and often go insane due to lack of mental stimulation. Dairy cows have their babies ripped away, and do not always have access to the outdoors. These practices are ones we should all be ashamed of, vegan, vegetarian and omnivore alike.
As humans I think we naturally avoid the weight that comes with being a meat eater. We are so far removed from our food, and our meat, we chose to accept meat precooked, and unethically raised. Because it is easier, because we don’t have to think about it. We somehow think by not knowing we are exempt from being responsible for how the animal was raised and treated. Take a stand and buy locally raised, humanely slaughtered meat. Do you know where your food is coming from?
Homestead Blog Hop-Idlewild Alaska
Note: This is an account of our first chicken butchering. There are NO photos of the chickens butchered or of the process! There are, however, photos of other lovely farm things.
The day has finally come and gone. It’s a day I've been both waiting for, and dreading ever since I started this entire journey. Butchering day happened the weekend before Thanksgiving. I had wanted to butcher the chickens earlier, but due to weather and unforeseen circumstances it got delayed. It started out as a pretty good day for butchering, but about half way through winds bringing cold air and sporadic downpours made us move into the garage for shelter (and a little warmth!) The day before “the day” I was quite nervous and apprehensive. This was a really big step in farming for us. To be honest, even after purchasing meat birds, and getting them raised, a part of me thought it wouldn't work out. That I couldn’t raise my own meat. If you know me, you know I am an animal lover through and through. So although I didn’t pet the meat chickens, nor did I name them, I did see them twice a day. I spoke kindly to them, fed them, watered them, and called them all my “little butterballs.” When they saw me, they would run excitedly to the door. Not because they were attached I imagine, just because I may have food. Still, knowing that soon they would run to me, only to be killed, was hard. It is still hard. It hurts my heart, but I eat meat. And I’ve made the decision if I’m to eat it, I will have given it a life worth living.
I woke up Sunday morning ready. I don’t know exactly why I felt like I could handle it, but I did. I watched some last minute videos, got supplies ready, and headed to the farm. We did chores like normal, and I spoke to my little meaties, letting them know today was the day they died. It made me feel better somehow, and although most suggest withholding feed, I gave them a last meal. We got a table set out, got water heating on a camp stove, and my husband sharpened the axe. We had decided previously that chopping off their heads would be best, especially as we were new to the entire deal. Once our water was at approximately the right temperature, my husband and I went to the chicken coop, and I picked up a pullet. I tried to keep her as calm as possible, talking gently to her, and thanking her. We put her in a feed sack, sticking her head through a hole in a corner, and laid her out on a stump. I held her, my husband asked if I was ready, and I said yes. With one thwack, it was done. At first I thought he missed, or her head was still attached, but it wasn’t. It just happened much quicker than I had anticipated. We hung her upside down to bleed out, and waiting for the drips of blood to stop. It was at this moment, that I felt some relief. It was hard doing it, but it wasn’t as hard as I had expected. I dunked her in hot water, swished her around, pulled her out, and repeated until wing feathers came off easily. My husband and I plucked her together, and then took her to the table to eviscerate and clean her. Of course I cut my finger, but other than that it went well. I was so scared I was going to cut the intestines and get poop everywhere that I started at the butt and worked up. This was the easiest part, pulling out intestines and organs is much easier for me than the killing. Next time however I will start at the top and work my way down!
We chopped heads off a few more times, but weren’t extremely happy with the results. We talked about just cutting the jugular, but were tentative to try. One chicken died quickly, but didn’t seem to bleed out as well. So we thought, why not try cutting the jugular on one and seeing how it goes. Cutting the jugular is kosher, and the old testament way of killing an animal. Basically, you secure the chicken upside down, cut one side of the neck, severing the jugular, and the chicken bleeds out. The chicken is unconscious within seconds, and the heart pumps blood out giving you cleaner meat. My husband and I had talked about doing this while using the ax, and I tried to explain to him what to do. We grabbed a chicken and put it in a cone, and I showed him where to make the cut. He seemed tentative, and I felt brave. I told him to hand me the knife and I would show him. I cut it behind its ear, and blood started flowing. It seemed, in some strange way, much calmer than cutting the head off. We liked it much better, and used that to kill the remaining chickens.
Although we only had 11 chickens, it took us the entire day to finish processing everyone. We were slow enough because this was our first time, but the weather sure didn’t help. We ended up with 64.4 pounds of chicken, which made it 1.89 a pound!!! I was pretty excited as chicken in the store that is commercially raised, organic, antibiotic free is commonly 7 or 8 dollars a pound around here. I have to say all together this was a positive experience. I feel the weight of taking a life for food, but I am also happy to have given these chickens the best life possible.
At the end of the day, it’s important to realize meat has a price, and it doesn’t come from a price tag. A living, breathing creature was sacrificed so that you could be fed and nourished. I see great importance not only having quality meat that is free of chemicals, but also meat from animals raised as close to how God intended.
My name is Monica, I'm passionate about farming, food, and the humane treatment of livestock.