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.