I have witnessed many butchering sessions of chickens, goats, rabbits, deer and fish. With our kids being schooled at home, every time we processed meat, there was a chance for a biology lesson and I was right there encouraging them in their exploration. Okay, maybe I was really hardly ever closer than 10 feet, but I was cheering them on to learn and be amazed.
Over the years, I have helped cut up and package various cleaned meats. I have even shown appropriate appreciation when the kids and their dad would show me things like “how the chicken foot will still move if you just pull on this tendon that is sticking out at the cut off joint.” I know where my meat comes from and I don’t have a problem with that.
But I have never personally raised chickens AND taken part in the initial stages of butchering. You know, the killing and touching the guts. Until last weekend.
When I was forced to admit that four of my hens were really roosters, I had to choose who would get survival privileges. That was fairly easy because one of them is friendly enough to cuddle with me. There is also one other old rooster that managed to keep his identity secret for 12 years, so we just don’t have the heart (or stomach) to butcher him. I think he may even pretend to sit on the eggs.
With as many predator problems as we’ve been having, it occurred to me that I could avoid butchering by just leaving the roosters unprotected in the front pen. Those hawks were still coming around daily and two of the roosters were still half-size. I’ve trapped two skunks this year and I’ve seen foxes on nearby roads. But I decided that would be the equivalent of hanging out a “come get your fresh chicken here” sign. Counterproductive to protecting the rest of my birds.
My husband was willing to be in charge of the butchering and let me do as little or as much as I could handle. My 17 year old chicken-raising, experienced animal butchering daughter was also there to back me up. Or fill in for me. I wasn’t sure how I was going to do.
I talked to myself. I told myself that I already eat, and like to eat, chicken regularly. I told myself that I am a nurse and have done my share of dissections of “specimens.” I certainly have dealt with blood and trauma from being both a nurse and a mom. Then, I helped put the first rooster’s feet in the lasso of rope hanging from the tree branch.
That is the method my husband has used for years to take the chickens heads off. With their feet held firmly, he stretches out their necks and cuts off their heads with a sharp knife. Their bodies do the proverbial headless-chicken-dance upside down, attached to a rope. This rope has first been tossed over a branch using a heavy enough board to pull it all the way down the other side. Then, it is tied as a big loop, thus making it easy to pull from any part to find the knot and get it off of the tree. A portion of this large loop is doubled and tied off, then the end of that is made into a slip knot through which the chicken’s feet are cinched.
I was offered a chance to learn this initial step in butchering, but knew immediately that I could only have done it if our lives depended on it. As the first rooster lost his head, I burst into tears. My daughter smiled at me and comforted me. Then, she tied up the feet and cut the head off of the next rooster.
Once the birds’ nervous systems had calmed down and the blood flow was minimal, they were placed on the grass while my daughter harvested some of the pretty wing feathers to make earrings and hair decorations out of. Next, the lifeless chicken bodies were placed on a round plastic picnic table. The skin was cut a couple of inches at the neckline, then ripped down the breast side. After the main body was skinned, the skin was worked down each wing (not worrying about preserving the wing tips) and each leg (until the scaly part). It’s not that we don’t like chicken skin. We would just rather not deal with dipping the birds in boiling water and spending hours pulling their feathers out.
I continued to observe as the lower joint of both the wings and the legs were exposed and the skin cut around them to allow it to slip off all the way, like a pair of trousers. But not until the joints were twisted in hopes of breaking them apart. It is easier to hold onto them with the skin as cushioning. My husband’s right arm is still on the weak side, so he did resort to using the knife for the final separation. Then, he displayed the pelt of feathers to me before he laid it on the grass for the kitty to nibble at. The tail feathers were still in place on the main body of meat, but were cut off with one swipe.
While my husband pulled the intestines, heart, kidneys, gizzard, etc., out of the middle cavity of the his bird, my daughter proceeded to skin hers just opposite of him. She said it required more force than her dad made it appear it needed, but she stuck with it. She mentioned that she didn’t really like the warm smell of it’s innards and made some faces while touching them, but she completely handled the butchering of one rooster.
There was one more rooster to deal with. I thought that if someone else cut it’s head off, I would try some of the “other stuff.” This rooster was about a year old, so larger and stronger. This resulted in much more blood being splattered on the shed next to the tree, but it wiped off easily after we were all done.
Unfortunately, it also meant that it was harder to pull the skin off. My husband ended up not only helping me, but asking me to hold the neck while he pulled on the skin, mostly with his good arm. But I got back to the butchering, being talked through breaking off the long section of neck that was still there (the dog ate it) and yanking out the guts. I am told I had quite a variety of facial expressions while doing it all.
Not being familiar with chicken guts and everything I was supposed to look for, my hand floundered around in that slippery place. My husband just told me to take out everything that looked like I didn’t want to eat it. Then, he helped with the last little bit. I had missed the kidneys and a main “exit” duct.
Finally, it was time to rinse the skinned chickens and put them in the refrigerator. They will probably become soup. The undesirable parts were bagged and frozen until trash day.
In the event of economic collapse, I think I could now butcher my own chickens. Until then, I will accept all offers of family members who are less emotional about it. For a larger number of birds, I still have Cluck-N-Pluck to fall back on. And I will be extra friendly to butchers everywhere, because they are doing a job that I don’t want to.