In our homesteading “career” so far, we’ve butchered 3 batches of chickens. Last month, we butchered our first batch (out of four) meat chickens. Yesterday, we butchered batch #2, along with 2 turkeys. We also chose dates for our other chicken butcherings, 2017. Warning: Contains some images that may be considered graphic.
Last month, we butchered on a Tuesday. It was just a date that worked for us. We were somewhere 12 weeks from the time of the chicks to the time of butchering, and we were getting worried they’d be too big and start having health issues. Our schedule was crammed, so we picked the first open evening on the schedule and set up the night before. Not ideal, but hey, it is what it is. I had intended to pick out dates earlier in the year so we would be well prepared, but I failed. Thankfully, we only had 11 chickens to butcher, because we had just enough time between Scott getting home from work, set up, butchering, and takedown to cram it all in before we lost our day light.
It was a crazy day, with lots of driving around, so I was a bit tired by the time we actually started. I had to make a last-minute trip into town to pick up the right vacuum sealer bags, and while I was there, I remembered that the family would need to be fed at some p
oint in time, so I grabbed some frozen pizzas for the kids, a sandwich for Scott, and I knew I had leftovers in the fridge for myself.
If you are thinking about butchering your own chickens some day, and you come across the advice to plan something other than chicken for your meal that evening, heed that advice! It is NOT because you won’t want to eat chicken after having…. dealt…with them (well, that may be true for some folks), but rather, because the chicken meat will be tough and not taste nearly as good. These chickens are kind of expensive to raise, so make sure you get the most bang for your buck. It’s recommended that you refrigerate the packaged chicken for at least 24 hours before freezing or cooking to help the muscle relax, which will make your meat much more tender and flavorful.
Last year at butchering time, I was relegated to packaging duty after nearly passing out from watching the initial stage of the butchering process. I’m not exactly sure what it was, but I think between the blood and the muscle spasms, it was more than I anticipated seeing. This year, I didn’t watch that stage for the chickens, so I had enough energy to do the evisceration of two birds. I did do all of the packaging though, and since several of the birds were too big to fit into bags, I had to cut them up. It’s nice to know that I have a package of chicken breast in the freezer for when I want a “fancier” meal, legs for making the kids favorite chicken meal, and I have a bag of wings for anybody interested 😉 On the third batch of chickens that we butcher, I am fairly certain that I will pressure can some of the chicken, and I’m hoping to make a lot of broth for canning as well. Honestly, I can’t tell you how excited I am at the prospect of being able to crack open a can of homemade chicken noodle soup on a day when I’m too sick to make it or I’m too tired to!
For those who think that evisceration is a really gross or stinky job, let me share something that I learned. First of all, it’s not that gross. Maybe a little weird at first, but honestly, if you do any cooking, it’s not that strange. Just be prepared mentally for the fact that it’s warm and a little slippery feeling, but not really slimy or wet. I’ve heard a lot of people say that gutting is the worst part of butchering because of the smell, but thankfully, we learned a wise tip from some folks: Stop feeding your chickens 24 hours before butchering (it doesn’t have to be exact, you just want them to have time to clear their system). That smell that people talk about is the smell of the feces. The rest of it doesn’t really smell at all. In the 3 times we’ve butchered now, we have not had any issue with smells.
Yesterday was our second butchering for the season, and we butchered 12 chickens and 2 turkeys. I’m fairly certain we cut down on our butchering time compared to last time. We had extra help this time, but I think it may have just been that we were able to pick it back up again more quickly. It seems that set up is meant to take about 1 hour (if you are doing it yourself) and you know where everything is. Since we already butchered this year, we knew where everything was, and it was more easily accessible as it wasn’t buried beneath everything else. Clean up was definitely faster this time, as we had a few extra pairs of hands. It started raining after we finished butchering, so we ran around cleaning up as quickly as possible. So how long did our second butchering take? Honestly, I’m not 100% sure. I do know that we didn’t really start until about 3:30, and we were in the house before 6 p.m. That would mean 2 1/2 hours for butchering and clean-up. Clean up did go pretty quickly, but then again, so did the butchering. By the time my sister-in-law arrived, we only had 1 chicken left to butcher, plus their two turkeys.
We had 4 chickens (out of 12) that were over 8 lbs. Two were over a whopping 9lbs, and one of the 8 pounders and the two 9 pounders were cut into parts since they were too big to fit in the bags. The other 9 were all vacuum sealed, whole. We saved some of the water from the scalding pot to re-dip the feet in so that I could peel them all right away before freezing. Why did I save the feet? They make for great broth. With added collagen from the knuckles in the feet, it’s a healthy addition to any broth.
I didn’t actually butcher the turkeys, so I can’t say definitively, but I do believe they were about as easy to butcher as the chickens were. We did run into two problems while butchering the first turkey… They didn’t fit into the restraining cones (which we weren’t entirely surprised about), so somebody had to hold the turkey while the other person let the blood. That was a bit complicated as the nerve reflexes stay active for awhile after making the cuts in the neck. The bird can’t feel anything, but it’s nervous system twitches, so the turkey’s wings kept flapping, making it more difficult to hold. The other problem that we ran into was that it took just a bit longer in the scald tank to loosen the feathers… only we kept it in just a hair too long. And then, while putting it in the plucker, the skin broke, and some of the meat was…tenderized. It will still make for a delicious turkey, but it won’t make the pretty Thanksgiving turkey they were hoping for. The second turkey, we learned our lessons. More prepared for the blood letting, a little less time in the scald tank, and we skipped the plucker, and 4 of us quickly hand-plucked the feathers. Scott eviscerated it and was done much faster with that than with a chicken since the body cavity is so much bigger.
Tiffany had looked for some bags for sealing up the turkeys but had little luck finding anything. She picked up some 2.5 gal. ziplock bags, but I think those may have been just a little small. She opted to use some turkey baking bags, which don’t provide the best freezer protection, but with a little bit of planning before putting the birds in the freezer, they should be able to wrap or re-bag them at home to give them a longer freezer life. Either way, they should have no problem lasting until Thanksgiving and Christmas time in the freezer. The turkeys weighed in at about 12 and 15 pounds and were somewhere around 16 weeks old at the time of butchering.
Just like the first time, the chickens went into the refrigerator to chill, and tomorrow morning I will put them in the freezer. I could have moved them as early as tonight, but won’t be able to, so I’ll wait until tomorrow morning. We have another package of huge chicken breast, another bag of chicken legs, and yet another bag of wings.
I learned one more valuable lesson for your butchering set up. Plan to have an “emergency” kit ready to go. I accidentally knicked my knuckle while cutting apart one of the chickens, and I had to run into the house to clean it right away. Thankfully, I knew where the peroxide was, but the band-aids were a bit harder to locate (why is it that kids enjoy playing with them so much???). You could wear gloves for butchering, but really, they can be cumbersome, making it more difficult for you to actually be safe, and more likely for you to slip and cut yourself again. The wound was short and deep, but because it was such a small and clean cut, it was already starting sealing up before the night was over. My finger is fine, but lesson learned. Have a clean towel, soap, some peroxide or rubbing alcohol, and some waterproof band-aids ready to go next to your sink should somebody accidentally cut themselves. Chances are, you’ll be fine and not cut yourself, but anytime you use a knife, it’s a possibility, and when you are cutting something like meat, you always want to be able to clean any wounds as quickly as possible.
I’ve had a few people express to me that they are interested in learning how to butcher a chicken. Are you one of them? I’ve gotten in touch with a couple of you, but we finally picked our dates for butchering our last two batches of chickens. We could use your help! The 3rd batch will be butchered on October 7th (that’s a Saturday). We haven’t set a time yet, but we’ll need more time than we did for the last two batches because this batch is about 40 chickens. The 4th batch will be butchered Saturday, October 21, 2017, and will be just under 30 chickens (if all goes well). If you are in the area or are willing to make the trip to learn, get in touch with us either via our contact page, the comment section of this post or on our Facebook page (either my personal or business page). As I said, we still need to set a time, but I’d like to get a feel for who is interested and when. There might just be a chicken or two in it for you!
Pretty soon, I will be putting up a post for a chicken dinner, so make sure you watch for that!
I hope you are all enjoying the beginning of this fall season! I know I am. Right now I have apples in the crock pot for homemade applesauce. I’m hoping that I’ll still get a few jars of sauce out of our sad apple harvest. Are you harvesting anything right now?