We've been raising meat chickens for 6 years now. It seems we increase our number of birds each year to feed our growing family. This year we have 25.
While I photo document many things in my life, I never have 'clicked' during the meat chicken slaughter day. Honestly, it's just messy and my camera is fancy...those don't mix. And I usually just want to get it all done with instead of having to stop and fiddle with my camera.
Well, this year, Amelia (my 6 year old daughter), has really taken an interest in photography and so Santa gave her a FujiFinePix camera. We did a '30 Days of Ozark Life' photo project together as a result of Meredith Novario's storytelling class final project...and the process and result was so awesome! I decided maybe Amelia would want to photo document chicken slaughter day. She was more than excited to oblige ;)
Here we go (these are her photos!):
Step 1. The slaughter and plucking.
Gather the chickens from the pen. I work with 4-5 at a time. (the scalding water cools off after more than that...and I heat each batch separately.)
Sometimes I use a box to collect them, this year I used a tote since I had burned all the cardboard the day before. Notice you can't see any other birds in this photo because the rest of them are hiding and squawking for their dear lives in the corner. After the first batch, they know something's up.
I bring them over and do it quick as possible. I will put the actual video at the bottom of the blog. I actually step on their heads and just pull their body up. The head comes right off...it's quicker for me than doing it with an ax because I'm not too coordinated with that!
Then I hold them while they flap their wings from nerves. I could set them down and watch them flop around, but it seems to break their wings more. I'm in it for the wings.
I bring them over to the next spot where I have the water heating and the plucker sitting. Between setting them upside down, carrying them and then setting them at the next station...the blood seems to drain.
I have the water heating in a big pot and need it to be about 145 degrees. I actually like it a little hotter so that I can stretch it more by adding a little water from the hose.
Water temp is pretty important. Too hot and it will cook the chicken a little and make the skin tear when plucking. Too cool and the feathers won't come out easy.
Once that water hits the right temp, I pour it into a bucket for dipping the birds.
Hi. Adding some hose water to the bucket.
And then I dip down (making sure to cover the knee).
And lift up.
And dip again. And swirl around a little. This is all just a few seconds....don't want to dip too long!
And lift up. I test if it's ready to pluck by pulling on a wing feather. I want it to come out easy, but not too easy.
It's ready. Now to the plucker. We got fancy last year and spent some of our tax return on this nice plucker. It just makes life easier during this process and is money well spent. It likes to have two birds in it at a time.
I turn it on and spray with water at the same time. It's loud and spins in a circle.
Voila, less than 30 seconds later I have a plucked bird.
Sometimes there are a few tail and wing feathers left, but it's not a big deal to pull them out and/or I usually just cut the tail off.
Then I set the birds down on a feed bag.
While I light the propane stove for another round of scalding water, I also use the butane torch for singeing off the pin feathers...AKA little chicken hairs. I just go over it quick with the torch.
Then I cut all the feet off by bending that joint and slicing.
And I reach in through the neck area and find the crop. I pull it out gently to get it and the thing it's connected to. What is that thing called?
This is what it looks like. (I also cut the gross tip of the neck off.)
Then I give the birds a final spray wash.
And put them in a big cooler with ice. This way I am not rushed to do all the end cutting and processing.
Then Amelia took a break and came in to build stick cabin with bro and grandma while I cleaned up step 1 and got ready for step 2.
Step 2. Selfie.
Step 2a. Cutting into pieces and packaging.
I slice the chicken in that little crook on it's back. Enough to slice through the back bone and get my fingers in there.
Then I stick my fingers in there and pull it apart.
Until there are two halves. Then I can easily pull out the innards and put them in the gut bucket. I save the gizzards, heart and liver in that silver bowl there for the neighbor who likes to cook them up for his dogs :)
This is a pic from my phone of a whole chicken that I didn't cut in pieces. That's just a matter of cutting the opening and pulling everything out. Xena dog stands by.
Then after I get everything cut (I put all those pieces in a different cooler), I get out the food saver. Amelia was done photo documenting at this point and wanted to do the labeling with the Sharpie...so we switched. She also had chicken blood on her leg here somehow.
We package them for dinners...so usually 3-4 breasts together. 5 leg thighs together. All the wings together. Necks and backs together for soup broth. You know, whatever works for your family.
And that's it.
In total this took about 6 hours, but I wasn't working terribly fast and it was just me doing it. And I only did 13 of the 25 chickens. I want the others to grow another week.
If you really want to see the process of killing them, I videoed this group of 4 chickens for a sick friend who was interested ;) ;)
I guess the reason we started raising our own chickens was both out of interest to become more self sustainable and so that we knew where the meat that we were feeding our family was coming from. I will say it gives all of us more of an appreciation for what we are eating, knowing all the work that went into it and the life of the bird we took.
As far as saving money? Well, it doesn't save money compared to regular Tyson chicken. But, if you compare the per pound price to non-gmo fed, organic chicken (which is how we raise them), it's cheaper to do it this way by quite a bit.
That's all I can think of to include...write a question or comment below if you'd like. :)
-Terra (and Amelia)