Step 1: Prepare for Butchering
Choosing Time of Year
The Chesters prefer to slaughter their chickens in the fall, early enough that it’s still relatively mild outside and they don’t need gloves, but late enough that the process attracts a minimum amount of flies. This ideal timeframe is typically late September through early October.
They usually allow a full day for the butchering process, which typically takes three to four hours of actual work plus cooling time, given the small number of chickens they process during a given session. By this time, the “teen” hens—started from chicks in the spring—are also getting big enough that the total space available in the chicken coop is beginning to feel cramped.
Choosing Time of Day
It’s important to withhold feed from chickens intended for slaughter for at least 12 hours before they are killed. Some home butchers recommend catching and isolating the chickens in a comfortable, dark place the evening before, then processing them early the next day when they are still in a calm and “drowsy” state. According to Raising Chickens for Dummies by Kimberly Willis and Rob Ludlow (Wiley Publishing, 2009), research has proven that calm birds are easier to process and will taste better, too.
The first priority for butchering day is to decide where to kill, pluck and clean the chickens. Heidi and Ken prefer to work outside, using an old card table located near a convenient chopping block and the shed wall, where they temporarily hang the chicken carcasses during processing.
Their isolated farmstead makes it easy for them to avoid offending the sensibilities of any neighbors or passersby, and local regulations permit home slaughtering. They are careful to choose a spot far from the house, because they know from long experience that this is a smelly and messy process and the site will continue to attract insects for days. They also make sure that they’re wearing old clothes and are careful to wash them immediately afterward for easier cleaning of any blood spatters; a waterproof apron is also helpful.
You will need a way to dispose of the solid waste generated by the process, too; Willis and Ludlow recommend a big, lined garbage can with a lid. A nearby source of running water is preferable, even if it is just a hose. Rubber boots will be a necessity, as the ground quickly becomes muddy. You will also need access to a source of hot water if you plan to pluck your chickens.
Finally, Willis and Ludlow recommend that home butchers keep handy a supply of paper towels and a spray bottle with a mixture of one part unscented chlorine bleach and two parts water to quickly clean and sanitize the work surface should it inadvertently become contaminated with feces, bile or crop contents during the cleaning process.
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