Monday, July 18, 2011

#54 - Chicken Processing Lessons



This weekend I've spent a good bit of time researching the ways to process chickens. I've already been horrified, amazed, in hysterics, disgusted, and surprisingly pleased. Needless to say, any chicken-processing-mental-virginity I had maintained on the topic is now shattered by truths.

Chicken tractor built by Deputy Dave and painted
by Land-loving Lana!
After some digging into the topic via YouTube, I seriously thought, "Perhaps I'll be happy with only having chickens for eggs for the rest of my life." Then, I realized that I do love a good oven-roasted chicken, delicious fried chicken, BBQ'd chicken, chicken-n-dumplings, chicken tenders, chicken fajitas, chicken salad, stuffed chicken, chicken shish-k-bobs, and on and on and on.

Eventually, once we are living on our land, I would like to be able to process my own chickens because I will KNOW exactly how they were raised. If Deputy Dave and I raise chickens for meat, then the mystery of all that occurred in between, from the day they hatched to the day they are served with salt and pepper shakers, will be removed. Mystery meat is never a settling thought.

So, like a good future farm gal, I moved onward with my YouTube experiences and let the chicken PROCESSING variations from video to video take hold for consideration.

The first YouTube video I watched was labeled something like, "How to Process a Chicken Humanely." It starts with an ultra-redneck guy near a shed holding a chicken lovingly as he discusses different ways to kill a chicken. First, he says that wringing a chicken's neck is not humane. Then, he picks up an axe and I stiffened, then he said that the axe was also not humane. Finally, he took a white bucket and put the chicken inside of it. I was perplexed. He put a lid on top to enclose the chicken and he reached back to turn on a large bottle of gas that had a hose connected through the top of the lid on the bucket. He cranked on the gas and said it would take about three minutes to do the job in a "humane" manner and he walked away laughing. I was not impressed. I felt sucker-punched. So...NO.

It struck me that all this talk about how to kill a chicken humanely is kind of ridiculous. Really, it seems to boil down to the issue that it is the LIFE of the chicken that mostly deserves humane consideration. Even though these chickens are destined for the dinner plate, that does not mean that the chicken should be disregarded during its life-time. And, killing the chicken can be done on a humane level. I find that I also need to discontinue using terms such as "killing the chickens" and instead say, "processing the chickens." I'm learning.

As for the "processing" part, of course, you don't want to drag it out, but if you like eating chicken, then we can't fool ourselves...that chicken will find its way into our mouth. It cracks me up when people believe buying a chicken at the grocery store automatically makes them more humane. Well, someone has had to process those chickens so that they can sit in the meat section at the grocery store with a price tag on them.

Next. I won't apologize for liking the taste of chicken. I can go a bit willy-wonka for a hot bowl of Deputy Dave's home-made chicken-n-dumplings. As for eating meat, I would like for us to take a look at how our teeth are made...we are designed to eat meat. I am not much into grazing on a full-time basis, so the city-gal in me will need to be trained for chicken processing. It will take me a while to become emotionally strong enough to confront this task; I'm working on it.

I have a feeling that it will be a very slow process as I learn how to process chickens. It might involve a few episodes of vomiting, with alternating moments of crying hysterically; I might end up running in circles as I hyperventilate and maybe passing out. I'm sure Deputy Dave will be standing still as he watches my meltdown, but he'll be patient.

It will be a change for me to go from having a flock of chickens strictly for egg harvesting and fun enjoyment to crossing over to the dark side of having a flock of chickens that will be doomed to a life ending in sacrifice for our nutrition.

And, believe me, I will have a prayer to send up to Heaven in thanks for these birds that will be providing healthy nutrition for our bodies and I will thank the spirit of the chickens for their sacrifice.
But, the little problem I have at the moment is that my backyard chickens are living quite the lifestyle...they are my chicken pals. They are spoiled. We could never process these chickens. After all, Miss Speckles talks with me; she's a chatty little gal.

Miss pride and joy!
So, once we're down the road, I will have to obtain a set of chickens specifically designed for the table. These chickens cannot have names, they cannot be watched with adoration, they must be seen as sacrificial animals that will enable my family to eat more healthy. I will honor them, but with a certain level of detachment. I am a wimp. But, I am a determined wimp.

Back to my YouTube learning experience...Then, I watched a video of a mother and daughter killing a chicken together in the kitchen, The mother made her adult daughter hold the chicken while she wringed the neck. The daughter held the chicken as the neck was pointed into the drain, but it was still kicking and she was screaming. I was shocked that this was done in the very nicely designed, modern kitchen. Uh...NO.

One YouTube video had a young family on a farm showing how they process their chickens. The husband was holding the chicken down on a table as his wife took an axe and began hacking with obvious lack of experience. HORRIBLE. She hacked and hacked and hacked and hacked. It took about three times to somewhat separate the neck from the body, but the husband had to pull sinew apart so that the head could totally separate. Noooooo! My stomach was rolling. Then, to my jaw popping open kind of shocked vibes, I watched as the man took the severed chicken head and tossed it to the family dog standing nearby and eagerly waiting for his treat. What? Dogs eat chicken heads? Hmmmm...heck no.

Another video had a young woman with long blond hair being taught how to kill a chicken in the backyard. She had a blade of some sort up to the chicken's neck as the friend was holding down the chicken. After the cut was made, the chicken wiggled and blood spurted out of the neck into a murderous spray all over the young woman as she tried to escape her blood-bath. At first she was horrified, but then everyone found the nervous humor in the moment. For a moment, I thought...that would be MY luck. I'd butcher a chicken then walk around looking like a blood-drenched catatonic Carrie from the Stephen King movie

On a livelier note, I watched a couple of guys pluck a chicken with a home-made device, and I was pretty impressed. They were having fun too. I began watching another few videos of people dipping feathered dead birds into scalding hot water to prepare them for plucking and I was pretty much turned off to this entire process. Not interested, uh uh, no way. You can watch this via YouTube by this link:

With frazzled nerves and a question rotating in the back of my head, "Why did you EVER even WANT to do this?" Why would I ever want to process my own chickens? Maybe I'd become a vegetarian...nope, I cannot live with Chik-Fil-A.

In my moment of desperation, I FINALLY found a YouTube video of a family farm effort for chicken processing and their farm seemed to handle everything so perfectly. I felt like Goldilocks as I settled in to watch this "just right" instructional video for chicken processing. Even though it was still unpleasant, this family conducted themselves with serious professionalism and natural ease. Now, THIS is how I could picture myself processing chickens.

Each family member had their own step to do and things seemed to be organized and efficient. Smocks and protective gloves were also used. They set up an area outside with stations for each job. And, they seemed to take pride and even have joy as they do their job. Now, the interesting part of their way of processing is that these chickens were basically rolled out of their skin and feathers, all-in-one, with a few expert cuts, and this appealed to me. We don't necessarily need a lot of chicken with the skin on. Most of our meals require that the skin be removed anyway, so it would be senseless to go through all the trouble of plucking just for me to end up discarding the skin before cooking. For the awesome family farm link of processing chickens, go to

No matter how you look at it, there are nasty parts to this job. However, by my observations thus far, I believe the task of processing can be made less daunting, respectable and more efficient, if...

1. The chickens have been treated in the most upstanding way possible regarding their housing, freedom, nutrition, with as little handling as possible so that they grow naturally...just allow the chickens to do their chicken thing in peace and comfort without a commercialized approach.

2.  A processing station should be set up with everyone knowing their part, everyone should receive support from one another while knowing their particular job with the goal of making the end of life for the chicken as quick as possible and the bird as cleanly dressed as possible. Each step of the way, being mindful of contamination dangers and ongoing inspections for any questionable issues that need to be addressed. In fact, a checklist should be made and adhered to so that upstanding self-regulation can take place. After all, this is your food.

3.  Every effort should be made to maintain the integrity of the chicken carcass following processing so that it is immediately and thoroughly cleaned, then immediately chilled. A second cleaning process can take place indoors before the chicken is packed for usage or freezing.

4. According to the chicken processing calendar, a day should be dedicated to processing or perhaps an entire weekend. I'm not sure how frequently this is normally done on a farm to sustain a family. I am sure we would be providing chicken for our entire family --- for us and our daughters, at the least. I'll have to learn more about this angle of processing, as it relates to the South and our hot climate, if that makes a difference.

Eventually, I hope to learn how to process chickens. But, not until we get moved to our acreage. For now, I will enjoy the beauty of being a backyard farmer as I look forward to getting that first egg. This flock is pampered and they are safe from any thoughts of how delicious they might be mixed with dumplings.


Charade said...

Okay, thanks for the warning. I decided to just look at the pictures. Just read a description of a specialized operating table posted by a friend who had a hip replaced last week, and I'm feeling a bit squeamish. Please tell me you're not going to eat that little bitty black-and-white darling??

LindaG said...

I would not have thought to look at Youtube, just for the reasons you state - a lot of garbage there just for the 'thrill' value.

I'm fortunate that my hubby grew up on a farm. He knows how to butcher chickens and slaughter a cow. I'm the one who will have to get over my squeamishness and learn how to do the rest of it.

Thanks for the link to the good video. I'll save it to look at sometime. :)

P.S. My hubby has already told me nothing gets a name other than breakfast, lunch or dinner. ;)

Lana from Farm Life Lessons said...

Charade --- All my chickens are my little sweethearts. I seriously think I could, if needed, simply survive on fresh farm eggs. This chicken processing thing is not for the faint of heart. Maybe I have too much "faint" in mine.

Linda --- I was doing online research into chicken processing and a YouTube video came up by chance. I was so horrified by some of the things that I saw that I can't believe YouTube posts them. Oh well. I think your husband is wise, if you live on a farm, you must have some distance or you'd be crushed at every single mishap or natural event. I think all our farm animals might end up as "pets." We might just be using the by-products of the animals. Then, again, I know I'll still be buying chicken and there's a part of me that does NOT want to support the commercialized industry, so that means I need to take a first-hand stance and process my own chickens. So difficult to start thinking about. But, the family farm video I posted was the best one. I could not post the link to the trash videos of people "learning" while on camera or have an emotional meltdown cause it's already hard enough.

Mike said...

When I was a lad, about 50 years ago, we used to axe chickens and dip em in boiling water to release the feathers. I don't know if I could eat fried chicken without the skin. ;)
As a suggestion picking a breed of meat chicken, try this blog post I follow. Quick growth so you don't get too attached. She can probably answer any question you may have about them. When you get moved.

WhisperingWriter said...

Now I want some chicken.

Rae said...

It really isn't all that bad. Easy peasy. We spent about 4 hours on Saturday butchering our meat birds (will post about it later in the week). It was our first time, but we had a friend over who had done it before, and I learned how to gut a chicken (more hand work than knife work, wrist deep up a chicken backside), and how to clean the gizzard (mmmm, fried gizzards). Very quick, very easy, though I am not at all squeamish, so maybe it was just easy for me. I was pretty happy to have the icky chickies gone, as they were, well, icky, and we'd already lost two cockerels to heart failure. It was time for the chickens to go before they got too fat to be comfortable. I'm sure you'll do fine. I found a YouTube vid that was pretty quick, clean, and efficient. I'll see if I can find it for you.