Butchering Chickens – A Few Lessons Learned

As well as gardening, it’s also my dream to have a smallholding. Whilst that countryside dream is a few years away, my current suburban retreat means I can get a start – and that means chickens. I want to cull at least 25 this year; that’s one bird a fortnight to eat which I don’t think is too shabby considering I’m in an urban setting with just the average 3-bed terrace. I’ve had a slight explosion of roosters over the past few months; I did chicken math the other day; of 31 birds I realised I had 14 roosters!! Two are keeps; Ivy Winters my first ever hatched chick, and Ayam, the beautiful Cemani. The others are from two batches of hatches; some polands, some polskis (poland x silkie hybrids).

The first rooster put his name on the cull list earlier this year by crowing at 4am through until 5am! He even had a cock collar but it did little to muffle the sound and I’m sure the neighbours were getting as pissed off as I was, laying in bed, covering my head with my pillow until it was just too much. Yep; there I was, stomping down the garden at dawn in pants and slippers to go grab the rooster and shove him in a cardboard box until morning.

My killing, plucking and butchering technique isn’t perfect yet. Though I’d love to use a stun gun and then bleed out, those things are expensive. Until now I’ve been breaking their necks but it freaks me out because I’m never quite sure they’re dead due to the post-despatch flapping and twitching. So today I tried a new method; using a plank of wood over the head and thrusting quickly upwards to pull the head off. It takes under a second and yes, you definitely know that chicken is dead. I also used a wet pluck because though I’ve normally done a dry pluck, it takes AGES. I may go back to a dry pluck eventually as I like the fact you get lots of feathers that could be used for something, but with three cockerels to kill, I didn’t have hours to sit and pluck all afternoon. First lessons learned;

  • That headless chook saying? True. I put one of the chickens down and it ran off – without its head. I was running around the raised beds saying ‘come back, come back’ even though it didn’t even have a head. Funny yet horrifying. 
  • With a wet pluck the water really has to be hot. I didn’t want to accidentally start cooking the bird, so I was cautious to begin with. However, after several frustrating attempts to pluck, I realised the water really wasn’t hot enough. So, I threw out all the water, boiled the kettle and started over – much better. 
  • I’m not a wing man, so I didn’t pluck the flight feathers off. Instead, I only took about half off; just enough so I could cut the wing in half later. In addition, I’ve always plucked all the tail feathers out. However, as I don’t eat the ‘parson’s nose’ (the bit containing the oil gland on the tail of a bird), I left all the feathers there too and simply decided to remove that during the butchering phase.

The other problem with these non-meat birds is that they’re small, and that makes gutting rather difficult because my hand doesn’t fit inside the cavity to draw the insides out. Next lesson;

  • One of the hybrids was larger than the others, and it was MUCH easier to pull out the innards. It means I should be able to process my naked neck meat birds far quicker in the future as they’re a lot larger. 
  • Finally – my dogs DO NOT like raw meat. I thought I’d give them a treat and offer the liver, heart and cleaned gizzard. The heart’s went down a treat, but my bitches are too picky for anything else. They took the offal gingerly and then dropped and left it!

Finally processed. Small but home grown and well looked after. Two for the freezer, one for tomorrow.

After today, I’ll definitely do a wet pluck again and not worry about removing every feather from the carcass, especially areas I’m going to remove during the butchering process.

So, the rooster count is down by three. There’s also a couple of young cockerels that might just be too pretty to cull, so they have a reprieve…for now! I’m a little heartless; if someone starts crowing too much, or beating up the others, then in the wise words of the Queen of Hearts it’s ‘Off with their heads’!

This beautiful Polski is off the meat-bird list for now.

As is this funny little fello…


Finally, here’s one of the roosters from my silver-laced Poland hatching eggs. BEWARE what you buy from auctions!!

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I'm Geoff, and I'm a plant hoarder.

Like magpies collect bright shiny things, I can't resist plants. An exquisite flower, soft ferny foliage or a beautiful majestic tree - I love them all!

Here, I'll indulge in all things flora and share my passion. Join me as I develop my garden and hoard more plants without apology.