Tuesday, 20 December 2016

Slaughtering Chickens - not a nice subject. Don't view if squeamish!

Slaughtering Chickens - not a nice subject

You can't be self sufficient in a modern world, not without space and money, but we're well on our way to at least partly doing that. Most of of vegetables, some fruit, most of our eggs and now some of our meat.

Some jobs in the garden are enjoyable, some just plain tedious, others are hard work and some jobs just spring up from nowhere and are down right horrible. Killing chickens has just become one of those jobs.

The idea was simple enough, feed chickens, get eggs, repeat and the jobs a good one. Chickens stop laying when it's cold and dark, ours stopped laying early due to a moult and became expensive, then came winter. What do you do? Keep them for 5 months or so not laying and then carry on in the spring? The chicken area has become muddy, it's not nice, a lot of heavy chickens pacing around all day in mud and the grass goes. Just feeding them is a horrible job, drinking containers get muddy, their house gets muddy and it's impossible to get rid of 20 chickens mid winter.

Bird flu comes along, it's in the news, and even small chicken holders are expected to keep chickens indoors for 30 days at least. That just isn't possible, our chicken house is just for them to sleep in. If they all sat still happily there is enough room but with big birds constantly pecking each other trying to get out it seems cruel.

Killing 20 chickens is a lot of meat, and a lot of work. Disposal is also a problem and the amount of hours needed doesn't exist in our life just to drop everything and process in quantity like this. Plucking a bird is messy with feathers going everywhere, time consuming and these birds are tough meat. They are too old for normal chicken meat.

There is a compromise, as there always is, don't pluck them, and simply take the breast meat and freeze it.

I've done a few chickens like this over the last month but the act of killing them is hard, especially as a dead chicken carries on flapping away for a few minutes and the inexperienced person doesn't know if they have done it right. I've had a chat with a few experienced people....

You have to deal with it in a very matter of fact way, quickly and very organised.

Step 1. Feed the birds. Their heads go down and they are easy to approach and pick up.
Step 2. Pick one up, put it under the arm.
Step 3. Walk out of the pen, close the gate and walk to a killing area somewhere else in the garden.
Step 4. As you walk grab the neck of the calm bird and break it's neck by pulling and twisting. Keep the pressure on. There is no movement. Quickly and firmly with no real thought.
Step 5. In the killing / bloody area, put birds neck on a chopping block and with one blow take it's head off while holding it's feet. It should already be dead before the axe falls. Doing this demonstrates the bird is dead and now any flapping of the wings and legs is purely muscle spasms. Mentally it helps.
Step 6. Hold the bird firmly on the ground until it stops flapping. 1 or 2 minutes. 
Step 7. Walk away or get another bird and repeat. Leave them for 10 minutes and get you're head into the right place ready for the next step.
Step 8. Take the bird to a table and pluck just down the breast bone. 30 second job to expose the skin.
Step 9. Sharpe knife and cut the skin down the breast bone, pull skin away to expose the breast.
Step 10. Follow breast bone with knife and remove breast meat without damaging the organs. 2 minutes and both breasts are off.
Step 11. Bird in bin bag, then in bin.
Step 12. Take breast meat and rinse with cold water to remove any dirt or feathers.
Step 13. Put in a plastic bag and freeze.
Step 14. Clean all surfaces.

Life is real, this is where chicken meat comes, from and although this meat will be a bit tough from old birds compared to shop bought it isn't that tough and will soften up very nicely if cooked slowly in a pot or sliced up in small chucks. It's good value for money, doesn't waste all those birds and gets over a bird flu problem. Not to mention no need to feed unproductive birds. 

Dead chickens. Head removed.

Remove feathers to see and access breast.

2 birds, 4 breasts.

I know where my meat has come from!

A lot of people like the idea of having chickens for eggs and possibly for meat but the reality of having animals as part of a life style is that you need a way of dealing with them. You have to deal with death and any problems that arise such as bird flu and you need to just get on with it quickly.

Clearly by the look of the meat I'm no expert but that's another mile stone reached and practice will make perfect. So far 5 birds done in a couple of hours for 2.3kg of chicken breasts.

The last few chickens I will remove legs and perhaps pluck a whole bird to get much more meat but that involves more skills to be learnt.

What would you do with 20 chickens no one wants in winter? Keep them as pets?

Next spring we'll get a new flock and I think repeat the process, have the eggs until they stop laying, then have the meat. At £5 a bird plus feed the eggs pay for the birds and feed and the meat then turns a profit allowing us to get the chicken area re-grassed and turned back into a nice home for the next lot. 

Buying your chicken from Tescos or KFC is all well and good but is it good meat? Were the birds looked after and were they killed by someone who cared for them? How were they treated and what chemicals were they pumped full of? Living in a town or city and getting all your food prepacked in a very expensive way really does hide the reality of real food and where it comes from. Doing everything yourself teaches you an awful lot very very quickly and I think teaches you to appreciate your food more. 

Our birds were well looked after and died calmly while having a cuddle under my arm and they will be appreciated on the table.

Anyone else interested in keeping chickens for eggs and meat and doesn't know how or what to do just ask. I'm no expert but I have been there done that.  


  1. Was this inspired by my confession of squeamishness in the deer post? ;)

    My parents and sister keep chickens for eggs, and I'd love to do that if I had space to fit everything in. They can't bring themselves to kill them though, so they pick breeds that typically don't have a long post-laying life. It isn't a matter of upbringing either, since my grandparents kept chickens which were killed for meat when my mother was growing up.

    I guess it's something that's very hard the first few times, but once you get used to it you become desensitised. It's just a lot of people never get over that first hurdle.

  2. The post was inspired by the fact something had to be done by Christmas. The don't view if squeamish was partly for your benefit...thanks for spelling and using the word I meant to :)

    Yes, getting over the first hurdle is hard, but after that i manage to convince myself I'm doing the right thing. Writing the post is also part of convincing myself as well as documenting what we are doing and why.