Thursday, February 26, 2009


Today I butchered Fatboy
and I will share with you my methods.
First and most important is to take
a quiet moment to honor the sacrifice.
One life is to be given for the sustanance
of another and so the food chain goes.
Be pleased in the fact that you have provided
a good and rich life filled with the best feed
and greens and bugs, warm shelter and respect.

I enjoy butchering.
I know it sounds weird, but I find it a meditative
way to spend time.
It is quiet and peaceful.
I do it alone.
I have good music or a good book
in my headphones and my hands are busy.
I am following in the footsteps of
women that have provided food for their
family tables for thousands of years.
Good, fresh and healthful food.
And I am whole.

All that being said....

I use the 'broomstick' method to kill my birds.
I have tried all of the different ways in which to dispatch
a chicken and settled on the broomstick..or rather the stick.

Tie the birds feet.
Grasp it by the legs and lower the head to the ground.
Place the stick across the neck..
and do this quickly. Be kind.
Step on the stick to each side of the neck
and place all of your weight against the stick..
really press downward.
Pull upward on the legs.
Not too quick, but rather steady.
You do not want the head to slip out from under the stick.
That would be cruel and cause suffering.
Once you are sure of the force that the stick can bear
without slippage, give a good YANK.
You should feel the give of the neck separating.
The deed is done. It is all over.

The bird will begin to flap violently.
Fear not.
The bird is no longer functional, it is just the body's
reaction and is purely muscle and nerves.
Hang on tight for the movement can be strong in a large bird.
I try to hang the bird just as this begins to take
advantage of the movements to assist with bleeding out.

Once the bird is hung take a sharp knife and slit the neck.
Grasp the bird's head and tilt it to expose the neck
and slice across the sides.
There is no need to go terribly deep,
just through the skin and vessels.
As you can see, I have left the throat itself intact.

Now, here is where I veer off the page.
Against all textbooks and hand-me-down knowledge and
contrary to everything everyone else in the world does during butchering..
I dry pluck!

I hate to scald. God! It stinks and the smell stays on your skin
and in your hair and you can never be sure of the temperature
or the time and you mess up the skin and it tears and it STINKS!

So, I dry pluck. The method of killing I think helps
with the ease of the release of the feathers. I have tried to
dry pluck after the old axe treatment and found it difficult.

I take a few feathers in my fingers and pull downwards.
Then I tuck the feathers into my hand and pull some
more and repeat until my hand is full.
It is not unlike the hand movement for picking beans.
Do not try to pluck huge handfuls all at once.
This will tear the skin.
You will find that on the small belly feathers
that release easily you can take more,
but on the back feathers and on the feathers
with larger, thicker quills you can only take a few at a time.
This may seem like it would take forever,
but it really goes quickly.
Especially if you use two hands to go at it.

I have a large trashbag
lining a 5 gallon bucket to catch the blood and feathers,
]but without fail, no matter how calm a day,
as soon as I go to pluck the wind picks up.
So I trade up for a large black trashcan to catch the feathers and
hold them deep and out of the breeze.
I still have feathers all over the place,
but it is better than just letting them fly everywhere.

And, Yes! He is as big as he looks.

I do not pluck the wings or the tail feathers or the neck.
I know I will just be chopping these parts off anyway.
I also do not bother with the 'socks'
as I will be removing the lower legs.
Once the bird is more or less clean I take it down
and move to the gutting table where I chop off
the wings, neck, tail and lower legs and feet.
It may not be a pretty butchering job,
but we don't really eat the wings.
I do know how to make the clean joint breaks like you see in the
store bought birds, but I don't bother for just us.
If I sell a bird, I do it correctly.

You may notice the fiercesome looking weapon lying next to the bird.

This is my tobacco knife. Built like a hatchet or a tomahawk, but with
a very, very thin blade that can be sharpened to surgical sharpness.
A nastier, more lethal weapon I have never seen. Light and easy to wield,
it makes butchering a very easy task.
One quick blow to go through the leg bones and the neck,
but delicate enough to be accurate to remove the tail
while I hold it in the other hand.
If I ever missed......

Now comes the part that gives everyone the most trouble.. gutting.
It has taken quite a few years for me to become proficient at it, so
fear not if you are not good.
Lie the bird on its back with the legs towards you.
Pinch the skin of the belly between your fingers and lift up.
Take your sharp kitchen knife and begin to saw back and forth
towards your fingers and lifting the skin more and more as it cuts away.
This gives you and opening into the skin.
Take both hands and stick the fingers into the hole in the skin
and pull the skin apart to enlarge the opening.
I cut away the excess skin and toss it into the bucket/bag.
You should have a membrane staring at you now.
Pinch the membrane up a bit and make a slice in it.
Stick in your fingers and pull it open.

Grab your knife again and lift some of the skin along the bottom of the opening
and begin pulling and cutting towards the vent.
Do this on both sides.
Carefully grab the skin near the vent...
I leave the vent feathers in place so that I can grasp
them ... and slice alongside the vent on each side
so that your birds looks like what you see above.

Now there is only one thing left to do... Stick your hand into the bird.
I place my hand in working along the outside edges first,
loosening the inner membrane as I go.
I do first one side and then the other and as far
towards the neck as I can reach. I work my fingers
and tear the membrane from the ribs.
Once I am in all the way I start working the innards towards
the opening, twisting my wrist as I do this.
Then just get a good grip and pull steadily.
You do not want to tear anything apart.

I am not going to kid you... this is just plain gross. It is warm and sticky.
The pieces parts squish out between your finger.
So, if this is your first time... just go with it. Beer helps alot.
Once all of the obvious parts are out you may cut the rest of the vent away.
This gives you intestines and your vent in one piece
and you don't have to worry about soiling
your bird with poop... which I have done.
Yep. I said it. I got poop on my bird.
And more than once until I got the vent thing down.
But be at peace with the knowledge that your bird ate well
and the poop is nothing but digested grass and veggies
and bugs and fairly 'clean'.
It also washes off.

Now, tilt the opening towards the light and look inside.

See those BRIGHT pink sponges laying against the ribs of the back?

They are the lungs and you have to go get those.
And they do not want to come out.
They are adhered to the ribs and the only way
to do it is with your fingernails.
So, stick your hand back in and begin to run your nails
under the edges of the lungs and lift away.
Then scoot a bit further and scrape and lift again.
Repeat on the other side of the spine.
You may not get all of them at first, but the rest can be gotten
out when you are rinsing out the bird and
you can see more clearly what you have left behind.

Your bird is almost done.
The only thing left is to deal with the esophagus and the trachea.
Rotate the bird until you have the neck facing you.
Take your kife and just start cutting all of that skin and membrane away.
You will see the two tubes. Pull them away from the membranes
and wrap them around your
fingers and pull. They will slip right out of your fingers.
I usually have to take my bandana or rag
and grip with that and pull.
If your crop did not come out with the guts,
this is the time to pull it out of the top.
This is where you will understand why all of the books
and websites told you to withold feed.
It is a much nicer task if the crop is completely empty than trying to pull it
out full of corn and grass and feed.
On occasion I have had to unexpectdly butcher a bird that had a full crop.
I have yet been able to do it without spilling the contents all over the place.

(Under what circumstances does a person have to 'unexpectedly' butcher a bird?
If I can catch a hawk in the act of taking one of my birds
I take the bird back and eat it myself.
I will not eat after a mammal, but I will eat after a raptor.
They make a nice clean kill.)

Your bird should be clean now and ready for a good rinse and scrub in the sink.
I run my hand in the cavity to make sure I have removed all pieces parts.
Then I place the bird in a cooler filled with salt water to soak for three days.
The salt in the water helps to draw the remaining blood
out of the tissues and the three days is to let rigor come
and go so that the bird will be tender upon cooking.
I have 2 qt juice bottles filled with water in my freezer.
I place these in with the bird to keep the water icy cold without diluting
the salt and replacing whenever they start to thaw.

And there Fatboy will stay until I cook him up.
I will be sure to post pics of him in all his yummy goodness.
There really is nothing quite like a fresh bird.

If you have questions or if I was unclear in anyway,
please speak up and I will answer and/or amend.
I hope that this has been interesting and that someone
took something away from it that they can use.

Butchering is not necessarily a part of homesteading,
but everyone should at least know how it is done on paper.
You just never know when you may have to use that info.

For me it is the culmination of why I put forth the time and money into my birds
and I view it as I do my garden and the harvest I glean from those efforts.
I take pride and feel peace from my time in the barn or in the fields.
I feel in touch with those who have come before me.
How many women over how many ages have swung a hoe
or slid their hand into the body of a chicken.
I think of them as I knead bread, my hands sticky
and floury and as I bend to taste my stew, bringing the
spoon to my lips to test for need of more herbs or pepper.
It is the completion of the cycle... from the hatching to the roasting
or from the planting to the harvest.
A bit of me and a bit of history in every bite.

A quick addendum:
I said that I butcher alone, but you will notice
Sweet Husband in the top shot.
See, I did not deal with Fatboy any longer.
He was in a large hutch at face level and he has
gone at me at few times when I opened the hutch.
So, in order to retain my beauty I refused to go near the bird.
Sweet Husband was nice enough to fetch him for me this morning
so that I could butcher.. thanks Sweet Husband.
but don't tell him his face ended up in the shot. sssshhhhhhhhh

And I am pretty sure that when I went to the school to pick up the boy I was the only mommy there who noticed a fleck of chicken blood in the cuticle of her nail. Out, Out damn spot.


  1. This was great! Thank you so much for sharing this! I think I may attempt removal of the guts next time! :)

  2. Excellent explanation and photos! I had to learn how to butcher in the last year, but luckily hubby had done it before and was a patient teacher. Even when I got poop on the bird.

    Lisa (Mom Of Four)

  3. Thank you for the great post! I don't have chickens (yet) but I will some day and your tutorial is very helpful.

    How about rabbits? I do have Angora rabbits and would like to breed a couple of does this Spring, but only if I know I can butcher any culls.

  4. Awesome! I hope ya wore gloves when handling your camera LOL
    We did the scalding thing our first year and YUCK it was nasty that smell.

  5. Nope.. no gloves. But I did have a handy bandana and some fresh water for to rinse myself.
    As far as rabbits.. I do keep rabbits and I have butchered rabbits, but I am not very good.
    It is the pelvis area that messes me up. The last one I did peed all over itself as I was trying to cut around the anus etc..
    All very confusing.
    I do have a buck that is over due for the freezer and when I do him I will try to post about my utter failure once again. I ain't proud.

  6. Thanks for posting that! The "broom handle" method, I guess you would call it, seems very easy and humane. This post makes me feel as if I could do this myself without much ado. You explained extremely well, and in lay men's terms. Thank you, thank you.
    I for one would like to see pictures from the rabbit as well whenever you do that.

  7. Thanks so much for your post! I've always wondered if I should wait to allow rigor mortis to dissipate, but haven't found any facts on it before. Now I'll start waiting three days before eating!

  8. Great post! Thanks for the descriptive details. We slaughtered our own for the first time last year... and we weren't very good at it.

  9. An alternate reason that you may have an emergency butchering session is that just as you sit dinner on the table, you hear a gunshot blast from the front porch.

    You race to the porch, potholders in hand, to discover that the unruly yard rooster has 'made out' with your darling hubby for the last time.

    You skip dinner and head to the kitchen to get the buthering knife...

    Job well done!


  10. Outstanding explanation and pictorial. Thanks for sharing.


  11. Very well done. I am looking forward to butchering some in our flock and have not done it before. You directions are well-written and easy to follow.

    I would like to know how old the roo was - I have some 2 year olds and have been leary of butchering them for I was told they would be too tough for anything other than stew.

  12. oh.. let's see... I think Fat Boy was 1 1/2 years or so. He was no spring chicken.
    If you brine soak them for a few days and then cook them stove top, low and slow with a splash of stock in the bottom they will be very tender.
    Do not attempt to roast them in the oven. Very tough then.
    So, pick a nice day and add to your menu!!

  13. Great photos and explanations. "Fat Boy" looks just like "Big Blue" that I killed last weekend.

    There really is a sort of art to it that I haven't quite gotten down yet-- I always wind up cutting into the intestine, with, of course, the poop problem.

    Or I'll miss a bunch of pin feathers, or not quite get all the neck removed, or scald the bird too hot and wind up with a skinless messy "pluck."

    My mother-in-law told me about the broomstick method, and it's really the most foolproof, I think.

  14. How much salt do you use in your brine?

    We always soak the birds in salt water with ice after cleaning, but never measure the salt and only soak for a few hours. Our RIR roosters are good, but a little chewy. I would like to try the longer soak method you use.

  15. Thank you for this! While I am not ready yet to kill and eat my own birds I do have to dispose of one that appears to be quite poorly. One step at a time - it may stand me in good stead if/when I should have to kill a bird for our own consumption.