Our First Time Slaughtering Chickens: What Was it Like?

It's one thing to read about experts butchering backyard chickens, but another thing to do it yourself. What's it like for a chicken processing newbie?

Years ago, when Jesse and I first started talking about our dreams of homesteading, we knew we wanted to be self-sufficient on a high level and that included being responsible for our own food and meat. We’ve been so preoccupied with developing our property and practicing our construction skills that we put food on the back-burner. Little did we know that we’d be blindsided with the opportunity of slaughtering chickens ahead of schedule!

This is not a post on how to slaughter chickens. But if you do want to know how, we’ve linked to some books on the subject below.

We simply want to share our story of how it all went down for us because it’s not quite what we expected, and yet it is at the same time. We hope that in sharing this story it can help others see the opportunities they may be presented with, show what it’s like killing an animal from a first timer’s perspective, and also remind those that have slaughtered an animal how intimidating it can be for those that haven’t done it before!

Best Resources for Raising, Slaughtering & Butchering Chickens

The Permaculture Chickens Film – Justin Rhodes is one of the most well-known names in the chicken industry and for good reasons. This is his 2.5 hour-long premium film on raising chickens from baby chick to plate… also, he has a free video series but doesn’t cover the actual slaughtering (but it’s the gateway drug to chicken ownership, I promise you that much).
The Encyclopedia of Country Living – This is really an overview book of how to do all things country living… not just butchering a chicken.
Butchering Poultry, Rabbit, Lamb, Goat, and Pork: The Comprehensive Photographic Guide to Humane Slaughtering and Butchering – This book just covers everything you’d need to know about butchering on a very high level.
Raising Chickens For Dummies – Self-explanatory. This is about all-things on raising chickens specifically, but less about butchering meat as in the book above.

The Chicken Butchering Opportunity Started With a Phone Call

The other day, Jesse and I were working on finishing up our timber frame battery box when our neighbor gave us a call. He let us know that he had a couple of roosters if we wanted to butcher them for meat. We both know that there are a million things we want to learn but that opportunities don’t always come at ideal times, so after pondering the opportunity briefly we said yes.

Our neighbor let us know that the roosters were in his barn in a crate and that they didn’t have to be butchered that day, but we knew that it would be best to get it done as soon as possible. We let him know that we’d pick them up when we were ready and so we set off trying to figure out what we needed to do.

chicken slaughtering - roosters in cages

Research & Trying to Find a Mentor

We jumped online to see what we were getting ourselves into. I found a couple of great videos (like this one… yes you have to subscribe to his email list to get it) on how to humanely butcher chickens and felt confident that we could get the job done.

However, we realized that the best option would probably be to find a mentor. We don’t take taking an animal’s life lightly, and we knew that we wanted our first time to be good so that we were encouraged to continue pursuing the skill. We knew that if things went badly (we couldn’t even imagine what could possibly go wrong but that there was potential for wrong to happen) that it could leave a sour taste in our mouths, making us less eager to dedicate time to the skill in the future.

We called around but since we were short on time and didn’t feel that we had a large list of folks to call, we realized that for the sake of time we were going to need to tackle this on our own.

Luckily, Jesse and I feel that we can do most anything that we put our minds to, so we set forth with confidence.

Setting Up Our Work Station Before Getting the Roosters

Before picking up the roosters we wanted to make sure that we had everything ready to go. Based on our research, we realized that we were missing a few things including a kill cone (lots of people make their own but we wanted something designed for the task our first time) and a large pot that could hold hot water to submerge the roosters in to loosen up the feathers.

getting ready to butcher chickens
Our outdoor work station consisting of a table and stove.

We ended up taking a drive to pick these things up. Yes, it was a bit of running around and we had to spend more than a few bucks to get these basic things, but we figured that we weren’t doing it to save time or money but rather to invest in our education.

Once we had everything we needed, we set everything up so that when we had the roosters we could get straight to work.

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Arrival of the Roosters – Time to Get ‘er Done

Once we came home with the roosters (both were in a fairly small cage) we headed straight to the kill cone. I was pretty intimidated about getting the rooster into the cone and doing the actual kill so I wanted to get it done with quickly before I thought about it too much.

preparing for chicken butcher

I picked up the rooster and started walking to the cone. So far so good, I thought, until the other rooster made an escape!

The escapee took off up the hill and it was clear that he had no intentions of stopping. I put the first chicken back in the cage and set off up the hill to go help Jesse recover the rooster.

We spent almost an hour chasing the rooster up and down the hillside. The rooster took flight multiple times, covering long distances for a rooster, and it became clear we weren’t going to be able to catch it with the tools we had at our disposal.

Two people trying to catch an escapee chicken seemed impossible, especially on a hill.
Two people trying to catch an escapee chicken seemed impossible, especially on a hill.

At some point, I lost the rooster completely as Jesse made the executive decision to get the .22. Upon his return with the gun, we spotted the rooster high up in a pine tree, with no intentions of coming down.

Long story short, we were able to get the rooster to fly out of the tree and corralled him to a safe spot where we were able to safely shoot him. Jesse was able to get him right in the head on the first shot.

Now, I know that chickens tend to flop around immediately after their death but I didn’t expect it to be so dramatic. The chicken did multiple backflips down the hillside and all we could do was watch it, hoping we didn’t cause severe injury and suffering rather than immediate death.

The rooster eventually stopped moving and we were able to confirm that we did shoot it in the head, so we’re pretty confident there was no suffering but since we haven’t done this before, we weren’t happy about it and felt that things should have gone differently.

Rooster #2 – Much Smoother

After the escapee rooster was dead, we turned our attention back to rooster #1. We tried not to dwell on what just happened but put our energy into making this kill go much smoother.

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We were able to calmly pick up the rooster, place it in the kill cone, but had trouble getting its head through the bottom of the cone. We panicked at the thought that we bought the wrong sized cone. We were able to work our fingers up the end of the cone and gently pull the head and neck down. Once the rooster was stable, we made our cut.

chicken slaughtering kill cone

This was a little hazy, but I believe I made the first cut with our brand new knife that we bought for this task specifically, although I don’t know much about knives to be honest. I knew where to cut roughly and that I wasn’t to cut too shallow or too deep. There was blood coming out but I felt that more should have been coming out, so Jesse took over and made the cut a little deeper.

During this time, blood was pouring out of the neck and into the bucket quickly, but it still appeared that the chicken was breathing. It also was blinking its eyes, as well as thrashing about in the cone as was expected.

We felt we did all the research we could do so at this point, were were just hoping that this is how it was supposed to go and that we again didn’t cause unnecessary suffering to the rooster.

After a couple of minutes, the rooster was good and bled out when we removed it from the cone to finish butchering.

Processing the Roosters – Easy as Pie

Processing the roosters was the easy part for us. Because we have lots of experience feeding our cats a raw diet, neither of us is very squeamish. We submerged the roosters in scalding water (a 22 quart stock pot) for about a minute or so, dunked them after in cold water to stop the potential cooking process and then proceeded to pull off the feathers.

soaking chicken in scalding hot water

Plucking the rooster was pretty simple, and then we were on to removing the guts.

We followed along a YouTube video to ensure that we didn’t miss anything. We are pretty familiar with the internal organs of chickens, but there were a couple of things we didn’t know. However, following along with a video made it pretty easy and non-intimidating.

plucking chicken feathers

We saved the feet and throats for bone broth, and then we saved the heart, liver and lung for the kitties. The kitties loved it.

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We cleaned off the roosters when we were done, put them in zip lock baggies, and tossed them in the freezer. One we gave to our neighbor and the other is to cook up on another day.

chickens

Lessons Learned On Our First Butcher

I think there are a few key takeaways we have from this experience which are as follows:

  • Opportunities come at sometimes inconvenient times and it’s frequently a good idea to say yes: We don’t always say yes to opportunities to learn new things, but we always try to keep in mind that things rarely happen on our schedule and we rarely find ourselves with free time. Sometimes, we feel like we’re drinking out of the opportunity fire hose, but we really try to not let the best of the best pass us by. Butchering our first animal was something that we were really eager to get under our belts so that we felt confident taking on additional similar opportunities such as harvesting roadkill.
  • Some things we really wish to have a mentor for rather than figuring out on our own: Many things we’re confident doing on our own for the first time as the mistakes are all bearable, such as making lumber our first time. There isn’t much harm done in making the wrong cut on a board. However, we really want to learn the best way of butchering and even hunting because the life of an animal is something we respect highly. We never want to feel like we’re “winging it” when it comes to taking a life. We hope to find a mentor on this at some point in the future and maybe we can get a proper introduction.
  • Becoming self-sufficient isn’t something that happens overnight but is a life-long process: In the end, we try not to be too hard on ourselves when things don’t seem to go smoothly because we know that we are continuously learning. We try to do our research, go into new things being informed, try to be as responsible as possible and then hope for the best. We try to learn from every experience and use it to better ourselves and our future.

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Additional Resources

Like I said, this isn’t a how-to post, but I do want to leave you with additional reading information for those that are interested. There IS a lot of great information out there on how to humanely slaughter chickens and animals, as well as a couple stories of other homesteaders that have documented this process. Have fun reading!

  • Abundant Permaculture: Multiple people recommended I check out Justin Rhodes video on chicken butchering, so I did. Once you visit his website, scroll down until you see “Humanely Butcher”. You’ll have to sign up for his email list to get the video but you can unsubscribe at any time.
  • How to Butcher a Chicken: This is a post by another blogger… no video, just a post. She prefers to cut the head entirely off rather than just slit the throat. I personally don’t know which is better but there seems to be debate on the matter.
  • Butchering Backyard Chickens: Another great post with some great photos.
  • Pastured Poultry Profit$: This book was recommended by multiple people. I assume it covers butchering a chicken but it seems that it includes a lot more. I’ve not read this myself, so if you’re looking for a good book on the subject, I’d probably read through the reviews and do a little more digging to see what it includes.

Get Involved!

If you’ve butchered an animal before, can you remember your first time and what it was like? Did anything catch you off guard like it did us? If you haven’t butchered an animal yet, do you have any interest in learning how? If it came down to it, do you feel that you would rather butcher your own animals for meat or would you rather be vegetarian? Let us know in the comments below!

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I am an aspiring homesteader on a journey to become self-sustainable and free. In my past, I've worked corporate jobs to make ends meet and get ahead a little; it didn't make me happy or confident in my future. Since taking the leap to self-employment and living a more simple life, my happiness levels have increased greatly and I've never felt more alive. I finally understand what I want in life and how to get there, and that is what this blog is all about.

Comments

  1. Lauren says

    Hey you guys! I’ve been following you for awhile now, watching your progress and projects and I just wanted to finally comment to say: I loved this video. The rooster taking off on you cracked me up & also made me feel so sorry you had to chase it! Next time, you could have some chicken-friendly snacks (mealworms, cheese, bread, etc) on hand to entice it back. I also appreciated how you were very respectful of the lives you took. Keep up the good work!

  2. Tom says

    Alyssa video of chicken butchering, reminds me of my first ,dad and I by the tree stump me holding the chicken dad with axe in hand, and then chicken running around with no head. Yours was much more humane

  3. Randy Swingle says

    I haven’t butchered a chicken in years but chopping of the head completely is the way we always did it with very good results. Use a machete or a sharp hatchet and the head is literally off in a second. My dad always held them by the legs and laid them on a big wooden block or stump. They would usually just lay there calmly. Once the head was off he’d let them run around and they would bleed out quickly. It was our job to keep an eye on them and when they stopped running hang them up to make sure they bled out completely. We often butchered on Saturday if we had a big Sunday dinner planned with family and friends.

  4. Linda Templon says

    You are doing a great job of living off the land. It gives a person the satisfaction of taking care of themselves. Good job butchering the chickens. Keep up he good work. Love your blog and looking forward to the next email.

  5. joe hatch says

    Just watched your video on the chicken processing. Having never done this before you did great!!! Honestly, I don’t think I had a chicken escape before so forgive me for being entertained by that :-)!! Yes, you probably should have had a mentor for your own peace of mind but honestly based on the video you did awesome. If you get into more chickens at one time I would advise getting a automatic plucker, it will make that job much faster when you 25 and not just 2. It looks like a washing machine tub with rubber fingers.

    I wish I lived closer, tell my friends whi raise chickens here in Vermont I work for beer.

    Good job, keep at it!

  6. Cassandra P says

    Thanks for posting this. At the bottom of the post, you mentioned the Encyclopedia of Country Living. Also a wonderful book to own is “Storey’s Basic Country Living” . I have found both books invaluable. We soon plan to start homesteading and have been practicing things along the way, like gardening and canning. Thanks for your sharing!!

  7. Lygalyn says

    Loved this. We had chickens when I was a youngster. Pick them up by the feet. If they try to get away don’t try to grab them, grab for the feet. Easier and usually quicker. For slaughtering when I was young, we hung them on a clothes line by their feet and walked up the line cutting their throats to bleed out. My parents – didn’t take the feathers off, they pulled off the skin and the feathers came with the skin. Now I didn’t watch this but all our cooked chicken was without skin. Oh, after they bleed out and before you cut them down, you can open them up and pull the innards out in one motion or two. Love your blog and life style. Wishing you well.

  8. says

    When I was 6 my mother arranged for me to mentor butchering rabbits with a neighbor. I soon became quite proficient. I also had lots of experience plucking chickens and ducks but I had never pulled the viscera. One day I brought the plucked chicken to my mother and she said “I have to leave right away, you will have to pull the guts.” I protested that I did not know how but was told If I could do rabbits I could figure the chicken out; so I did.
    I think the cone to restrain the wings is a good investment and saves a lot of mess. I think removing the head completely is best with chickens. Pruning shears can do the job cleanly and safely. When My uncle did turkeys he used a long thin filet knife to cut just the jugular vein which was easy to find on a turkey and they would bled out without knowing it. To remove the rabbit heads I found that the most humane way was to place them on a log and stroke their ears and balk until they were very calm then lift the ears and place a very sharp heavy cleaver at the base of the skull and press down while jerking up on the back legs.
    Glad to share my experience.

  9. Rob Thompson says

    Well done Guy’s, but make life a little easier for yourselves and the chicken by gently restraining the the chickens head from below the cone and remove it completely in one stroke. You need to have a very sharp knife and a positive action to ensure a humane kill.

    • says

      I used to prep the chickens for the farmers I worked for. I would get them when they were asleep with gloves grab both feet and put their head on the ground, put my foot on the head and pull till their neck broke. Very fast and humane. I would then hang the chickens from nails in a wall over a bucket and cut their head off and let them drain.

  10. Bill says

    I use to do this as a kid on my grandparents farm. It is best to just cut the whole neck and head off in one quick cut. After bleed out, immerse in scalding hot water will open the skin pores to make pulling the feathers out much easier. After all big feathers are off take a small stiff brush like a hand and fingernail cleaning brush and brush across the skin to get all the little pin feathers off. You may half to dip it back into the scalding water again to open up the pores in the skin to make it easier. Once you have a clean naked chicken body then gut and cut. You can do a turkey the same way. Old style galvanized tubes are great for pouring the scalding water into and dunking the bird.

  11. Airwaves35 says

    Once the chicken is in the cone I would think the easiest way to kill them would be to break their neck. Just a quick crink upwards & they pass quickly. Then the actual bleeding out is already just part of the cleaning process. Kudos on your respect for the birds & viewers!

  12. says

    I was nervous reading this post. You’re braver than I, Alyssa. It’s my husband that culls our excess (or ill) chickens. I do the incubating and raising part.

    He wanted to find a mentor in the beginning too, and when he asked on social media, the only response he got was from a young man. He said, “why do you want to kill your own? That’s what Kentucky Fried Chicken is for.” Not very helpful advice, to say the least!

    My husband said, the more he did it though, the more confidence he got, but without a mentor it was difficult to know what he should be looking for. He would use the axe and cut off their heads. He had to kill a chick once too, that couldn’t eat or drink, and we had to put it out of it’s misery. Which a sharp pair of secateurs did the job, very quickly. It’s not a pleasant business though. Whenever I feel squeamish, I think of that guy’s remark and remind myself, we ought to be at the business end, if we want to take responsibility for how we eat.

  13. Bill says

    I forgot to tell you about the rabbits. Rabbits are easier to raise than chickens and they do not make any noise and reproduce faster. A 100 lbs pounds of rabbit meat is way more cheaper than 100 lbs of any other meat. Rabbit meat has much less fat than any other meat. Much more healthy.

      • Burelle says

        Quails….even better than chickens, ducks or rabbits. They give you eggs and meat in large quantities. All you have to do is invest in an incubator and you’re set!

  14. says

    Oh, my… this one I had to see twice.
    You guise.. “I’ve never picked up a chicken bore” you said, and “People that grew up on farms have done this by the age of two” – YES, we did. Actually, I have to be honest, I was allowed to handle chickens, but not the eggs. As it turns out wobbly fingers – broken eggs. :)
    Thank you for sharing this video.
    Not many folks out there would dare to try slaughtering. So: two things up on braving it out!

    Marija

  15. Bill P says

    You guys are doing great. I just saw your video on harvesting from the wild and think it is one of your best. Keep up the good work, stay well and if your ever near NE Texas stop buy .
    P.S. ‘the chicken thing gets easier’

  16. Jacquie says

    Oh my what a day for you. I can only give this small tidbit of advise. Hens & Roos are much easier to get when they roost. So, if possible, early morning , 4ish or after sundown…..

  17. says

    I happened upon your post of killing the 2 roosters & i lol. My mom raised chickens when i was growing up & i would do the cutting up of the chickens. Some of mom’s customers wanted them cut up all the way & some wanted them left whole. I was excited when i saw you had a tin cone to put the chickens in. Mom always did that part. First she put a bucket of water on a hot plate to heat. It had 2 burners. Then she would take the chicken & hold it by it’s feet & proceed to put the head through the hole.She would hold the head & stretch it & while still holding the head would slit the neck…. She held the head til it quit bleeding sometimes kind of stretching the neck so it would get all the blood out. When a chicken isn’t bled all out it turns dark like it’s bruised like the picture on your post.when the chicken is ready she would take it out,she would hold the chicken with one hand& with the other she would put her fingers in the hot water to see if it was too hot if it was just right she would put in the water & get it all wet. Then she would pull it up & pull a few feathers near the head & then the body & then toward the tail . if they came out easy she laid it on a table & finished cleaning it. Then after the feathers are gone there is hair so she would light the other side & singe the hair off . Then it was time to cut the head off & the feet.Then it was time for me to make it whole by cutting it down the back & cleaning out the guts. We cleaned the gizzard,cut the heart off & the liver . we had special paper to wrap them in. & on the whole chickens we put the paper with the giblets inside. When i cut up a chicken i got .25 cents for each one & if they were whole i got .10 cents for each one… We did this every Thursday because mom took them & her eggs to Laredo, Texas every Friday because her customers were waiting for her…Thanks for reminding about how wonderful memories are!!!

  18. Sue says

    I have had chickens for a few years, and have butchered two of them The first one I tied upside down and slit it’s throat letting it bleed out, it seemed to take quite a while, uncomfortable. The second chicken I completely severed the head and it was over much sooner !!

  19. Elizabeth Fuerst says

    Alyssa, you were born to be a homesteader. Every time I watch your videos I am amazed by your courage, stamina and determination. All of your videos are great. Thanks for sharing your homesteading lessons.

    Best regards,
    Elizabeth

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