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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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