Cleaning Your Chickens - Bring the Best to Your Table
One of the most important tasks for anyone trying to be more self sufficient, is putting quality food on the table.
The first step towards achieving this goal is raising the highest quality product possible. In the case of fruit we use pruning, mulches, organic fertilizers, and limited, judicious, spraying to produce tasty, safe fruit for our family. With vegetables time spent improving the soil and removing competitive weeds, will pay off in delectable meals. Fresh, nutritious foods are the reward for our hard work. Delicious rewards also comes when you raise your own poultry for the table.
Some people find it hard to raise an animal from a tiny baby and then butcher the animal for a meal. I can truly respect the choices of those who are vegetarian for these reasons.
Some people, however, tell me how gross it is that I raise my own birds to eat. They talk about how inhumane it is for me to kill and process my animals, while they continue to daily eat meat that they purchased at the grocery store, restaurants or fast food chains when it is almost certainly factory farm raised.
People like these cultivate ignorance. I have tried to share with some of them how most of the commercially available meat is produced. They will actually tell me they don't want to know.
Well I DO want to know!
I know the animals that I raise for my table are always treated with kindness and respect. I believe God gave us dominion over these animals. I also believe we will be judged on how we handle that responsibility and authority.
This is why my birds have clean water to drink, fresh air to breath, and get to enjoy the sunshine on their backs. I feed them the best foods I can and keep them in comfortable quarters. Their lives are short, because they are my food, but those lives should still be the best they can have.
I handle them with gentleness at all stages of their life, they are never afraid. I even go to the extra lengths by butchering in the evening after they have gone to sleep for the night. I pick them up half asleep and kill them as quickly and humanely as possible.
Yes, they still feel the pain of death and they still die ... but then again we all will.
I have been cleaning chickens for the table for many years now. Over these years I have developed a few little tricks that I am willing to share with you that make this unpleasant, but necessary, task easier for me. Every person is different. What works will for some, will not work for others. Even the way the birds are killed is a matter of not only preference but ability as well. After you take the time, care, and respect necessary to raise high quality table birds, you will want to do a good job of processing their meat as well for the best results.
Here are some tips:
First clean the birds young if possible. The younger they are the more tender and also easier to pluck and clean. Most of my Cornish X Rock crosses are ready at 4 pounds in just under 3 months. I corn feed them the last little bit for two reasons. First it slows their over rapid growth a bit and second it adds some fat to the meat. It will take a little longer for non-hybrid birds to mature. It helps some to limit the size of their pen. You want plenty of space, yet too much room and they spend all their time racing to and fro and end up looking like pro basketball players, tall and with stringy muscle. This is one reason chicken tractors work so well. The chickens have fresh pasture and exercise, yet they are confined somewhat.
When I am ready to start butchering I select a group of candidates and pen them up for 12 to 24 hours with free choice water, but no food. I find this purging time makes them easier to clean.
I only clean 4 to 6 birds per day. I raise them in batches of 25 to 30 for my family and my kids families and do all the cleaning myself. I have been doing it many years now and it still takes me about 20 to 30 minutes per bird. When I get done, however they are really clean. I only do the small number each day, because it is easier on me and I don't get as sick of it.
After your bird is killed remove the head and allow them to bleed for at least 5 to 10 minutes. They will flop due to nervous contractions in the muscles. Rest assured with no head they are dead. The old stories of a chicken racing headless around the yard are just that, old stories. After I remove the head, usually with a good hard pull on a young chicken, I put the bird on its back inside of a 5 gallon bucket. This will confine it while it twitches. A killing cone is probably the best tool for this job. It is a metal funnel large enough to hold a bird. The bird is placed head first into the funnel with the head out the bottom. After the head is removed the bird is held snuggly to bleed into a catch pan beneath it. Catching the blood you can more easily clean up after processing and some people use it by throughly mixing it into their compost bin.
After bleeding out, I scald my birds with a quick dip in water held at 160. You have to be quick at this temp or you could cook the skin, but I find this temp works best for me. I constantly monitor the temp with a thermometer. I use a extra large stock pot for the scalding tank. You can use the same water to scald as many birds as I raise with no problems. Large factories use the same water for many hundreds of birds. I also put a big squirt of citrus scented JOY dish washing soap into the water. It makes the scalding tank smell SO much better! An added bonus is the water saturates the feathers quicker and the skin is cleaner after rinsing.
I don't clean my birds in a usual fashion either. First, I never use a knife. I use sharp shears. It makes it so much easier. Since I cook most of my birds in pieces, instead of roasting a whole bird, I cut them up as I go.
For photos of my process, please click on the Cleaning Turkeys link in the left column.
The step by step photos that I took there are essentially the same for cleaning a chicken.
Process is as follows:
1. Kill bird (I am a neck breaker) then cut off head.
2. Place bird in a 5 gallon bucket to flop and bleed.
3. Bring to scalding pot and scald (usually 30 seconds or so pull a wing feather to check)
4. Move to sink and pluck. (wings then back - legs then breast).
5. Remove neck.
6. Remove feet
7. Remove wings and fine clean.
8. Remove thigh with leg attached and fine clean.
9. Cut leg from thigh.
10. IF YOU HAVE MORE TO CLEAN KILL ANOTHER BIRD AT THIS POINT and place in bucket to flop.
11. (Returning to first bird after washing hands well) Split carcass along rib bones on both sides to separate back from breast.
12. Fine clean breast.
13. Remove viscera from back, cleaning giblets.
14. Fine clean back.
After fine cleaning each piece it is immediately placed in a bowl of fresh salted ice water. When a bird is finished this water is drained off and the bird is moved to a LARGE stockpot full of more ICE water. I only soak the giblets in one soak and then they are drained and immediately frozen. When I have a pot full of birds I stop and package them up. I use Ziplock freezer bags and make sure to press out all of the air possible.
Package them like you eat them. If certain favorite dishes require white meat package it that way. We like legs and thighs for fried chicken best, and I always pack the backs and necks together for stocks and casseroles.
Age your meat for at LEAST 24 hours before freezing. I age 2 days in a spare refrigerator in our basement. Aging the meat a couple of days in this way makes the meat tender. I would age no more that 3 days. After aging I re-drain each bag (sometimes the soak water will drain to the bottom of the bag). I weigh each package, double bag it in a second Ziplock and clearly mark each bag as to what it is, date and weight with a sharpie.
It takes a lot of work to raise my chickens, so taking some extra time when I clean them just makes sense. I am trying to get a quality food for my family, better than I could possibly buy. With some time and practice you can do it too!