Monday, November 3, 2008

Plucking Chickens

Chicken Plucker

We finally slaughtered all of our meat birds about a week and a half ago. It's not a fun job, but when it's done and you have 30 delicious organic chickens in the freezer, it feels worth it.

Folks often ask how we do it, so I'll share the process here.

We start by getting all the material ready. DH sharpens the knives and hangs three ropes from a rafter behind the manure barn.

My station is at the edge of the compost pile. I set up an eight-foot folding table with the plucker on top. And then on the ground I have a portable burner where I bring a large lobster pot full of water up to about 150°F. I have a digital thermometer that I keep in the water. The temperature should remain as constant as possible. Throughout the day I continually turn the burner on and off to maintain the right temp.

We also have a large bucket of ice water for cooling down the chickens, once plucked.

Once we're all set up, the process goes like this: DH gets a chicken from the coop. He hangs it upside down by its feet (using a slip knot so he can do it with one hand). He then slits the throat to bleed the chicken without cutting off its head. The chicken loses conscience almost immediately.

While that chicken is dying, he goes to get another.

When the chicken is dead, he brings it to me. I dip it into the scalding water for about 30 seconds (longer if the water has cooled off, shorter if it is too hot). As a test, I pull off a bunch of feathers from the legs. If they come off easily, it's ready. If bits of the feathers stay in, I dip the whole chicken back in for 10-15 more seconds.

Then I hold the chicken up to the plucker (that weird contraption in the photo above) and gently let the plucker rub against the chicken. The feathers come flying off, towards the compost pile. (If the skin comes off, it means the water is too hot, or I've left it in too long. If the feathers don't come off, the reverse is true.) I try to take advantage of the momentum of the plucker to hold the chicken at all the proper angles for the feather to come off all over. It takes about a minute or so to do the whole chicken.

Then I hose it off and put it in the bucket of ice water. Later DH will retrieve the chicken, bring it inside and cut it into pieces. He has a new way of taking out the intestines and what not which seems great... Instead of cutting around the anus and sticking his hand in and pulling (which is the way we learned), he cuts off the legs and wings, and then cuts around the back and breasts. He can then open the chicken laterally and pull out all the innards much more easily. He then cuts the livers free of the gall bladder (without cutting it or letting it spill its bitter contents on the meat).

We use freezer bags to collect a meal's worth of legs, or breasts, or whatever, and a sharpie pen to label them. We leave the meat in the refrigerator for at least 24 hours before freezing. I think this makes it taste better and have a better texture.

Last time, we tried giving Laika the heads, but she wouldn't eat them. This time, we separated the necks from the surrounding skin (and head) and gave them to her that way. She loved them. She also eats the feet and the wingtips.

And that's it, over and over for about 4 hours.

It's really no fun but we generally only do it once a year and then we have this amazingly tasty free-range, organic chicken! Yum!


  1. We have three old barns on our yard and one of them has a chicken koop in one end. Hubby keeps trying to convince me we should raise chickens, but I don't know if I'm interested. It's pretty much exactly the butchering that I'm not thrilled with, but you do a great job of making it sound like it's not too big a deal. And I sure do like the sound of having 30 chickens in the freezer!!!

  2. We started out with laying hens, partly so we wouldn't have to slaughter any right away. But we ordered roosters as well since we didn't know they would send us some extra roosters automatically. We ended up with six roosters and by February (we got them in May) they were so awful to the hens that I was totally ready to get rid of them. In fact, I did the slaughtering that first time. I was so mad at them :)

    And once we did it, and realized we could do it, it was a big relief. Like we could really do this animal thing. It took us a couple years to work our way up to meat chickens, and I wouldn't ever do it as a business or even too often, but once a year, or maybe even twice, really isn't so bad.

    I was really happy with this new breed. We had tried the "Cornish Rock Crosses" which are the typical meat breeds. They get very fat very quickly but are also lethargic and rather slovenly and pretty much refuse to go outside.

    The Colored Range Chickens that we got from JM Hatchery were great. They lived out in a portable coop, went foraging around in the grass, and were so much cleaner than the Cornish ones. And they still got nice and fat. I really recommend them.

  3. I don't know how you can kill them. Poor things!

  4. Very interesting and I like the practical guide to chicken slaughter and plucking. Many years a vegetarian I now eat meat - mostly chicken - and I'd far prefer one of yours to the ones from the butcher that she says are 'ecologic' but you just never know. Do you have some COrnish connection or is it just the chickens? Kate

  5. Cornish crosses... they're just the typical breed that folks raise for meat. They get big relatively quickly (though not as quickly as the almost upsettingly gluttonous Cornish Rocks).

  6. I love this site. I hope one day I may be able to kill 30 free range or organic chickens at one time. I do not have a machine to pluck the feathers, I do it the old fashion way. Right now I only kill one bird at the time. Then I make chicken and pastry.


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