I have to disclose before you start reading this that there may be some sad and/or graphic information here, as were obligated to slaughter a chicken today. I’m torn between not wanting to gross anyone out with too many details, and wanting to be informative and instructional for those of you learning or planning to farm in the future. So I’m going to aim for the middle of the road, which will probably make no one happy, but you’ve been warned that if you’re squeamish about blood or death, or if slaughter on the farm makes you uncomfortable, you may want to skip today and come back tomorrow for another awesome farm kitchen recipe.
Remember when I told you about the new chickens we introduced and how it was all West Side Story in the coop? Despite all my efforts to keep them entertained, and to integrate them properly, there are still fights over pecking order. And if they peck each other and happen to draw blood, they will all just peck at that one until it’s dead. (Chickens be crazy, yo!)
Well, it doesn’t take long for them to do it either!! At 3pm I went out to the chicken coop to change their water and check on them, everyone was fine. Kyle went out at 4:30pm to do a check and discovered a chicken injured (by another chicken pecking her) very badly. I brought her into the house and cleaned her wounds in the sink, but she was badly hurt, barely able to stand, and pulsing blood. Unfortunately it was clear that she wasn’t going to survive.
It was time for our first ever on-site slaughter. If we had left her alone, she would die for certain, and it wouldn’t be very pleasant for her. If we slaughtered her properly we could do it humanely and at least use her carcass for food. Luckily, we had been talking about the possibility of getting some meat birds this year, and had started learning about the best and most humane ways to slaughter chickens. (These are our fancy “date nights”- sitting in our bed together watching YouTube videos of home chicken slaughter. #myfarmlife) So we knew what to do, we just had never done it before. Ideally, we’d be doing this in nicer weather, not the day after a major ice storm, and in better light (we actually had to hurry to prep, because we were losing the light quickly), but we managed.
Briefly, here’s the process we used for a humane slaughter:
- Use a regular traffic cone, cut off the tip so it’s a bit wider. If it’s really tall, cut off some of the bottom too. Nail the traffic cone upside down to a tree.
- Boil a large pot of water and have it standing ready. In the summer, we’d have this simmering over the fire pit, but today I had to do it on the stove and carry the pot out.
- When you’re ready, put the chicken upside down into the traffic cone. It should fit snuggly with its head hanging out the bottom. Being upside down causes the blood to rush to its head and it passes out. Peaceful, sleeping chicken.
- Using a sharp knife meant for this purpose, you need to cut the throat. This is the hardest part. Not too hard that you sever the head right off, and not too lightly that you don’t cut through the main arteries. Two cuts, downwards like a V, from behind the “ear area” to the base of the beak.
That’s it. The blood will drain out within about 5 minutes.
The deed was done. It was hard to do it, but I feel good to know that if need be, I can.
If you’re using the bird for meat, you next need to defeather. Dip the dead bird into the boiling water pot and swish around for no more than 1 minute. Too long and the skin will tear when you defeather, so take care with this step. After that, the feathers will be loosened and you can just pull them right off. Using a hatchet or large knife, cut off the head, feet, and wing feathers. Now your chicken is ready for the kitchen, where you can get the giblets and guts all out and cut it up as you like. This is a lot like a whole chicken from the grocery store.
The guts of a laying hen were actually really interesting. There were a variety of eggs in the various stages of development inside the bird.
It was really disappointing to lose a hen. But, I’m glad we had the opportunity to try slaughtering and that we were able to do it. The farm won’t sustain itself without us being able to slaughter animals, either for food, or for mercy like we did today. It was a learning experience. It was not easy to do, but we got it done and I’m proud of us for that. We will give thanks to this bird for the food its body will provide for us.