Saturday, August 16, 2008

Chickens Are Ready to Eat

The following blog post and pictures may be disturbing to some people. I questioned if I should actually post this on our blog but there are a lot of people that were interested in how it went and what it was all about. Plus, it's what we did, it was a fair bit of work and it was a first for us all. So this is your last warning, do not continue if you don't want to see pictures of our "escapades".

Note: Steph posted her take on the day at her blog, go check it out at
and leave her a comment too!!

Today was chicken processing day. The chickens (see this post) we got with The Pyryt's back in June were finally big enough to butcher. I will write about it up here at the top and if you decide you don't want to see pictures you can stop before scrolling down. Steph and I drove out to Aurora yesterday and picked up some equipment for this morning. If you decide to raise and butcher your own chickens I suggest finding or renting equipment like we did. Go to for more information. Anyway, we picked up the scalder, the Featherman plucker and some killing cones. Joel headed down to John and Steph's at 7am and I followed after the boys woke up and had a quick breakfast. The first couple of birds took a while but we figure that we processed the last 14 in about 2 hours. Not bad for a bunch of rookies that didn't know what they were doing. Don't get me wrong, Steph and I have been studying since the day we ordered the chicks but studying and doing are completely different. Wes and Kim Betts, who are considering raising some birds of their own in the future, also joined us this morning. As we got into the swing of things this is how it played out. Note: I'm not holding back so if reading graphic posts might bother you then stop now. John and Joel would retrieve two chickens and bring them over to the processing area. The chickens were then put into the killing cones, head down and their throats cut quickly and cleanly with a sharp knife. The cones (and the guys) held the chickens snugly, which helped to keep them calm while they bled out. Keeping them snug in the cone and calm prevents bruising and unnecessary stress on the chickens. I have to say that Joel and John handled this part in grand style. They just did what had to be done, didn't complain and kept the day moving right along. I didn't do this part today but Steph did try killing one but had a brief moment of panic so John quickly stepped in and took care of the bird. Props to Steph for giving it a try though! After about 2 minutes of bleeding the birds were moved to the scalder. The scalder is set to cycle at about 150 degrees. Scalding the chickens for about a minute loosens the feathers and makes it much easier to remove them. Wes did a great job of keeping an eye on the clock for us. Now, a lot of people pluck their feathers by hand but we opted for the plucker. The Portable Plucker is a plastic bucket lined with a bunch of rubber fingers. As the water sprays down onto the bird(s) the bottom plate spins and rolls the chicken(s) around and the rubber fingers grab and pluck the feathers. As the feathers are pulled off they are washed down and out a chute at the back of the plucker. It took about a minute for this process! A quick spin and you have a clean bird ready for the butchering table. Kim, Steph and I manned the butchering table. After my first bird, I took to this part really well, by the end I could process a bird fairly quickly. The feet come off first and they were tossed into a pot to be made into chicken stock later. Then we'd loosen the skin around the head and, as gross as it may sound, pulled it right off. Slicing into the skin on the neck and peeling it back allowed us to loosen the crop from the body which would be later pulled out the other end. The neck came out next after a quick loosening around the shoulders with the knife and a twist or two. The neck along with the heart, kidneys and livers were all tossed into a bucket that Steph is turning into dog food. At this time you turn the bird around and remove the oil gland on top of the tail. Flip the bird over, make a small cut and pull it open with your hands. Pulling it open made for a cleaner flap at the end. After the skin was loosened up a bit then it was time to dive in, literally. You slide your hand in up along the back bone all the way to the front of the bird. Scoop your fingers down and pull back slowly and firmly. Laugh at the odd noises and strange feeling as the contents of the chicken come out the back end and onto the table. A quick cut down and around the vent and voila your chicken is free of viscera, well mostly free anyway. The lungs don't like to be removed. You have to get in there and scrape them out. Sometimes you could slide a finger underneath and loosen it up quite a bit. A quick check to make sure everything came out, a hosing off and into the cooler it goes. Like I mentioned above we would take the organs and set them aside for Sunshine. In a nut shell that's how we processed our chickens. The birds are now sitting in ice water to rest and will be frozen tomorrow night or Monday morning.


Our setup, the butchering table ended up off the left of this picture.

One last look, we figure they averaged 5-7 pounds each.

Two chickens in the cones. I took this shot after they were done bleeding. This is a great picture to show how the cones help hold them in place.

The dip in the scalder. The guys ended up using a stick and wooden spoon to hold them under. The dunking apparatus seemed to allow them to float up too much. It might have worked better had we had more chickens on it but doing two at a time it was just easier to poke at them.

Joel, Noah and Sunshine watching a bird spin in the plucker. All of the kids thought this was interesting to watch.
A bird taking a ride in the plucker.
The bird, all plucked, ready to head to the butcher table.

Joel inspecting the freshly plucked chicken before we got to it with our knives.

I have a few other pictures of us butchering but I liked this one because Sunshine kept looking back and forth. She couldn't figure out which one of us was more likely to drop a chicken part. Kim and I, sorry Sunny, kept it all on the table or in the appropriate buckets.

Stephanie going for gold! Sorry, the Olympics are on, I couldn't resist!

Look at that bird! Into the cooler you go.

Okay, here is another warning!! If you do not have a sense of humor you are not allowed to look at the next picture!

John, choking his chicken!


Chris said...

I forwarded this post to PETA. They'll be protesting on your front lawn soon. People who hurt animals rarely stop there.

Chris said...

P.S. - John (last pic) looks like he's done that before.

Suz... said...

I didn't look at the pics, Tiff...thanx for the warning. I did read your commentary though. I have plucked chickens by hand before...I think the plucker thingy you talked about would be much better...some of those feathers are hard to get out.

Johnson Family said...

PETA is more than welcome to join us for a chicken dinner when they show up. I make a mean spicy chicken wing!

Queen of Qwerk said...

You are all totally awesome! What a great hands on experience (especially John!). We take so much of this for granted not having a clue how much of our food gets to us. I saw hard work, lots of study time, kind raising, humane butchering. What a great team. Don't be surprised if you get asked to give classes!
You should all be proud. I know I am! Oh-do I need to embroider some t-shirts for you girls-"The Mother Pluckers"!!! Sorry, Tiff-couldn't help myself!

The Pyryt Nest said...

I want a shirt!!! I'll wear it with pride. We'll be posting some pics soon on our blog also.

Katie B. said...

WOW...I can't believe (actually I can) you went through with it...I do have to tip my hat to Joel who did what I think would be the hardest part...the initial slice..ooooooohhhhh!!!!! One question though...didn't you worry that the plucker would bruise the meat?

grandma ricki said...

Brings back memories- we did this one summer when I was a kid. I was in charge of pin feathers- refused to stick my hand inside a chicken. And I wouldn't watch dad slit their throat...

Shana said...

So...when/if Ron and I ever get some property for all of our current crazy animals and I get some more, let's some meat chickens will you come butcher them for me? I will raise enough for you to take half. ISn't that a great deal? HAHA! Way to go sis!

Johnson Family said...

Hi guys, just checking all the comments & see that there are a couple of questions. No, the plucker was actually very gently with the birds. It looks a bit crazy but the rubber fingers were very gentle on the birds. They just rolled around and came out clean. Shana...of course I would come up and help you!! We may work it the other way though, we'll bring our tractor, chickens, etc. up to you and leave some for your trouble come processing day!