A First-Timer’s Chicken Processing Experience
I am not a vegetarian. I eat meat, and I know that food doesn’t just magically appear on grocery store shelves. My life has been full of the twists and turns that come on life’s roller coaster, and I am enjoying the ride! I’ve found myself doing things I never thought I would be doing, like starting a new job at 50 years old, learning how to dress a deer, and learning all sorts of things about worms, soil, and the microbes that live in it.
My sons and I recently processed chickens for the first time. I’m not a stranger to raising meat birds, but I never thought I’d process them myself. It seemed complicated, too scary, and possibly expensive to try, and what if I messed up?
Well, I did it with the help of my sons! I decided to start small and do a test batch. Getting processing appointments is getting pretty tricky. If you don’t process yourself, you can’t just grab extra chicks when available without first confirming the processor can take the birds in 6 to 9 weeks.
For us, going to the processor is a minimum time commitment of 4 but probably closer to 7 to 8 hours when all things are factored into it. I have drive time each way to drop off the birds and pick up the meat, my time, and a helper’s time to catch birds and wash crates. To make it worth the time and fuel expense, I need to commit to a reasonably large quantity, and feeding those hungry birds can be costly. I liked being able to raise a small number. Processing myself allowed me to take a small amount and save some freezer space for other things. It eliminated the small order fee from the processor. It allowed me to adjust the processing day as the time came to avoid some losses because broilers may develop heart problems if they are kept too long.
My kids found a used feather plucker and purchased it for me after my son and I went to a butchering demonstration last fall. I would highly recommend doing this if you can find one to attend It didn’t eliminate all my processing fears, but it helped a lot! Taking a life is scary. I don’t think any of us wants to do it, but as I said, I am not a vegetarian, so I want the meat I eat to be raised and processed in the best, most humane way possible. The initial dispatch was the hard part. We did it quickly and with as little pain as possible. The correct amount of pressure, knowing where to cut, and a good, sharp knife that is comfortable in your hand are significant.
First, we scalded the birds before plucking. This step took us 30-40 seconds per bird. Our water temperature was in the 130 – 140 degree range. Once we could easily pull some feathers off the bird, we put it in the plucker. That thing was great! I hardly had any feathers to pull. Having said that, if I was sticking to small quantities, I think I could have hand plucked and not hated it. It wasn’t as hard to do as I had guessed.
We kept the Butchering book by Adam Danforth close by for reference. It was a great resource while we did the rest of the processing. (I’m sure Butchering Chickens would have been great too.) What I learned was that once the feathers were gone, this looked mainly like a grocery store chicken, so it was easy for me to process the rest because it looked like the meat I was used to preparing. We quickly cooled the birds in an ice bath. Once cooled, I rinsed them off again and vacuum sealed them. They rested in the refrigerator for a day and then were put in the freezer.
So, it may be scary, but with some research and hopefully a mentor, I’ll bet you too can learn how to process your chickens if you want or need to. I plan to learn turkey processing next.
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