***DISCLAIMER: There are NO graphic/gory pictures in this post. There is a picture of the finished chickens at the end, in plastic bags, but they don’t look any different from what you would get at the grocery store. HOWEVER, I will go into some detail about my experience and what the process was. So, if you’re not down for that, please just skip this post.***
Chicken processing. Chicken harvesting. Chicken killing.
However you say it, it means you have taken the life of a chicken in order to eat it. That’s what I did on Saturday for the first time.
(I know not everyone will agree with doing this, or even eating meat in general. I understand that and respect that. I hope you will do the same for me as I explain my experience through this process. )
My friend, Misti, and I had been planning on doing this for weeks. Neither of us have ever done anything like this before, so we were both understandably nervous. But we set the day and time. Saturday. 1 o’clock. Her house.
As I’ve mentioned before, my neighbors have their house up for sale, so I wasn’t comfortable processing them here, in case they had a showing. (Trying to be a good neighbor here, guys.) She had also already gathered the equipment we would need, so it made sense to do it at her place. We hauled the birds over to her house a couple of weeks ago in preparation for Saturday.
What equipment do you need to process chickens? We decided on the “killing cone” method, so she purchased one of those. A killing cone is a large metal cone device you attach to a wall or a try by screws. This is where you put the bird to end its life and let it bleed out. You also need a big pot of hot water, and so a heat source as well. Then you just need a very sharp knife. That’s it. Simple enough right? I mean, this is what we learned from YouTube. Where basically you can learn to do ANYTHING. That includes killing and processing a chicken. Who knew??
So I arrive at Misti’s house and she has quite a bit already set up. The killing cone was attached to a tree. (By the way, her kids thought it was be HILARIOUS to write things on the cone. Such as “Chicken Killer 5000” and “Murder your pet chicken with ease!”…. thanks kids.) We started simmering the water, and then, I’ll be real with you, we downed a beer. Because this type of thing takes liquid courage, y’all.
Misti went to the coop and grabbed the first chicken. She held it on its back to calm it, and we both blubbered baby talk to it, petting it. It was looking like this wasn’t going to be something we could do. After a few minutes of this, we finally put the chicken into the cone and stretched its neck to pop out the bottom. The chicken was perfectly calm.
We were a damn wreck. I was holding the knife at this point, and COMPLETELY WIMPED OUT. I shoved it to Misti and was like “I can’t do the first one, you’re going to have to do it, dude.” She, being probably the nicest person in the whole freaking world, was like, “Okay that’s fine”. She was trying to buck up the courage to do the deed and was struggling. I kept trying to be a good cheerleader and say “You can do this Misti! It’s okay, it will be quick. You can do it!”. After what seemed like hours (it was probably less than two minutes), I finally found my grit again, and said, “Okay, if you hold it, I’ll cut.”
So before I could wimp out again, I did it. I slit a chicken’s throat. I killed it. It wasn’t as horrible as I thought. I mean, it was gruesome, but it was also peaceful. The chicken was dead within a second or two, and bled out completely within a minute.
The next step was to take the chicken and dunk it for several seconds in very hot water to loosen the feathers. Once the feathers loosened from the hot water, we plucked it. Next, it was time to do the actual processing. Honestly, at this point, it didn’t bother me anymore. It was just meat. It looked like any other chicken from the grocery store.
We really relied on our YouTube education at this point. We knew where to cut, what to be careful NOT to cut, and how to remove the internal organs. The most disturbing part about this part was when you had to reach in and pull them out, because it was still warm. Yeah, that part was pretty disturbing. We didn’t bother keeping things like the liver, heart, and gizzards, because frankly, we don’t personally eat those. You can use them for stock, but at this point we just wanted to get this done. The first bird took about an hour from start to finish.
The next 5 birds went much quicker, and it was easier each time. Though still very unpleasant. Plus we had a couple of birds that flapped out of the cone (this was after they were already dead. It was just muscle jerks), and sent us running and yelling. I’m sure that was actually pretty comical to watch, though was pretty damn traumatic in the moment.
At the end of it all, we each took three birds. They are resting in my fridge now, and one will be on our plate tomorrow. The rest are going in the freezer. I definitely couldn’t have done this without a partner in crime, and it was really good to have someone there who was as nervous as I was, and who took the gravity of the situation as serious as I did.
My take away from the experience:
I take no joy in killing a living creature. However, I’m proud of myself for rising to a challenge, and for learning a new skill. I’m happy these birds had a fulfilling life, and lived as chickens are meant to live. They free ranged, scratched around in the dirt, and had a pretty happy existence. I’m happy to know that the food I’m going to eat has fared better than any grocery store chicken. I understand the gravity of the decision to eat meat, and have gained more respect for my food.
Will I do this again? Yes. I may not choose this breed again (Cornish Cross). Well, not that I actually CHOSE it in the first place, considering I was told they weren’t meat birds at purchase. I may choose a slower growing bird next time. Honestly, I can’t say for certain at this point in time. I’ll be putting more research into it through the winter before I reach a final decision. But I WILL absolutely raise and process meat birds, at least for our own family’s consumption, next year.