How Not to Slaughter A Chicken
Updated: Mar 18, 2021
Warning: This post gets graphic. Not recommended for kids or squeamish adults.
This post requires a lot of humility to write, since we have such a hard time admitting what we put these birds through. But, we feel it is worth it to save other backyard homesteaders from making the same mistakes.
Our Chicken Slaughter Story
This story, I like to think, is equal parts horrifying (to laypersons) and comical (to experienced chicken farmers). Unlike some other aspects of homesteading, chicken processing was something we feel we did not receive enough warning about. Most other farmers made it sound easy! It's no big deal! As long as you aren't squeamish, it's not hard!
We were told to get a sharp tool, a cone, a hot pot of water, and to go to town.
It was late summer when we decided to cull our first chicken. We had been given a couple of roosters in an unsexed bunch of birds we got, and our less-than-ideal ratio (4 roosters to 2 hens) was creating a gruesome sexual situation for those poor hens. The roosters had to go.
Let me start off by saying, it is never easy to kill your own animal. Even if it's just a bird, even if you truly believe in the omnivorous diet, even if you believe in the importance of animals as part of permaculture and sustainable farming and food, it's a lot different to take life when the living thing isn't on the other end of a gun - especially when it's your first time. We gave thanks and said our prayers for the rooster (once we caught him, which is another thing that nobody seemed to warn us about).
The first moral of the story is: getting a chicken into a cone-shaped item is not nearly as easy as some people make it sound. Chickens should be upside down with the head and neck sticking out, but the cone should be tight enough around their shoulders so they can't flap their wings. We tried all manner of items suggested to us .. traffic cones, soda bottles. We could not get the chicken's head through that tiny damn hole. We thus resorted to one person (me) holding the chicken upside-down (wings in) while the other person (Benny) cut the chickens head off. This is not recommended, for reasons I'll unfortunately describe. Make sure you have a proper chicken cone, and that it is attached to a wall, before beginning.
The second moral of the story: "any sharp tool" will not do for chicken-beheading. Especially not sharp garden snippers or shears. Seriously, just take our word for it. Also, an axe does not work too great if you have any concern for chopping off your own hand or your partner's - the feathers on a chicken are like a coat of armor, and a sharp axe will not cut through them in the wrong spot. Just don't do it. Get an insanely sharp knife, like a fish filet knife, make to slits in a V, and bleed the chicken out.
To give you a proof of concept, we had these a-ha moments as we watched our rooster, whom Benny had dropped (out of distress), running around with a broken neck, still caught in the gardening shears ... but very much alive and unwell.
It took some very grotesque butchering on my part to finish the job.
That rooster haunted us, I shit you not, for months. We had dreams about him every night. The level of guilt we felt about the lack of peace and painlessness in his death is something we will always use to inform our animal raising from here on. That rooster taught us a powerful, and traumatic, lesson. We did eat him, so there was that.
A lesson I wish we only had to learn once, but alas .. that is not the case.
The second time we attempted to cull two more roosters from our flock, I decided to go it alone (Benny didn't have the stomach for it; I am much less squeamish ... usually). This was the axe lesson. Trying another technique we had learned, I stretched the chicken's neck out along a wooden plank with the head stuck between two screws. I took an extremely sharp, brand-new axe, and *wham* - my hardest hit, felt like it did absolutely nothing. Chicken feathers are strong. Horrified that I had just bludgeoned that rooster, I let it go in shock, at which point I realized it was bleeding - just not quickly enough for it to die (if you've ever killed a chicken, you know their nervous system allows them to run around for a bit even after they've lost their head).
Picture this: it was Halloween, and there was a big white rooster, red blood spurting from its neck like a Hollywood trick, running around our yard. Our neighbors weren't impressed. Let's just say that story ended with Ben shooting both roosters to put them out of their misery. The meat was wasted, but we couldn't let them suffer any longer.
So let us impart some advice ... do not cull chickens outside. Do it in an enclosed area. Have the proper tools. Don't let go of the chicken. And perhaps most importantly, don't do it if you aren't experienced. Seriously. We now have a butcher who processes our chickens for $6 per bird, and it's the best $6 we will ever spend to avoid any more traumatic situations for all parties involved (this is something you'll want to look into before getting into raising meat birds, since many processing centers book up very quickly each season).
I am all about teaching our children where their food comes from and getting them in touch with the natural process of death and the cycle of life. What I'm not about is the fact that my incompetency made that process anything but natural. If you're good at raising animals, they are happy, with only one bad moment in their whole life.
Processing the Meat
This is more than I want to get into in this post, but I'm going to recommend you go watch this video on how to process a chicken. It is actually much more involved and requires many more steps than just "sticking your hand up the chicken's but to pull everything out". I recommend you familiarize yourself with this process, and maybe have the video on hand, before you go in for the kill.