I’ve been remiss in my blogging lately. But I’ve been busy, and I expect anyone who might read this would understand.
This post is about butchering my own chicken, the first time I’ve done this, so it’s kinda gory. Please do not read this if you’re easily grossed out by the words blood, innards, or slice. And so:
If there is one thing my foray into the world of homesteading has taught me, it’s this: Butchering a chicken is like childbirth.
I started out with two chickens in my “meat chicken” tractor. A chicken tractor is not, in fact, a very small John Deere made for foul and nefarious purposes. It is basically a mobile chicken house, that allows you to move your chickens all about the yard so that they can eat bugs, scratch up weeds, and ‘fertilize’ everywhere they go. One of ours was empty, so I put the two birds I received from a friend in it. They were free, as she had gotten them from someone at the University. They had been doing tests on them by feeding them saturated and non-saturated fats. Nothing harmful, in itself. But factory chickens do three things: lay in their feed trough and eat, move their head slightly to drink, and poop on the floor. They do not, in fact, walk around. So when I put these two out in the tractor they looked at me like I was insane and literally tried to levitate above this mysterious and obviously dangerous thing called grass.
It took the meat chicks about three days to figure out they had to learn to walk. Their legs are tiny, as they’re bred for breast meat. Their breasts, on the other hand, are so heavy they actually make it hard for them to stand or walk when they’re bigger. These two guys had a heck of a time walking from one end of the little 4′ tractor to the other, and even standing for long periods of time was difficult. But they figured it out, and began to flesh out.
And never stopped. In fact, one of them died last week under mysterious circumstances. As I did not know what had killed it I couldn’t take the risk of eating it (and while it was a slim chance I might get something from it, it was still too much for me). I buried that one, and watched the other. This week he was being particularly sluggish, but nothing a little feed couldn’t motivate him out of. And then yesterday morning, his leg broke. As I said, he’s a very heavy chicken! And it happens with these guys that their legs just break sometimes. It usually happens much earlier, if it’s going to happen at all. But down he went, and down he stayed. So, that was a clear sign to butcher him before he suffocated. Which, in hindsight, is what I believe the first did.
Now, I’ve seen a chicken butchered. And I’ve watched a lot of YouTube on the subject. But I wasn’t ready to butcher a chicken on my own. So I did what many homesteading wannabe’s have done before me: I did it anyway.While my worst case scenario had me coming out of it as a hungry, horrible chicken mutilator, I had high hopes that I could do it. I’d seen it done, what else did I need?
Now, usually you put a chicken upside down in a killing cone. I shouldn’t have to describe what that is. It’s a cone. That you put chickens in. To kill them. Their heads stick out through the bottom, and they just sit there until you do something. A tiny slice with a sharp knife to the jugular, a splurt of blood, and the chicken just goes to sleep. It might kick a little, but really it just drifts off to wherever chickens go after they die. No hatchets. No breaking the neck. No chicken running around for what seems like an hour squawking and bleeding all over everything until it finally passes. Just a deep nick, and sleep.
I didn’t have a killing cone. But you can also cut the bottom out of a milk carton and nail it to a post, and then put the chicken in it. Holding a chicken upside down makes it very calm, and even when we’re moving them from one coop to another we hold them like that. So upside down was the answer. But this bird was -huge-, and it wouldn’t fit in a milk carton. So instead I hung it from a rope by it’s feet. No easy feat (hee!) all alone with such a big bird, let me tell you! But I got him hung up, thanked him prayerfully for his life, and nicked him.
No, I didn’t get the jugular. So I tried the other side. And got a lot of feathers and eventually a small stream of blood. I waited for about five minutes while the yellowjackets swarmed in the warm blood, and then cut him more deeply on the first side. Ah, success! And a huge relief for me! The rooster went his way, and I continued. I cut off his head, which took about eight minutes of bloody slicing here and there until I hit the right spot, and then took him down to skin him.
Now, here’s where the memories of childbirth come in. And let me tell you, anyone who says childbirth is a beautiful thing is insane. It’s messy, bloody, smelly, gooey, inappropriate and just gross. Just like butchering a chicken. I had most of the blood out, which was good, but there was plenty of ick inside the skin to deal with. I had to slice off the skin slowly so I didn’t cut the meat, so I had my hand in the ick for quite a while. But eventually, after much more time than it should have taken, I had a soiled, sticky, wet, bawling baby boy! Oh, no, that was childbirth. I had a sticky, wet, shiny mass of chicken!
But it did squawk once… I was cleaning out the innards, and let me tell you they are appropriately named and should remain where they are safely out of sight at all times if possible, when I evidently grabbed the lungs and squeezed them. And that rooster gave out one last squawk that made me nearly leap out of my skin! The noise maker is evidently in the throat, and the sudden forced exhalation made me think the sun was rising again. Fortunately, that was the last of it’s dying gasps, and it settled into my fridge with no more struggle or sound.
Today we put it in the crock pot for several hours, stuffed with onions and rubbed down with Italian dressing seasoning mix. It was delicious! And while I ate, I gave thanks to that rooster once more for the life it gave for me. And I thought about all the gooey horrors of childbirth, and the amazing reward that comes afterward in the form of children. I won’t compare my children to a good chicken dinner very often, but in this case I think it fits well.
Thank you, rooster. You were delicious.