Belly up, neck first. Cut the neck skin just a little, then on the right side carefully peel the crop from the skin. Assuming the birds didn’t eat the day before it should be pretty empty, if not be extra careful because it can make a big mess. Turn the bird butt up towards you. Cut off the tail. Flip the bird and make a careful cut to open the abdominal cavity and cut around the butt hole. Again being extra careful to not cut anything beyond skin deep. Pull out the guts being sure to pull the throat and wind pipe out as well. Scrape out the lungs. Put the heart,liver and gizzard into separate buckets (if you want to save them).
This Post is Not Intended for Vegetarians. (or those who won’t eat named poultry)
Oh, my sweet Martha… actually she’s not very sweet, she doesn’t attack but she most certainly holds her ground, otherwise known as the top roost and pecks if you get too close. Since mid-summer Martha has marched back and forth on the roost in the coop, guarding the laying boxes, so I thought. She doesn’t move for anyone who tries to collect the day’s eggs and I’m not sure that she would move if one of the Ladies tried to get into a box. That has all changed.
I have been planning to keep George and Martha as a breeding pair. I received an incubator for Christmas and have plans to put it to good use hatching, turkeys, peafowl, chickens and who knows what else I will find. Unfortunately George has turned out to be a pansy and a jerk all at once. He either allows himself to be picked on by the chickens or is giving everyone in the coop a good run-around. As for Martha, she was caught in the act. Martha is not going to get the privilege of a mustard filled egg. She was caught with a mouthful of fresh egg and the shell still hanging from her beak. (More than once!)
Since the Ladies began laying last fall, egg production is dismal at best. We started with roughly 30 hens (I should probably do a head count again) and at the height of laying we were collecting a dozen a day. That quickly dropped off to average three to four eggs. I thought maybe the turkeys were intimidating the hens. George is loud and always causes a ruckus. Martha kept her place on the roost, so I figured maybe she was scaring them off. Now we know, Martha has been eating her fill of fresh eggs. For the cost of feed in the winter, when there is no fresh grazing for the birds, the input to output ratio is not even close! I haven’t had to buy eggs for home this winter, but I also haven’t had any to sell either.
Martha’s time had come. The hope of a breeding pair of turkeys has been set aside for now. I have had my two best knives in the coop ever since the last cleaning (Well, S#!*) and today had already been a busy one. But it was nap time for the kids and my husband was on his way to town for some new screws for my latest dream come true (I now own an antique wood fire cook stove!). I put everyone down for a nap (twice), grabbed the canning pot and headed to the coop.
It’s a good thing that some of the things that happen around here are done when no one is around or its dark out.
I made my way into the coop and of course George and Martha headed outside. So back out I went and high stepped my way through the drifts in the run, shoed them back in and locked the door behind them. Once we were all back in the coop the chase was on. George was to be first because he was the one that caught my attention. His large wing span and flying in small spaces is hard to miss.
From what I have learned the best way to catch a bird is by grabbing both legs and tucking their head under your arm. This keeps them much calmer and easier to handle; their legs can flail, toes aren’t going to scratch and their wings aren’t flapping about. Unfortunately, this was not the method I ended up using. Instead I took the sneak approach. I tried to sneak up on George who was completely aware that I was there and after him. Once I finally got him cornered, I realized I was not going to be able to grab his legs, so I grabbed him by the neck.
This fifty pound turkey was flapping his wings so hard we could have both flew. I might be exaggerating… a little… 20 pounds or so. He was flapping and clawing and putting up a very respectable fight. In the midst of all the flying feathers, the chickens were going nuts and I look at the door, which I of course left open and there stands my trusty chicken eating dog. Even he was overwhelmed with all the commotion. He knows darn well he’s not allowed in the coop but this time I think he was more afraid of the birds than of me. George and I struggled our way out the door, flailing and clawing the whole way.
After some fancy turkey wrestling moves behind the coop the hard part was done. When we butcher chickens there are these really nice stainless steel cones that get screwed to the fence. The chicken goes in head first so the throat can be cut and the chicken will stay in one place. Without this handy little invention the bird either needs to be held down until all the muscle spasms are done or let loose and then you have to go find your headless chicken when it has finished running and flopping about. Neither situation is pretty but the cone is most certainly preferred and of course not the method used today. I held him down with my eyes closed. I don’t like to see it and there was a fair amount of blood in the air as well. The same methods were used for Martha. Her fight was a little easier to manage though. She was smaller but still feisty.
The cleaning process took longer than I had expected but by the time I was I had both birds cleaned, quartered and ready for the roaster and freezer. One bird will give us four meals with leftovers. The process isn’t a pretty one but we sure are thankful for the food.
**Update: Two days later we were getting a dozen eggs a day and counting!**
We butchered chickens last weekend. A project I found quite disheartening and not for the reason you might think. I like to eat chicken and knew from the beginning that was the purpose for those birds. No, it was because they were not ready to be butchered. We got the birds much later into the spring causing them to be smaller late into the fall. Not to mention we were missing 40 birds due to fox, raccoon, and dogs.
They were much too small, even for a heritage bread. But, I was tired of being reminded for what seemed like a couple months that we needed to butcher the chickens before winter. I understood that once winter arrived, our help would not and winter is marked by deer season opener. This really was the last weekend to get it done or I would be butchering myself later or wintering the birds and doing it in the spring. So the date was set.
We set up everything right outside the coop and it worked quite well. We had great help which made the world of a difference too. I caught the chickens in the coop, my husband, put them in the cones and slit their throats, my cousin and my sisters boyfriend dipped the birds in hot water to prep them for plucking, my uncle ran the plucker, my sister took the birds to the cleaning table, where my mom, dad, grandma and dear friend got them cleaned. The birds were then cooled quickly in coolers of cold water, rinsed and bagged. Whew! What a crew! I am so thankful they all showed up to help.
In the beginning, while I was catching chickens, my husband could tell I was disappointed that they were being butchered so small. He came into the coop and told me to just butcher all the roosters and the hens that were on the bigger side. He knew as well as I that we had only planned to winter 30 birds but we do have room for a few more. So that’s what I did. I picked 2 roosters, one of each breed, and the smaller hens and put them out in the pen. The rest met their demise. We also had a few roosters that made their way into the laying side that needed to be removed as well (sorting birds in the dark, I was bound to get a few wrong).
When it was all said and done we ended up with about 40 birds butchered and still 30 layers. Since the sorting, the hens learned how to fly out of the pen and we lost a few more than I thought. I have high hopes for next year. The permanent coop is built and the outside run is done. Since the permanent outside run has been in place, the only birds we have lost are the few that have flown over the fence and the dogs caught before I did. We plan to put netting over the outside run, that will keep them from flying the fence. With the addition of a hot wire around the outside of the pen next spring, I’m pretty sure that will take care of the dogs too. We will try again with butcher chickens, turkey’s, guineas and hopefully a few peacocks.
You may remember me talking about the mistake we made in our purchase of a few “fill in” chickens; The Fatties. Well they had reach their prime as far as I was concerned. They were bigger than a small dog, ate and pooped way too much. For some reason Sunday has turned into chicken coop cleaning day where the whole thing gets a good deep cleaning and that Sunday I did not want to deal with those two fat, smelly birds any longer.
Butchering on Sunday just doesn’t seem quite right (however, neither does cleaning the coop) so they went to bed without a good cleaning and to be reckoned with in the morning.
The little boy and I went out and did chores as usual Monday morning. Went in had breakfast, read a story, played trucks; the normal routine. He then went down for a nap and headed to the coop.
Canning pot in one hand and axe in the other.
Out by the coop was the perfect chopping block already and I had an extra bucket out there for guts too. Now the only nice thing about an disproportionally fat bird is that you have no trouble catching it. So I grabbed the smaller of the two first. You see I have never butchered a chicken up to this point and I figured starting with the smaller may be better. Mind you, I have done enough bird hunting (usually rather unsuccessful) that I have the general “know how” to clean a bird.
Because I was only going to butcher the two birds that day I decided I wasn’t going to worry about plucking them which made the whole process much faster.
I will spare you the gory details; the just of it is, the head went on the block, I prayed I didn’t chop off my fingers and gave it a good chop with the axe. I then skinned the birds ( no plucking then), gutted them and gave them a good rinse in cold water to cool the meat as fast as possible.
In the house I cut the meat off the bones and placed it in quart jars for canning just as I did the venison last fall. The bones went into a stock pot and were cooked with some vegetables to make chicken stock.
The whole process went quite well.
In each 1 qt. mason jar I pack in the boneless, raw chicken meat topped with 1 tbsp. of kosher salt and 2 smashed garlic cloves, leaving 1/2 inch of headspace.
Using a water bath canner I processed the jars for 2 1/2 hours.
* You can add other herbs or vegetables to the jar before processing. I did not this time making the chicken a little more “universal”.
Chicken Bone Broth
There is no recipe to my chicken broth usually more a list of ingredients that is in amounts of “what needs to be used up”.
Salt and Pepper
Those are the “for sure” things I add. Then its “anything goes” after that.
Apples (give is a subtle sweetness)
Just to name a few
And of course chicken bones.
This will simmer for the afternoon. I can the broth and put the rest in the compost.
To can I leave 1/2 in headspace and process in a water bath for 40 minutes.