*** Some people may find this post upsetting. Do not read this post if you feel you may be negatively affected by the content of killing chickens. ***
Explain. We started fairly early in the morning. At breakfast, I explained to the children that we have never done this, that it is ok to make mistakes and that we would demonstrate maximum patience with each other. I let the children know that taking the lives of animals is stressful, so please have patience for everyone. I was happily surprised that everyone wanted to be involved. My primary objective in raising these chickens is to figure out how to do it and to impress upon the children at the earliest age possible where their food comes from and to be responsible for it.
We initially set up our tables and processing tables in my shop to escape the heat, but we eventually moved it outside due to all the mess. I think I will try to do this in the stables next time. That way we can escape the heat, but we can be outside on gravel and not a solid concrete floor.
Feed. We did not feed the birds the day before nor this day obviously. This is to minimize the waste that is in their lower intestines or fecal contamination. We always give them water. However, we found that there was still a small amount of material in the “crop” of the chicken that is in the neck. The only thing we can figure is that we still move them to a fresh part of grass and that seems to provide them enough input to “keep eating” something. If we had space and time, I would build a holding pen in the shop so the chickens would have nothing but water 12 hours before processing.
Transportation. I had some of the children ride the ATV and bring in 3 birds in a small wire box strapped to the ATV. You obviously can do this with a wagon or by just carrying them. I tried to add as much “fun” to this process as possible.
Killing. We kept the box “around the corner” from where the killing was done. Most likely doesn’t matter, but we didn’t want the chickens to “see” the process. I put them bird upside down in the stainless steel killing or bleeding cone. Sometimes the bird’s feet like to move around. I gently pulled its head out and extended its neck. The chicken jugular veins are on the side of its neck. I found where its head connects to the neck and I cut on the side of the neck, all the way to the bone. If I did it right, the bird didn’t even jump when I cut with a very sharp knife.
As this was our first time, and I was working with an incredibly sharp knife on two occasions, I accidentally cut the entire chicken’s head off. The difference in what happens is amazing. When you cut the entire chicken’s head off, it jumps around, and there is a lot of activity and motion. When you do it right, and just cut the jugular the chicken barley moves. It just sits there; it appears to be a much more peaceful way to go.
Bleeding. I held the neck extended so that there was a good blood flow. We captured the blood in a bucket; a simpler method would have been to dig a small hole under the killing cones. I purchased the “Featherman Equipment Broiler Stainless Steel Kill Cone 3lb – 7lb” and they were too large for 8 pound Jumbo Cross chickens. I would recommend getting the smaller killing cone. When the birds were alive, they seem to fit into these cones fine, however occasionally as they died and “started to straighten out” they would slip through the cones and fall into the bucket of blood. That was a mess.
Scalding. After waiting about 5 minutes for each bird, we would walk them over to the scalding pot with the steaming water. We kept the water at approximately 140 degrees Fahrenheit. We were not watching close enough, and at one point the water got to 160 degrees Fahrenheit hot, but we did not apparently “partially cook” the bird as we didn’t have them in the water long enough, and also we notice it pretty quickly. We wanted that water pot outside because it stinks after we started to use it, but the small butane stove didn’t seem to like it out in the wind. We would hold the chicken by its feet and dunk the entire bird in and kept it there for like 15 seconds, bring it out and repeat until the feathers come out easily. We had to do it 3 – 5 times on average.
Eviscerating. On this step, I started at the top. I pulled off the head of the chicken, and then I made a slight cut horizontally across the neck skin. I then used my thumb and fingers to pull the skin away from the neck. I found the crop and the wind pipe and pulled them away from the muscle and skin. After the crop and wind pipe was separated, I think moved to the back of the chicken. I would cut off the feet of the chicken, and during the number of chickens, we did I learn to do that better as I went along. I took a photo of how the bone look when you cut it correctly, and I took a photo of how it looks when it is incorrect. I would cut open the skin and pull the breast bone up. That was a trick, pulling the breast bone up let you get your hands into the carcass. I would pull the guts out. Because you loosened the crop and wind pipe, it would just pull out with the rest of the entrails. I would then carefully cut out the entire vent (anus) of the chicken, and then pull the entire entrails out and put it in a bucket. I didn’t know enough to keep the heart of the chicken. I would constantly be washing the chicken and re-bleaching the cutting surface. Most likely overkill, but again, our first time thus we are trying to be extremely careful. After the guts had been out, you had to pull out the lungs of the chicken. I guess there is a special tool for that, but we just used our hand.
Chill. After the evisceration process, it was into the igloo for chilling for at least 4 hours. The point of putting them in ice water is to get the chicken down to under 40 degrees to get them ready to package and fully freeze. For me, because I am a bit paranoid about the cleaning process our first time out, I put a cap of bleach in this water. I plan on rinsing the chickens off before we bag and freeze them.
A couple of things.
1. I did not remove the preen gland in all of the chickens. I did most of them, simply because it was easier to remove the “entire back end” of the chicken when cutting out the vent, but I didn’t ensure I removed the preen gland in all of the chickens. I guess we will have to cut that out before we cook it.
2. What do you do when small amounts of “junk in craw” hits the meat? I didn’t know what to do, so I just marked the chicken and cleaned it well with bleach water. Does anyone have a suggestion?
3. What do you do when small amounts of feces hit the meat? I am not talking about a lot, but we noticed even though we had to stop feeding the chickens for longer than 12 hours, some seem to release some fecal matter when I went to cut out the vent. I didn’t nick the lower intestines, but squeezed sometimes. Others released some fecal matter when they were dying. What do you do? I am sure that fecal matter contaminates the meat, do you just throw the entire chicken away, or does it matter how much? Again, I just washed it extra carefully with bleach and water and marked those chickens.
Experience. I have to say I was stunned and humbled at how pro-active and engaged my children were. They just got right in there and started to get things done. Eventually, everyone found a task and just got to it. My Eldest daughter did a lot of scalding and using the de-feather machine. My Wolf Daughter did a lot of moving chickens from place to place, and my son helped me kill the birds and kept up on the cleaning. Clean as you go to be like a pro. Even the baby would wander by occasionally and take a look at what the entire family was doing. My Wolf Daughter and my son wanted to kill a few chickens which we did. My Eldest daughter was like “that is ok.”
We were exhausted by the end of the day. However, the kids wanted to eat one of the chickens that night. I was like … maybe some beef. Nope, the kids wanted chicken and Wife made some chicken enchiladas woofed it down. I have worked for a number of years to encourage my children to be more than your typical “suburbia kids.” Apparently it worked. I should probably actually tell my kids how proud I was of them.