So, Mike and I went chicken-slaughtering today. One of his friends from National Novel Writing Month raises chickens (one breed for eggs, one for meat) and today was the day to convert six cockerels (young roosters) into plump, tasty chicken.
We drove up to her house, which is in the backwoods near Hwy 9, wearing old clothes and carrying a change of clothing–Mike had warned me that chicken-butchering can be messy. We watched a short video on how to kill and dress a chicken, then trooped out back to where Mike’s friend had her hutch. Inside were seven or eight beautiful white and black spotted chickens, and some very large white chickens. The black and white spotted chickens were all laying hens; the white chickens were from a meat breed.
We caught two of the white meat chickens, picked them up by the legs (chickens become docile when held upside-down by the legs), and brought them to the back of the house, where a killing-stump had been set up.
A killing-stump is actually quite easy to make. Drive two nails into a log 1.5 inches apart. One takes the chicken, catches the head between the nails, and whacks the neck HARD with a hatchet. If you do it hard enough, the head severs off cleanly (meaning the chicken doesn’t suffer long), a gout of blood erupts from the neck, and the headless body starts thrashing EVERYWHERE. It’s really important to shove it into a bucket quickly, so it doesn’t get loose and bruise the flesh. Also to keep blood from spattering everywhere.
After the blood drained out, L. (Mike’s friend) dipped the bird into a vat of 160 degree water with a little dishwashing detergent thrown in. The hot water quickly penetrated the feathers, and after ten or fifteen seconds they began to loosen. The soggy bird went onto a table, and two of us went to work plucking it.
Chickens have a LOT of feathers!! The big wing feathers came off quickly, as did the large body feathers, but there were a lot of small feather-nubs that needed to be pulled out individually. L. helped us speed the process by showing us how, if you pull the skin tight and then scrape with a butter knife against the grain of the feathers, the tiny new feathers come straight up out of the skin. Still, it was a LOT of plucking.
After the plucking came time to eviscerate the bird, and this is what I wound up doing (mostly). One cuts open the neck cavity, snips out the windpipe, and loosens the craw (which is a loose pouch sitting to the right of the windpipe). Then one snips open the bird at the bottom, in the spot where all the supermarket chickens are snipped open, reaches in, and pulls out the intestines, gizzard, and other internal organs. (Yes, I wore gloves!) The craw, if cut loose properly, should come loose and pull down through the neck cavity to come out with the intestines.
Then one separates out the chicken gizzard, liver, and heart (the giblets). The gizzard, which is what the chicken uses to grind up its food, is a very tough, muscular pouch that contains the chicken’s last meal, as well as sand and gravel that it uses to grind up the meal (chickens don’t have teeth, so they just peck up food and leave it to the gizzard to grind it). It needs to be snipped open, emptied, and the yellow lining removed before it’s fit to eat. The liver needs the bile sac removed–very carefully, or the bitter green bile will spoil everything–and the heart just needs the fat trimmed away. I saved the giblets carefully, because Mike likes them–sauteed and eaten on toast.
After that one snips away around the anal area and removes the entire innards, including the intestines. Flip the bird over, remove the oil gland sitting on the fat flap, remove the feet at the knees, and voila! one clean, dressed chicken. It took four or five of us about two hours to convert six chickens from live, flapping birds to refrigerator-ready chicken.
I had thought the entire process would be gross and disgusting, but it wasn’t, really. I wasn’t too thrilled about the killing process (I declined to whack any chicken heads off), but the rest of it was fascinating, and (if wearing gloves) not really that messy. It was remarkable how quickly it went from live bird to food for the table. A small taste of farm life, I guess.