Packaging Chicken

Now that it’s over I can talk about it. Thursday was traumatic, but every day after that got a little easier. I’m talking about catching, processing, butchering, and packaging our meat birds. The yard was crowded, the feed bill high, and it was time.

Flock  Red Chicken

We bought these birds specifically for meat, but that didn’t make sentencing them to death any easier. We had a dozen meat chickens, plus some others. It’s the “others” that made me cry. We bought 6 ducks for eggs, but 4 of them ended up being male, so those were going to go. We also had Sportacus the rooster. He wasn’t quite an “attack” rooster, but he liked to run up behind me, then act like he wasn’t up to anything when I turned around. Since we were set up for processing, it was a good time for him to go, too.  The most difficult were the girls. After about two years, their egg production drops off significantly. We had 9 birds that were this age, and we rounded up 5 of them. The other 4 girls are more like pets, and I just couldn’t bring myself to send them to the plucker.

The birds aren’t supposed to eat for 24 hours or so before processing, so we gathered them all up Thursday evening, and closed them up in the coop. Charlie and I came at them from different sides, got them in a corner, then Charlie caught them with his fishing net. Easier said than done. Sportacus saw us coming at him, jumped the fence, and took off into the woods. So much for the brave rooster protecting his flock!

The egg birds did make it a little easier on us because they all huddled up on the feed cabinet. That gave us fewer birds to deal with in the yard. A couple of the boys made it easy to catch them because they tried to hide UNDER the shelter. Since they couldn’t see us, they must have thought we couldn’t see them. Wrong.

Girls Hiding

Boys Hiding

There are no pictures of the processing because I was hiding in the house. The plan was for me to be gone, but the scalder we rented had a gas leak, so I had to keep pots of boiling water available all day. Joe came up to help Charlie, saving me from the yucky parts. I’ll tell you the steps of processing now, so skip the rest of this paragraph if you don’t want to know. The chickens are put upside down in a metal cone. Being upside down actually makes them calm, so they’re just chilling out there. Then Charlie would slice their throats which killed them quickly. I couldn’t watch this part at all. Once they’re dead, the get dunked in hot – over 145 degrees – water for 15 seconds. This loosens the feathers. From there, they’re dropped into the plucker. I hate this machine. It’s a plastic tub, with “fingers” sticking out from the sides. The bottom of the tub spins, causing the chickens to bump into the fingers, which pluck all the feathers off. Once they’re plucked, they look more like the whole chickens you would buy at the grocery store, so I could look at them again. The last step was Charlie cleaning them out, then putting them in the chiller until the next day.

We had to wait until Sunday to actually butcher, package and freeze the meat. Apparently chickens go through rigor mortis. If you freeze them before rigor has passed, they’re preserved at this stage and will end up being tough.  (The older egg birds would probably be tough anyway, so we froze them right away for stew meat.) Charlie cut them into breasts, wings, legs and thighs. We set aside several of the torsos and necks to make chicken stock right away, and froze the rest of them for chicken stock later.

Check out how big those wings and thighs are! You don’t see them like that at the grocery store.

Wings   Thighs

We had everything butchered and packaged in about 2 hours. This should last several weeks.

Ready to freeze

While we butchered and packaged, we had a whole bird on the rotisserie. Now that they look like meat instead of birds, I can tolerate them a lot better. And, served with veggies from the back yard, this one was delicious!