On slaughtering our first chickens

Well, we finally did it. We slaughtered four of our five Cornish Crosses in the front yard under a crab apple tree. Yes, along with the bathtub and refrigerator sitting on the porch, we make great neighbors. Fortunately for our neighbors, they all live too far away to care.

Fortunately for you, perhaps, I do not have a working camera so you will be spared any graphic pictures of the process.

I had planned on making a video of our first bird so that the whole world could watch with me as I either followed through or chickened out. Alas, that shall not be…although perhaps I should mention that it was my husband who actually did the killing. I was charged with the supporting role, that of chicken holder and instruction giver.

Not that I had a clue what I was talking about, but I’m getting a bit ahead of myself. I’m just giving you a little time to decide whether you really want to go through with reading this. While there may not be any actual pictures, words can sometimes be just as graphic. So here’s a more pleasant picture, just to help you not think too much about it. Aren’t they cute? The Cornish Cross is the white one.

The first to go was a little hen. It surprised me how incredibly calm the bird was as soon as she was placed on her back, and her neck placed between the two nails designed to keep her head still. My job was to stretch her out, hold her wings and say when. We had a slight discussion about how exactly to kill her; John favored just whacking her head off with the knife. A deep breath and a nod from me and the knife came down.

It  didn’t work. He broke her neck, instead, which isn’t particularly good. She went completely limp as he took the knife and made a quick slice to sever the head.

The flapping was incredible. I didn’t have that good of a hold on her, her being limp and all. The headless chicken flapped off the table, hit my leg (leaving a bit of a bruise, actually) and flopped on the ground until John grabbed the string holding her legs together and tied her up over the bucket that was supposed to catch the blood.

That was the most pointless piece of equipment we had. All the birds flapped too much to get any significant amount of blood actually in the bucket. But that was my first real surprise (beyond the fact that we had actually done it): there really isn’t that much blood.

Chicken number two was Purple Bird, a cockerel. I thought killing him would bother me more. He was, after all, a bit of a pet. Due to injury, he had spent some time in the house with his legs taped together and became quite tame. He followed me everywhere, came when he was called, and calmed down at the sound of my voice.

See, look at them here at about four weeks. They were all pretty tame. Always hopeful for food, they followed everyone around. If no one was around, they’d peck at the door, just to make sure you remembered they were there in case you had left overs or something.

Maybe I’m just heartless, or maybe there is a certain mental state you can enter to block that all out. One way or the other, I held him on his back, head in position between the two nails and discussed how best to dispatch him. I decided for the jugular. It is supposed to be the best way to bleed the birds out. The only problem was, I wasn’t exactly sure how to find it.

So I ran in to check the internet. Those pictures looked much more like a vein than anything we saw hidden under all those feathers, but opted for a quick slice where I thought the jugular should be.

He hit it perfectly with a good spout of blood following. Purple Bird was too strong for me, however, and flapped right out of my grasp, bruising my arm and fighting like mad as he swung from the bottom of the string.

Unlike the first bird, however, he was clearly aware. He vomited, even. It took maybe 10 seconds until it was over, but it bothered me.

“Stuff the best bleed,” I decided.

I wasn’t putting a bird through that again. Or myself for that matter.

We’re doing this because we like chickens. We like having them around. We enjoy their antics. We enjoy the freedom we can give them. And if we’re going to eat chicken, I prefer it to be one that has had a happy life enjoying fresh air, green grass and whatever insects he can scratch up as opposed to a life in a shed with a clipped beak and a thousand other birds. Purple Bird would have been culled or pecked to death because the treatment for his injury cost more than he was worth. But I feel a certain responsibility to all the animals in our care, and I certainly don’t want them to suffer unnecessarily.

So from that point on, we just severed the heads. Quickly, cleanly and assured that any awareness on the part of the bird was momentary at best.

The flapping was difficult to manage, and two of the birds bruised themselves. In fact, Purple Bird broke his own wing. As in the bone was protruding from the skin. A killing cone, I think, shall be made or purchased before we slaughter (perhaps before we purchase!) another meat bird.

But the hardest part was over. We had actually followed through with it, and slaughtered four birds. They all hung (not so) neatly from our crab apple tree bleeding out and awaiting me to go check the internet again to figure out what to do next.

to be continued

0 thoughts on “On slaughtering our first chickens

  1. One day I’ll be the one blogging about our first experience “harvesting” our chickens. Hope I can go through with it!

    Looking forward to reading your next installment. That doesn’t make me weird, does it? LOL
    .-= Brandy´s last blog ..Animal Cuteness =-.

  2. We use an axe to cleanl chop off the head (hopefully). It is a bigger, heavier knife and makes it easier to “humanely” kill the birds.

    As for the rest…wearing rubber pants is good because the blood really doen’t go where you want it to! 🙂

    Looking forward to the next installment. 🙂 I really hope you boiled them to help with the feather removal! (if not..future reference!)
    .-= Jaime´s last blog ..They Might be Giants… =-.

    • That’s funny. I read right past the typos the first time and didn’t even notice. 🙂 Axes are good. We don’t have one of those, and most of what I read recommended a very sharp knife. So that’s what we tried, though we obviously needed a bit more practice.
      .-= Dana´s last blog ..On slaughtering our first chickens =-.

  3. Well, that was an eye opener. I’ve learned so much about self-sufficient living just from reading a few of your posts.

    And I’m seriously beginning to question whether I’m up for the reality of it. Not that I ever intended to raise meat birds but still, when you daydream about owning property and having livestock, a certain realistic perspective should be introduced.

    Thank you for that. I’m not saying I’m not still praying, planning and working for the day but I’ll certainly have a much more realistic view about it.
    .-= Sheri´s last blog ..Sunday’s Share – Garden Update =-.

    • Meat animals certainly aren’t for everyone, but I have really enjoyed living out here, challenges and all. I don’t feel as restless as I used to. There’s too much to do, and it is more satisfying than just washing and putting away all the same clothes and dishes every day. 🙂
      .-= Dana´s last blog ..On slaughtering our first chickens =-.

  4. my husband and i have processed a lot of chickens (and a couple mammoth turkeys!). We too have figured out that severing the head is the quickest and most humane. We use garden clompers. My husband holds the bird down, stretches out the neck and I clomp it off. We keep them breast down so that when the legs are kicking they’re not scratching the person holding it. He holds them down during the flapping so the meat doesn’t get bruised. Then we dunk in a scald tank set at about 150-160 degrees F. This loosens the feathers the most without tearing the skin. We tried an axe with the turkeys and it was much too difficult to hold them down and provide safe enough distance for swinging… but then again no one here is THAT great at swinging an axe. Killing cones are fine, but we found it easier to just hold them. Catching the blood never worked. Our dog licks up any pools and a quick hose over the area cleans it up enough. Got our hole process detailed here: http://flhomesteader.blogspot.com/search/label/meat%20chickens%20101
    Good luck next time! And each round gets MUCH easier!!!

  5. Bobbi says:

    We did our first batch of birds a couple weeks ago, some free roosters that someone else didnt want, any how they were so wild we couldnt catch them even when they were roosting, a hollow point 22 did a wonderful painless dispatching of them.

    • Yes, I could see how that would do it! Meat birds are rather docile and the kids tame down our chickens pretty well. Haven’t dealt with roos, yet, though. I have three cockerels, though. We’ll see what they’re like when they are “of age!”
      .-= Dana´s last blog ..Black Locust Blossom Fritters =-.

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