Raising Backyard Chickens: Butchering

Posted on August 5th, 2012 by Tonia 7 Comments

Jen and Trevor bravely offered to help us butcher our 10 remaining meat chickens. They have some experience with this from their time working on a farm in Washington, and we were really grateful to have their skills on hand that day.

Mike did the honors of cutting off the heads, J&T helped pluck, gut and quarter, and I rinsed and packaged them for the freezer. We averaged 15 minutes per bird from beheading to freezer.

Things went smoothly thanks to all the helping hands and our friends’ knowledge. But right around the 8th bird, Mike started feeling depressed. Watching that many little lights go out in rapid succession gets to a person.

I was secretly relieved to see him feeling that way. If he had been totally cheerful and fine about the whole experience, I would have been a little creeped out!

Yes, they were “just gross meat chickens” as most farmers refer to them. They sit all day long in their own poo. Even if you give them the space to roam around, which we did, they prefer to just squat by the feeder and shovel grain down their gullets. They have one purpose in life: to eat as much as possible. They were at their full-grown size in six weeks flat {by comparison, our egg chickens are only about 3/4 grown, and they were born at the same time as the meat birds.}

But all things considered, it was still hard to kill them all in one go like that. It felt a little like a factory assembly line, and I didn’t like that. I much prefer the one-off approach where we could take the time to thank the bird for its life and really process what was happening.

We have a freezer full of breasts, drummies, wings, livers and thighs. We have jars upon jars of chicken stock. We’ll be enjoying this bounty all winter long in the form of stews, soups, enchiladas, pasties and more.

The whole process of raising our own meat so far has been both easier and harder than I expected. At times, I’ve been surprised at my own ability to shut off my emotions towards the animals. I’m sure this is an automatic response in my brain designed to protect me from identifying too much with the very animals I’ll be eating shortly. I’m both ashamed by it and grateful for it. Being such an intense animal lover, I would surely crumple into a sobbing pile of self-hatred and empathetic suffering if not for my brain’s protective mechanism.

Other times, I can’t help but picture what it feels like to be that animal- confused, scared, and most likely in pain even though we take the most humane route when we kill them and they die very fast. The understanding of it clenches my heart. We’re the reason for that pain and for its life ending. They trusted us, looked forward to seeing us every day when we fed and watered them, and now we’re killing them.

I feel all of this deeply, and still I do think that raising your own meat is a good way to go about eating meat. I feel so much more grateful for meat. I appreciate it in a completely new way, on a whole other level, in a deeper part of me, than before. And I rest easy at night knowing that our animals lived great lives up until their very last moments. You can’t say that for most of the meat in the grocery store.


  1. Pam says:

    Happy to hear your thoughts after taking on this task. It really can be hard. I don’t eat chicken (or much else) for days after harvesting day. I, too, felt attached to our dirty little meat birds! They liked to climb up on my feet to snooze in the sun. But, YES, if we’re going to eat meat, this is the only way to do it. A great life, right up to that last day.

  2. Trick says:

    As I said on Reddit and on Twitter, I’ve really come to enjoy your blog and this post is exactly why. You’re in the midst of a unique journey and you’re honestly capturing and sharing your story.

    The idea of butchering an animal is something that much of the developed world would recoil from, right before they go to McDonalds or some other restaurant which safely removes them from the process.

  3. Sarah says:

    I really appreciated the balanced insight you brought in this post. It was very educational for me. I’d be interested in knowing the step-by-step instructions for butchering your own chicken in the future.

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  5. Mark Near says:

    I was going to harvest birds, and got too fond of them. They got to be about 20 weeks, and the neighbor’s fence climbing dog got on top of the structure, ripped pieces of wood and wire off, got in and killed 19 out of my 22. I wish I had killed them all at about 9 weeks. At least they would be in the freezer instead of the burn pile.

  6. Tonia says:

    Oh, Mark! How sad. I totally understand about being fond of them…we waited a little too long to kill ours, too. The meat is slightly tougher than it could have been, but they lived “long” lives by meat chicken standards!

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