Monday, June 13, 2011

Butchering Day: A Step-by-Step First Experience

We butchered our first six chickens (and 12 more rabbits) Saturday.  We had been putting off butchering the chickens till we had a plucker, but we got tired of buying meat (and we finally have a freezer) so Matt rigged up a hand-held plucker and we were in business.  First, Isaac and I rounded up the roosters about to meat (make that, meet) their fate.

Meanwhile, Matt got his butchering gear together.

We started with the chickens.  First, Matt cut their heads off.  I wanted to see one run around with it's head cut off.  My grandma used to tell me they had a chicken run off into the bushes and get lost when she was a kid but I have also read "running around like a chicken with it's head cut off" is a myth and they don't really do it.  I wanted to find out for sure.  Maybe next time.  They did flap their wings a lot and twitch for a few minutes after being decapitated.  Matt tied rope shackles that he had made to their feet and hung them in a tree to bleed out.

While we were waiting, we started pulling feathers from their legs, just to see how hard they were to get out.  We were quite surprised by the Lavendar Orpingtons, they pulled out super-easy!  Like, um, pulling velcro apart.  (It really was that easy.)  The Non-Industrial Red roosters' feathers were a bit harder, but still not has hard as we'd expected.  (My only feather-plucking experience to date was with ducks...which was next to impossible.  Note: skin ducks!!!  You'll thank me later.)  It was a little weird to be pulling feathers off a still warm chicken I had just seen alive a few minutes before...I don't know that's something you get used to right away.  (Nor the smell.  There was a horrible, lingering smell of something.  Probably death.  Two days...and a lot of cleaning...later the smell is still slightly detectable in the butchering area.)

Once the chickens were well-bled and we had the feathers off the legs (and most of the chicken except the wings for the Orpingtons), we took them inside to scald them.  We completely dipped them 10 times (I don't know why, but I tried different numbers of dips and 10 seemed to be magical) in water right around 150 degrees.  

Then we took the chickens outside and pulled the rest of the feathers off.  Actually, on the first one we tried Matt's hand-held plucker, but I found it just as fast and easy to hand-pull.  (If we'd known plucking were that easy we'd have started butchering months ago!)  Soon we had a product that looked more like the chicken I know and love.

We let the chickens soak in ice water for about 30 minutes, then we bagged them in freezer bags, wrote the contents and date, and stuck them in the new-to-us freezer.  The 12 rabbits were next.  (Sorry, but I can only write so much in one blog entry...details on rabbit butchering to come in the future.)  Even though it was enough meat to last 3-4 weeks, it barely made a dent in the chest freezer.

***And here's the rest of the story.  We ate our first homegrown, free-range chicken tonight.  I cooked the dark meat in butter and Lowry's (our go-to recipe for all meats).  The white meat I just put in a baking dish; no one in our family likes white meat, but I figured I would use it for spaghetti or chicken salad or some other leftover type of dish.  Well, let me just forewarn: free-range dark meat is DARK.  And a bit leather-ly.  (Ok, so we had to cut it with steak knives and Matt likened it to shoe leather.)  The meat in the picture is really that color, it is not because of the lighting.

Matt tried the white meat to see if it was any better.  The white meat was tender and juicy and tasted like a cross between store-purchased white and dark meats.  Lesson learned?  (1) Butcher chickens younger (these were just under a year old) (2) Don't bother with a chicken plucker and (3) White meat in a free range chicken is delicious!

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