The easiest meat animal for your homestead is definitely chickens. Whether you grow them specifically for food, or “retire” an old rooster or hen, there are a few things you’ll need BEFORE butcher day to ensure your day goes easily and smoothly – for everyone involved.
1. Knives and a Sharpener
For dispatching and gutting, you’ll obviously need knives – the sharper the better. If your knife is dull (or becomes dull during the process) you will end up using too much force because your cuts and you could end up slipping and cutting yourself.
I use two knives primarily – a long chef’s knife, and then a smaller precision knife – but there are no rules. Simply use what feels the best for you.
2. Killing Cone and Bucket
A killing cone is a cone made out of metal that you hang upside down from a tree or wall. You place your chicken inside so that their head hangs down through the hole at the bottom but that their body is secure.
This makes dispatching them easy and they don’t injure themselves by flopping around. This is the one that I use, but you don’t even need to buy one. A traffic cone, upside down feed bag, or even something as simple as a rope with a slipknot tied around their feet will work.
You’ll also want to place a bucket under the killing cone to catch the blood. It makes clean up much easier and ends up all going into the compost pile at the end of the day.
Once the chicken is properly dispatched (ie. dead) you’ll want to scald them. Scalding the bird in hot water loosens the feathers and makes plucking so much easier.
We use a large canning pot on top of a turkey fryer. You’ll also need a thermometer (may have come with the turkey fryer?) to ensure the water is between 150-160 degrees. Any colder and the feathers won’t come out. Any hotter and you’ll be cooking your bird.
If you’ve ever plucked a bird by hand…it just sucks. I never want to do it again.
I have one of these and it works incredibly well. It will pluck 3 birds at a time in about 15 seconds. WELL worth the money.
If you’re not looking to send that much money, check out this Whiz-bang plucker. This book will show you how to build your own plucker for half the cost. Check out the reviews on Amazon.
Using a plucker had a learning curve with it for me and I ended up losing several birds before I figured out how to properly use it. I’m going to do a completely separate blog post just on how to use the plucker.
5. Table or Workbench
After the chicken has been dispatched, scalded and plucked, the evisceration starts. You’ll want a clean working area on which to do the work. Something a little higher than waist-level would be nice so you don’t have to bend over all day if you’re doing many birds in a single butcher day.
Since butchering is such a detailed art, I’ll be writing another completely separate blog post on how to properly butcher chickens with step-by-step instructions and pictures – so be sure to sign up for my mailing list to get notified when I finish that post and video.
6. Ice Bath
This doesn’t have to be complicated – simply a large bucket or pot filled with cold water and ice to soak the birds in after you’re done eviscerating them.
7. Vacuum Sealer or Shrink Wrap Bags
If you’re only doing a few chickens, or just getting started a vacuum packer will work perfectly. If you’re doing any number of chickens or are possibly giving some away/selling some, I highly recommend these shrink wrap bags.
You simply put your chicken in, pop a hole in the bag to allow the air to escape and then plunge them in your scalder for a few seconds. In no time the bag will shrink wrap to the chicken and all you have to do is put tape over the hole.
With these 7 things, you’re now ready to butcher your chickens! Subscribe to our mailing list for even more homesteading goodness! Happy homesteading!