how to butcher meat birds

**WARNING: Because this post is about butchering chickens, it contains graphic photos. If you don’t eat meat, I respect that decision, and you won’t hurt my feelings if you click over here to read about these super-awesome fruit & herb slushies instead. However, my family and I have made the conscious choice to raise and eat meat, and I ask you to respect our choices as well. Comments left with the intention of starting a fight will be promptly deleted.

parts of a chicken and what to use them for:

After removing the internal organs, the chicken is prepared and ready to be packaged. However, what happens to the internal organs? Some can be used for cooking, while others can be used for gardening or animal feed. Here are some details about the Nose-To-Tail method of animal slaughter, which is what we strive to achieve!

  • Head. Believe it or not, you can eat the chicken’s head. It’s actually a delicacy in some countries. The head can be processed similarly to the rest of the body. If you’d like, you can also leave it attached to the body. Dunk it in hot water and defeater the head. Remove the beak and cook the entire head whole. You can boil the head and feed the gelatinous broth to your dogs or cats if you don’t want to eat it (if you eat chicken nuggets, you eat chicken heads!). The beak can also be left on, if you prefer.
  • Neck. The neck is a yummy piece of the chicken. It’s ideal for making bone broth or adding flavor to the pan drippings of roasted chicken because it’s mostly composed of bones and cartilage. It can be prepared in the same manner as you would any other chicken part.
  • Heart. The chicken heart is incredibly delicious. This organ can be boiled, roasted with the meat, cooked over an open flame, etc. It tastes pretty good in soup, and if you chop it up beforehand, you don’t really realize you’re eating it.
  • Liver. Like the liver of any other animal, chicken liver is consumed. It tastes great when sautéed with onions and garlic in butter or olive oil with a generous pinch of salt and pepper. It has a high iron content.
  • Gizzard. The chicken’s meal is eventually ground up in the gizzard and converted to waste or fuel for the body. This can be cleaned out and fried (it is typically filled with food).
  • Intestines. The intestines of the chickens are one item we never eat. Processing this portion of the animal doesn’t feel safe to me at this point in my butchering abilities. Frequently, we either burn them or let the barn cats eat them while we work. The egg sack and gallbladder, though they appear to be edible, are other parts that we currently discard.
  • Feet. The feet are an incredibly healthy part of the chicken’s body, made of collagen. They are amazing! I like to boil them down into bone broth, but they can also be fried or roasted.
  • Bones. Keep your chicken carcasses! You can boil them for several hours to make liquid goal, also called bone broth.

how to butcher meat birds

how to butcher meat birds

how to butcher meat birds

Is It Easy to Kill Something You’ve Raised?

Is killing something you’ve raised simple? No, it’s not. And I don’t relish in taking a life. But since we have decided to consume meat (for a variety of reasons), I think it is only right that I take part in its production if we are going to consume it. In fact, I believe that everyone who consumes meat ought to participate in the procedure at least once. Too many people never think twice about their meat because they believe the beautifully packaged styrofoam containers at the store will magically erase the memory that the meat inside the cellophane came from a living, breathing animal. If you’re still struggling with the idea of ethical meat production and consumption, I’ve covered it all over here.

Furthermore, we don’t conceal death from the Prairie Kids. They know that all of the meat we eat was once alive, and they know that the burger and pork chops on the table came from red steers and pigs, respectively. They don’t act as though butchering is repulsive or disgusting since neither do we. They came on the day we killed these chickens, and they stayed and asked questions (Prairie Girl was very curious about the anatomy portion; it was a great science lesson for homeschoolers). And they were both ecstatic to learn it was one of “our” chickens when we roasted the first bird from our harvest.

OK… enough of the heavy stuff. Let’s talk equipment!

how we raise our chickens:

Our chickens are purchased as day-old chicks from Hoover’s Hatchery in Rudd, Iowa. This is a short trip for them, as we are located in Iowa as well. They arrive in the mail, and this hatchery has a rule of 15 chicks minimum per shipment. Because we are a moderately sized family (4 adults, 3 children), we only order 15-20 chicks at a time. We will raise another round of 15-20 chicks this autumn. That will leave us with around 30-40 chickens until next spring.

The breed of chicken that we raise specifically for meat production are Cornish Cross hens. This is hybridized breed, which was bred specifically for its large breast meat. These hens gain weight excessively fast, reaching their mature weight of 6-8 lbs by 6 weeks old. For other chickens, they are not at their mature weight until 26-30 weeks old. These chickens are docile, lazy, and can easily become ill from being obese. They grow so quickly that they outgrow their feathers, leaving them pink and naked looking. This is not due to being overcrowded.

We selected this breed due to its short gestation period and high meat content. This implies that before it gets too cold for pasturing the birds, we can process two rounds—one in the summer and one in the fall. We raise the birds in an air-conditioned enclosure called a “chicken tractor,” which we move around the farm every day to give them access to fresh grass. Additionally, we regularly relocate their water and food so they are compelled to get up and exercise. They will essentially spend the entire day eating at the feeder if this is not done. Scheduling the feedings for this particular breed is necessary. Generally speaking, feeding them for 12 hours and then removing the food for another 12 hours is advised. This can be accomplished with ease by setting out the feed in the morning and removing it at dusk. They should have access to ample amounts of clean water. They typically start to die from heart failure if they are overfed.

We raised 15 hens in this particular round, and 14 of them survived to be killed. One of the hens stopped eating around week five, gained weight, and appeared ill; we are not sure what happened to her. We decided to cull her and feed our cats on her remains.

See these posts for more details on raising meat chickens: Meat Chicken FAQ / Butchering Meat Chickens (First Year).


When should meat birds be butchered?

Chickens are ready to be processed and put into your freezer or sold to customers in only 6 to 12 weeks, depending on the breed of bird and the weight you want them to have at processing.

How long to raise meat birds before slaughter?

Broilers or fryers are slaughtered at seven to nine weeks of age, when they weigh 3 to 5 lb. and dress as a 2.5 to 4 lb. carcass. The same bird that when slaughtered at five weeks of age provides a Cornish game hen can be grown out to twelve weeks or longer to make a delicious roaster.

What age do you cull meat birds?

Chickens labeled as “Broiler-fryers” are young, tender chicken about 7 weeks old; “Roasters” are older chicken, about 3 to 5 months old; “Capons” are male chickens about 16 weeks to 8 months old; and “Stewing/Baking Hens” are mature laying hens 10 months to 1 1/2 years old.

What is the best way to slaughter chickens?

Some people gas chickens in a chamber or use a gun. I do not think either of these options are feasible for small homestead butchering. The other methods are slicing the carotid arteries in the neck/decapitation, or breaking the neck. We prefer decapitation, as it is the easiest way for us.