Processing chickens – a local adventure

Last week I learned how to eviscerate chickens.  My husband and I have been wanting to learn how to slaughter and process chickens so we can put our own meat on our table.  One of our roosters has been getting more aggressive lately and little A is afraid of him.  We decided that he will make a good pot pie, but we needed to learn the process first.  A little knowledge and hands on experience go a long way.

The set up

We are fortunate to live in an area rich in farms, one of which has a weekly slaughter day throughout the summer.  The owners invited us to come and learn, so my husband took a day off of work and headed over there while I got the kids ready for school.  As soon as they were on the bus, I joined him over there.

Being a commercial family farm, they have an impressive (to me) set up for processing outside.  There are a half dozen work stations that get the work done very efficiently.  One person loads the kill cones and does the killing, one person loads them into the scalder and then the plucker.  Another removes the feet, head, and scent glands.  Next, they move to the evisceration station where their guts and inner organs are all removed.  Finally, the almost-ready-to-cook chickens underwent a final quality inspection and had any last cleaning done.  Another person processes the necks and feet for separate sale.


I started my learning at the evisceration table.  I watched while Nancy explained what she was doing each step of the way.  Finally, after watching her do a half dozen or so, I was ready to give it a go myself.  She laughed and said I looked disgusted by it.  I can understand.  First, I tend to make weird faces when I am concentrating, and second, I was rather squeamish.

The first time I reached inside a partially eviscerated bird, it was still warm.  The outside of the bird had chilled rapidly from constantly being kept in ice water between stations, but the inside hadn’t cooled yet.  Chris, the owner farmer, remarked that was the best part of turkey day when it is cold outside.  I processed a half dozen chickens myself, and I think I got pretty good at it, if I do say so myself.  I certainly got over the squeamishness of it and am much more comfortable with it.

Beheading and befooting

Once I had managed to do that job passably well, I watched the station before it.  Dan showed me how to remove the feet, pull off the mostly severed head, and cut off the scent gland at the base of the tail.  After watching him do a few birds, I was again ready to try it myself.  I did a good job, but I was slow.  I got maybe ten birds done before I had to step aside and let someone faster take over.

Quality control

Then I went to the final quality control station.  This was the cleanest job of all.  I looked the bird over for any feathers that got missed or broken off in the plucker, checked for bruising and dislocated joints, and any other defects that might make it a not-quite-perfect roaster.  If a bird had any of these problems, they were set aside to be cut up into parts.  The perfect ones went into a giant holding tank to be packaged up as whole roasting chickens.

I did not get to try the actual killing.  The scalding and plucking were done in a commercial sized automatic machine, so I didn’t get to try those either.  When I do my own birds, I will just use a pot on the stove to scald.  My husband says he feels confident enough to do the killing, and I feel confident to do the cleaning, so between us, I think that we will be able to process our own birds once we have the right tools.

Your turn

Have you ever processed chickens or watched it being done?  What did you think of it?

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