As a homesteader, culling your flock of chickens and other fowl you might have becomes a neccessity after the hens or females are no longer able to lay or when you have too many males. Here are some helpful tips I've learned along the way in our journey of becoming more self-reliant as homesteaders who grow and raise as much of our own food as we can.
*Some people might think that killing birds you've raised from hatchlings is a cold-hearted way of going about things, but I look at it this way...our beautiful birds have been given much care since day one so that one day they may be able to give back what we gave them through the sustenance their flesh provides us. Their little lives are celebrated, honored, appreciated, and not forgotten from hatchling to death and beyond.
From the beginning, it's important to not allow yourself to become emotionally attached to every bird in your flock, only a select few that you would like to keep around for a long time as outdoor companions if you want.*
Choosing Which Birds To Cull
Hens stop laying eggs after the first couple years of their lives. At that point they are considered no longer 'thrifty' and unless you want to continue feeding and housing them for an additional 8 yrs or so, it's time to cull the non-laying, or 'unthrifty', ones. Excess cocherels and/or roosters are also top priority on the culling list. Keep in mind, males contain less meat yet make for terrific chicken stock so it's better to cull them than sell or give away!
*White feathered birds have more lighter colored meat than dark feathered birds. Different breeds also offer their own subtley unique flavor.*
Where To Do the Culling and Butchering
Preferably outside, as it can be a very messy job. I do it in our backyard on a day when the weather is nice, cool but not too cold, and the wind is calm. I also do it outside of the view of the rest of the flock.
Things you'll need:
- A clean, solid, sturdy table with a top surface conducive for cutting and/or chopping.
- A set of extremely sharp knives, the sharper the better.
- A large pot big enough to hold water and the carcass of your largest culled bird.
- Something to heat the water. I use a propane fueled turkey fryer, that includes the large pot, to heat the water. (Our turkey fryer also includes a thermometer to guage water temperature.) A bbq grill with a side attached burner would also work.
- Thermometer for water.
- Paper towels.
- A dishcloth
- A slaughter cone affixed to an exterior vertical surface. Stores sell metal ones but we repurposed a traffic cone into a slaughter cone by cutting the pointed top off of it, turning it upside down, and affixing it to a fence post with nails.
- Latex gloves. I use heavy duty latex gloves normally used for housecleaning.
- A rubber, nubbed, groomers mitt (optional) for defeathering
- Three buckets for the biowaste (blood, innards, feathers)
- A running clean water source for washing and rinsing.
- A clean platter
Before Killing the Bird
Make sure everything is set up and ready to go. Have your pot of water heated to (or almost heated to) 145 degrees Fahrenheit and your other tools clean and handy. Using a propane fueled turkey fryer to heat the water can be convenient, as most allow easy flame adjustment, but they can also be very slow in getting the water hot, especially on cool days. My first try took 4 hours before the water reached 145 degrees. If this is what you plan to use, begin heating it early in the morning!
The water MUST be at 145 degrees. Any hotter and it will cook the chicken, which you don't want. Any cooler and it won't loosen the feathers.
Make sure all of your tools and table are clean. I use a bleach/water solution on the table surface prior to butchering to clean it and then rinse it well.
Killing the Bird
This can be done several ways, but to prevent needless suffering of the bird, once you begin you are committed until the job is done, 'job' meaning the bird is dead. If you use a knife, it is imperative its blade is extremely sharp, as the skin of cocherels and roosters is very thick, tough, and rubbery making it difficult to cut through. I prefer slicing through the jugular and then placing the bird upside down into a slaughter cone to allow it to bleed out, letting the bird slowly 'go to sleep' as its blood drains. However, things don't always go as planned so there are times when a quick chopping off of the head is in order.
Let It Bleed Out
Allow the bird to bleed out upside down in the slaughter cone with a bucket positioned under it to catch the draining blood. This can take up to 45 minutes to an hour. If it is not bled out enough, any excess blood remaining in the carcass can give the meat an off-taste, so patience is key here. I grab hold of the feet and give the carcass an occasional jiggle to help it along, although I doubt that's really necessary.
Into the Water It Goes
At this point I put on my gloves, grab the bird carcass by the ankles, and slowly lower it into the 145 degree scalding hot water for a few minutes in order to loosen its feathers. Make sure not to leave it in the water for too long or the skin will fall off, a few minutes is all it takes. You can check by rubbing the skin with a gloved finger to see if the feathers easily rub off, at that point it's time to take it out of the hot water.
Take the bird carcass out of the hot water and place it on the table. Using either a rubber, nubbed, mitt or a clean dry dishcloth, wipe away all of the wet feathers from the skin. You may have to grab and pull on some of them, but they should still easily come off. I put all discarded feathers into a bucket to save for later, as feathers consist of almost 100% protein and can be ground up and incorporated into chicken feed.
Separate the neck from the body, making sure to remove the esophagous and gizzard. Remove the feet one at a time by getting a good grip on it then use a twisting motion until it breaks free enough from the joint for you to use a knife to slice through the tendons. Once the feet are removed, slice around the rear vent to gain access to the innards. Pull the cavity open using your hands (and some muscle) to get better access for your gloved hand. Reach inside along the inner chest wall to pull away the connective tissue around the organs. Once the connective tissue is detached, hold the bird over a separate, clean bucket (not the one containing the feathers) while scooping out the organs enmass in one swipe, letting them all fall directly into the bucket. Rinse the now degutted bird well with clean water and double check the insides to make sure you got everything out that needs to come out of it from both ends. If you want, you can keep the liver, heart, gizzard, and neck for use in cooking and compost the rest as waste.
*It takes about an hour and a half to cull one bird, but culling several birds at a time can be done faster and easier by having more slaughter cones with buckets under them attached along an exterior vertical surface since bleeding them out takes the most time.*
After the chicken is rinsed well, place it on a clean platter and pat dry with paper towels. Your whole chicken is now ready to either butcher into separate pieces, cook, or store. To store, I put mine in a Zip Loc freezer bag, wrap with white butcher paper, label and date it, and freeze.
I must say, no other poultry tastes better than home raised poultry! The chicken stock and meat is so flavorful and simply divine! Cocherels and Roosters make excellent stock and it is so easy! Just place your freshly slaughtered bird into a large pot of water on the stove, add some whole carrots, onions, and celery, along with some salt and thyme, and other seasonings if you like, and let simmer for 5 hrs. Then remove the bones, meat, and vegetables with a slotted spoon. Strain the stock through cheesecloth and it's ready to either use or store. To store fresh stock, I pour it into ice cube trays, let freeze, then put the frozen cubes into freezer bags, seal, and date. The leftover stock meat can be used in recipes calling for cooked chicken or can be frozen for later use.
Until next time...Happy Homesteading!
Today on Yahoo!
1 - 6 of 48