This is the story of the first time I butchered a chicken, two days ago from this posting.
We raised ten chicks, given to us from a school egg hatching project. We knew that six of them were cockerels, and having wanted to produce our own meat for some time now, we decided we would raise them to eat, keeping the hens for egg production.
After about four or five weeks of living in a rabbit hutch in our kitchen, the chicks were finally able to move outdoors to our small suburban back garden. They had their own house and run, separate from our established flock of hens. Now, at around nine weeks old, they are accustomed to being outside, and enjoy scratching up bugs and weeds, dustbathing, eating grass, socializing with us and each other, running around like crazy, and generally being happy little chickies.
Over the last week or so, one (or possibly more) of the cockerels have begun tentatively crowing. We have neighbors in close proximity, and already know that crowers are not welcome; so we have been expecting to start killing them very soon. I have never killed a chicken (or indeed any animal), though my husband has had to put down two of our adult hens in the past. We have watched several videos, and I rewatched them again once we heard those squeaky little crows this week. However, my first butcher job turned out to be an unplanned one.
Though we are unsure how it happened, we found one of the smaller cockerels dead in the garden; we had seen them all alive less then an hour previously--we left them alone after dinner when putting our five year old to bed, and when my husband and I came back downstairs, we found a little dead chickie. We surmise he was killed by an adult, though he had no marks on him: not even mussed feathers. Although they are quite big, the biggest of the chicks is still slightly smaller than the smallest of the adults, and the dead chick was one of the smaller ones. At first, my husband and I were unsure of what to do with him, but I suggested we eat him--that's why we took him--and he was still warm, so we knew he hadn't been dead long.
I went and put the kettle on to boil, and got out the big stock pot to dunk him in. I also put on an apron! I checked the water temperature, and added enough cold water to bring it to about 150F, then I put the chick into the pot. It wasn't long before his feathers were loose enough to come right out, so I started plucking.
The first initial plucking was the hardest part, as the chick was hot in my hands, just like a live bird. It felt like I was hurting him, even though I knew he was dead. It took me about ten or fifteen minutes to get him as plucked as possible, and after a second dunk in the hot water, it felt more familiar and a bit easier to do.
My husband cut off the chick's head, and I rinsed him off; there was not much blood, but we let him drain for a minute or so. Then I cut him open to remove his innards. I had only recently watched a video of Joel Salatin, and followed his instructions: first I cut out the oil gland, then I loosened the crop, windpipe, and esophagus. Then I nicked the skin above the vent and used my fingers to widen the cut, and reached in to loosen all the organs. Finally, I pulled out the digestive system in one piece, including the esophagus. It took me about five minutes to do all this; I was very careful as I did not want to accidently puncture the intestines or gall bladder.
I saved the liver and heart, and then cut off and saved the feet, for stock. My little chick was dressed and ready for roasting.
(I like this picture because it shows just how I felt about the whole thing!)
Our little chickie was mostly bone, but what little meat he had was very sweet and tender. Compared to a chicken we bought from our butcher, though they were probably the same age, our chickie was about half the size but twice the flavor. He gave us tonight's meal including giblet gravy, and his bones and feet are in the stock pot.
I had mixed feelings about the whole thing; I still do. In a way, I feel sad about our chick's death, and guilty about the manner of his death--like we lapsed in our duty of care to him, though perhaps his death wasn't preventable, as we didn't know the exact cause. I also feel proud that I was able to make him into food. And it was tasty food! The smell of him roasting in the oven was just amazing, and the first bite was wonderful. I also know that he had a better life, and probably a better death, than the butcher's chicken; he was able to express his natural instincts in a healthy and safe way his whole life, and had all his needs met, including the need for sunshine and real food like greens and bugs. And his death meant the continuation of our lives. While we ate him, we all gave thanks to this lovely, delicious little chickie, who we were glad to have with us for his short life.