Foraging for Food: Chickens

You know those posts where I collect, brutally murder and consume crustaceans?  Yeah, this is the same thing except with chickens.  I am going to do my best to avoid any gory or gross images and not get too far into the details.  But, I still want to explain the process since it was new to me and pretty interesting.

The #1 question, and one I asked myself a few times as I was holding the live animals, is why did I do this?  My brother John has raised a few chickens for the past 2 years after getting them at a relatively advanced age.  Early on they laid eggs regularly, but for the past year they haven’t been laying many and two of the four died of old age.  John was basically feeding and tending to two pets that would peck his eyes out if they ever managed to escape.  It was time.

With the opportunity presented, I accepted and we set a weekend morning date for me to travel up to NJ and have an old fashioned chicken slaughter.  Although I had never killed anything aside from fish and shellfish, I thought it was important for me to give it a try.

I’ve seen Food Inc., heard Tim babble about the Omnivores Dillemma, and I’ve complained about the semi-monthly salmonella outbreaks that affect 3 million pounds of food each time.  Blah blah blah.  I basically figured I can’t complain about where my food comes from if I had the opportunity to give it a try myself and instead chose to buy some styrofoam packages of massive chicken breasts.  I’d rather retain my right to complain and also act all high and mighty about knowing where my food comes from.  Like the previous paragraph.

So thats how I ended up killing two chickens with my hands then defeathering, cleaning, butchering and cooking them.  Lets kick this thing off by meeting those dudes!

When you smell a chicken coop, you don't immediately think, "food"

I drove over to John’s house on a chilly Saturday morning and finished my Bagels-4-U right as I was pulling into the driveway.  Not sure why I was confident that I could handle eating right before a relatively gross process, but it ended up not being an issue.  John showed me the setup he’d put together on his back patio while we waited for Tim to show up with the turkey fryer.

Thats a good looking killin' table

The key elements are the hose, the butcher block for some of the necessary cutting, my knives, the string for hanging, and my Starbucks iced coffee.  Because you do NOT want to see me before I’ve had my coffee…. LOL!!!!!   John also felt like we would need bleach (odd considering it would make the chicken inedible), lots of gatorades to stay hydrated, and printed instructions (I got my research done the night before).

With the dogs safely in the house and Tim heating water in the turkey fryer, it was time to get going.  John brought the chickens over from the coop in a small dog carrier.

Chickens are in the carrier on the left. The hedge clippers and the machete were both considered for the deed but I had a different idea that was less gross sounding

Alrighty, we’re going to take a break from photos for a little while despite Tim dutifully taking pictures throughout.  Just not necessary.  The chickens were removed one at a time from the carrier and relaxed by petting them while they laid on their back.  While still petting them, I laid the metal pipe shown in the previous photo lightly across their neck.  Stepping on the pipe at one end killed the chickens instantly.  Very quick, bloodless, and the chickens were calm until the end.  I learned about it online and it worked great.

Now, John, Tim, and I grew up in the suburbs, not on a farm, and this was all of our first time partaking in something like this.  When the first chicken was killed, we were all anxious and in various stages of panic.  There was a lot of shouting random things at no one in particular like, “Thats it!! Thats it!!!” and “Make sure its done!!! Make sure its done!!!” while the dead chicken wiggled its way into the flower garden and we were all frozen staring at it.  Although the subject matter is macabre, I wish there was third party video of how we were acting and what we were saying for thirty seconds.

Quick somewhat related sidenote.  Here are the top three things I wish I had video of:

1) Sports Live Sports: Conor’s senior year of college cable access television show.  I’ve never seen any of the 4 episodes despite calling into one.  I would love to see these episodes, and they supposedly exist somewhere, but I can only hope they show up on YouTube someday.

2) The walk to the bullpen: Game 5 of the ALCS, in between extra innings with the Sox fans and bullpen exhausted, Francona sends his starting pitchers to the bullpen.  There was no chance any of them would pitch, they either played the previous day or were needed for the upcoming days, it was just for show.  And it was glorious.  The exhausted Fenway fans went berzerk as Arroyo, Schilling and Lowe walked incredibly slowly to the bullpen taking it all in.  Sadly, I haven’t seen video of this event since it was initially broadcast live in 2004 at 12:30 in the morning.

3) Andrew Leonard on The Price is Right: Seven years ago, superfriend Andrew Leonard went to a Price is Right taping with 2 other friends, all in matching tracksuits.  They “sat” front row behind the contestants and spent the entire show on camera giving inaccurate and inconsistent price information to the contestants.  A few months later it was scheduled to air and…. Colin Powell pre-empted the broadcast to inform America that we were going to war with Iraq.  It has never been broadcast and the network doesn’t allow people to order tapes from the show.  So its gone forever.

Honorable mention to the prank show that asked Terrel Owens about rookies for 10 minutes straight back in 2004.  Now back to the slaughter.

When I was told by a family friend that I should wear clothes I don't care about, I immediately knew what shirt I'd wear. This Rolling Rock Town Fair 2.0 shirt has been making my upper body look like a cube for 10 years

After the chickens were killed, I cut off the heads and hung them from this tree branch so any excess blood could drain out.  After a few minutes, the chickens are dunked into a pot of ~180 degree water by their feet for 10-15 seconds to loosen the feathers.

John went with the giant poncho. In general all of our precautions were overkill

Once the chickens came out of the pot, the feathers were easy to remove by the handful with only a few larger ones requiring more effort.  This is where you start to see signs of what you buy in the store.

Very easy when you're removing them by the handful but got tedious when going back over your work. And John's shoddy work

And, after a few more minutes, you end up with… chicken.

I do look a little shell-shocked. I think the shaking from the initial adrenaline burst was subsiding at this point

Feet were removed at the leg joint.

I ended up muscling this a little bit and not doing the cleanest job. Whatever, I'm not going to eat the bones

After that, I went through the process of removing the neck, the crop, and all of the guts.  You don’t need to see that.  I was particularly bad at removing the crop which is a sack with two rocks attached to the chicken’s esophagus.  They don’t have teeth so its where their food gets ground up.  I couldn’t find it on either one and ended up cutting into it twice and then having to thoroughly rinse the meat.  At the end, I had this:

Just an awful t-shirt. I'm ok with the pose, though. I might need to do that one more often

This post is ridiculously long.  Hopefully I didn’t offend anyone or show more than you wanted to see.

Next week will be the butchering process and how to cook a chicken that is really old and make sure that it ends up tender and edible.  Should be a shorter post.

4 thoughts on “Foraging for Food: Chickens

  1. hahahha Peter this one is my favorite of the bunch. Who knew butchering chickens would be just so damn funny? And that you would appear so blissfully happy doing it?


  2. I’d like to see my face while reading this post because I’m sure it involved my chin tucking into the back of my neck no less than 20 times. How did Tim feel about seeing his “pets” go down??

  3. Nice job cleaning the birds, I have been raising chickens and turkey’s for 20 years. It all started to try what you blog about.

    Next time save those crops ( gizzards) delicous when cooked. You do need to peel the membrane that lines the inside after splitting it like an oreo, it’s amazing how it comes off.

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