I ‘processed’ (nice way of saying ‘slaughtered and butchered’) four roosters last weekend. Don’t worry – there are no graphic photos in this post.
One was an Australorp that someone gave us – they couldn’t keep him, as they lived in town. I couldn’t believe my luck: I’m gearing up to breed Australorps (we have 6 hens ready to go), and a free one drops in my lap! When I saw him, though, he had red in his feathers – so really just a cross. I had already agreed to take him, so I couldn’t back out; his owners had no other options. He did make a good rooster for the hens, looking after them while I continued looking for a pure-bred.
Besides not being what we wanted, this rooster had been getting more and more aggressive over the past few months. He attacked my daughter and wife whenever they went into the pen, and he had taken to attacking me a couple of times a week while I was doing my daily feeding rounds. In the past week, he attacked me every day! Not good.
The other three roosters were dropped off here over the past few months by various people who had hatched chicks but didn’t want to keep the boys. I’m not one to knock back a free meal :-).
I’m getting better at processing chickens. In the past, I’ve usually just done one at a time. If you want to get good at it, I really recommend doing a bunch in one day. You develop and hone your technique with each one, trying different things, and by the end you’re pretty good at the whole procedure.
I was also better organised this time than I have been before (I felt I needed to be, doing four at once!). I built a makeshift barbecue out of some spare bricks, put a grille over the top, and lit a fire to heat the scalding water. I used a cooking thermometer to get the water temperature just right – about 65 degrees C (about 150 degrees F) is perfect. Much better than my usual guessing.
I killed the birds one at a time, scalding and plucking one before starting the next. To scald properly, you dunk the bird for 5 seconds or so (use a stick to get them fully under, and jiggle them to get the water in under the feathers). Pull it out and test a single wing feather – if it slips out easily, scalding is complete. If not, dunk it again for a few more seconds, and test again. It can take 3 or 4 or more dunks to get it right (this is one thing I got a better feel for with each rooster).
I plucked the birds on a small portable workbench over a wheelbarrow, with a bucket of water on hand for rinsing my fingers when too many little feathers got stuck to them. Collecting the feathers like this made for a much easier cleanup afterwards!
To butcher the birds, I used my backyard sink workstation. Besides chicken processing, this is really handy for scaling and cleaning fish, and washing vegies before bringing them inside.
The basic method of butchering I use is Herrick Kimball’s How To Butcher A Chicken tutorial. That site explains it way better than I can here, and is a very straightforward and detailed tutorial to follow. I had a covered Esky full of cold water and freezer bricks on hand to put the chickens in as I completed each one.
Two of the roosters were fairly young, so I froze those ones whole for roasting. The other two were larger, but older, so I broke those down and packaged them into meal-sized portions for freezing. They’ll be tastier than the young ones, but will need long slow cooking before they’ll be tender.
I kept the offal (livers, hearts, gizzards, necks, feet) for later use. I gave the testicles to Jessie the dog (rooster testicles are inside their bodies, and are actually quite large!). The rest (heads, intestines, lungs, etc) went into the compost, as did the feathers – lots of nitrogen there. The bucket under the sink drain catches all the wash water, along with blood, stray feathers, bits of gunk, etc. I tip that onto the compost as well.
The whole exercise took me a few hours, but I spent a lot of time mucking around setting up the barbecue, cleaning down the workstation, and getting everything prepared before I actually got started. It’ll go much faster next time, now that I know exactly what I need.
We’ve now got a whole bunch of really tasty meals in the freezer, ready to go. Incidentally, supermarket chicken doesn’t taste anything like the real thing – the only chicken I’ve ever bought that was on par was one from my friends Fiona and Adam at Buena Vista Farm in Gerringong. They are just getting started growing pastured poultry, free range eggs, pork and more.
Update: Thanks to Sailors Small Farm’s recent post on their poultry processing day, I discovered these two great videos from Joel and Daniel Salatin – watch closely, and you’ll see how to eviscerate and break down a chicken about 20 times faster than I do it :-).