Processing home reared chickens for the freezer – be warned!

If you do not want to see the process of putting chickens from plot to plate then read no further.  This post shows how we slaughter our home reared chickens.
As always, I’d like to point out that our birds have had free range lives, been protected from the evil supermarket conditions and have thrived living in the countryside.  We know we’ve kept them happy and that we can say we’ve raised healthy and happy meat.
As I mentioned last week, we’re proud to be producing our own meat now and will no longer have to rely on shop bought meat.
Steven’s been researching new methods of plucking which he was very pleased to read involved having to make a fire.  What is it with men and fire?
The Ross Cobbs are all at our desired weight now, so over the next few weekends we will be processing 5 or so at a time.
Steven stole my comfrey tea making bin!  I must admit it is just the tool for the job though.  We needed a large tin suitable for a heavy load of water that could sit on a fire.
He built up the sides from the zillion stones we have lying around the smallholding and got a good fire going.
The idea is to get the water up to a temperature that makes the birds easier to pluck… I’ll explain.
He set his butchers apron, knives, gloves and steel out.  He also stole my stool to sit on 😉

Meanwhile the birds were not let out of their coops (he did this first thing) so they weren’t eating filling up their crops (we don’t normally worry about this as he’s careful and doesn’t pierce them on butchering, but this breed eat so quickly it was safer to withhold food and do it early).  The heaviest looking birds were gathered up and kept quiet in a box as the water was now at the desired temperature of 147F.

The birds go upside down straight into the “kill cone” which is just a large roadside cone, upside down and screwed to something solid.  The cone has the bottom cut off which allows the bird’s head to come out but not its body.
Using the sharpened knife, to ensure a quick dispatch, Steven removes the entire head in one go.  The reason we do this is we feel it is more humane and is our personal preference to ensure they go as quickly as possible.
The heads go into a bad and the birds drain in the cone for a few minutes into a bucket that’s below.  It doesn’t look nice, why would it, but it’s part of the process.  I’ve included a photo from before the first dispatch rather than after.
Once the birds is drained, a few minutes, it’s removed by it’s feet and plunged into the hot water for a few seconds, removed, shook and repeat maybe 3 times.  Wearing gloves (friction) test a few feathers for ease and if they come out quickly, proceed, if not then do it again.
As you can see, the kids know exactly where their meat is coming from.
If we have a few to do, they are all dispatched together and hung up until they’re ready
As soon as you dunk them in the hot water and the feathers are starting to free up, use the gloves to rub your hand over the skin and the feather literally peel off in your hand.  Ste was cursing that we had sat there for hours previously plucking the dry feathers by hand – you live and learn though right?
He got rained off outside and moved into the polytunnel – no letting the weather stop play around here.

Once plucked they were hung up whilst we did the rest.
The birds were gutted outside this time to keep the mess all in once place.  I kept getting photos and telling Ste to smile!  The organs that we keep were bagged and froze ready for pate or terrines that I make nearer Christmas.
They then had a rest inside for 24/48 hours, covered up in the fridge before being labelled and dated and put in the big freezer.  They all weighed in at slightly over or under 2kg.
Also we did ducks the same way.  The water method does work but takes longer when dunking as the feather obviously repel water.  The below photo isn’t the ducks we did this way, but I’m pleased as punch with them all the same.
We’ll be using this method moving forward.  Incidentally, we also used the big metal tin to boil up potatoes for the pigs by the 25kg sack full and it worked a treat plus again kept the mess outside.

13 thoughts on “Processing home reared chickens for the freezer – be warned!

  1. I share your approach in having the complete process set up and well organised so that the operation goes as smoothly as possible. Dipping in hot water to Aid plucking definitely makes a big difference but care is needed to not dip the hen in too long so that the flesh scalds. With turkeys, because I like to hang them for a week after plucking, the hot water method is not appropriate so I kill one and pluck straight away whilst the carcass stays warm before slaughtering the next one. Just on a regulatory note, DEFRA rules state you should stun the bird first to render it unconscious before killing it by bleeding. Check out 'Slaughter poultry, livestock and rabbits for home consumption' if you are interested to see what they say.


  2. I agree completely re not scalding as that was a worry of mine that it would effectively start cooking and we don't want any food poisoning! Interesting re turkeys – why do you hang them Philip? Always interested re the DEFRA rules, we'll be sure to take a look – thank you.


  3. Hi Tracy, the purpose of hanging is to enhance the flavour and make the meat more tender. Not everything say they can tell the difference but in my experience the meat is more tender if allowed to hang and the muscle relaxes and will continue to do so. (Eviscerate after hanging). To get some more insight into processing I visited a small scale turkey producer who mainly supplies up-market London butchers for the Christmas market and he felt hanging was essential for a quality turkey.


  4. Hi thereI read your blog regularly but have never commented. This brought back many childhood memories of the boiling tub of water. My mother plucking and then cleaning inards after a good long hanging. I agree birds need to hang to get the best flavour. Well done to you for raising your own meat. This is how we should be producing our food. This so much more acceptable in comparision to the massive slaughter houses. What you are doing and in the quanities that you process is perfect. All the best to you and your family. Great reading…you all work so hard.


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