The road from my first perusal of Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma to eating our own pastured broilers seemed like a long process at the time… but looking back, it seems to have flown by.
The biggest hurdle, outside of finding the land to do the project on, (which ended up not being our land at all, which was NOT what we had anticipated), was the equipment.
After many discussions, craigslist ads, adaptations and bribery, we have accumulated the following equipment for our poultry butchering days. We’ve used it several times, and while we continue to tweak it, it works pretty well.
If you don’t like pictures of blood and guts, don’t worry – there aren’t any in this post! Merely clean equipment. I’ll show it in use some other time.
When the birds first come out of the chicken tractors, they are put head-down in the killing cones. Our original cones were made out of sheet metal, but after lots of attempts to resize them resulted in more frustration than success, we went with the traffic cone approach. These work pretty well, were dirt cheap (used), and easily cleaned and bleached.
The gutters direct the blood into bin, which makes for easier disposal.
After the birds are bled out, we scald the carcasses in a turkey fryer devoted to the purpose. (Craigslist, again.) We keep an extra kettle of water heating so that we can change out our scalding water frequently. Our initial butchering experience proved to us that the worst part of butchering day is the smell generated from over-used scalding water. Changing the water frequently greatly reduces the problem.
After scalding, they are plucked. Mr. H very graciously (and expertly!) put our Whizbang Chicken Plucker together. The design is Herrick Kimball’s. Mr. Kimball’s blog posts on chicken butchering were what made us realize that we could do this ourselves, and his plucker design and parts helped make it all possible.
After plucking, it’s time for eviscerating. This is my station, acquired piecemeal from craigslist. Restaurant supplies are a passion of mine!
We bought the sink after our first butchering day, and it’s a tremendous help in getting the carcasses rinsed clean after being gutted.
The birds then go into the ‘chill tanks’, the blue feed barrels. You can see these in the last two pictures above. These are scrubbed clean after they are emptied of feed, and then filled with ice water. We made ice blocks daily for a week before our last butcher day, and had plenty of ice for chilling the birds both in the water and after bagging, in ice chests.
Here is the drying rack, where the birds drain after being in the chill tank for an hour or so.
After draining for a couple minutes, we bag them and put them on ice in chests or the fridge.
Here’s the bagging table:
After we’re all done butchering for the day, all the chickens are distributed to everyone’s home fridges to be dealt with as each family desires.
I usually keep mine in the fridge for 24-48 hours before freezing, since freezing them before that time frame tends to make the meat tough.
We couldn’t have afforded to purchase everything brand new. Starting several months in advance of our planned butcher date, and purchasing nearly everything used made it all possible. Even the wood used to make the frame of the killing cones was recycled from other projects and an old garden table, and painted with leftover paint! The only thing purchased new were the pop-up shade tents and some of the parts for the plucker… and the main savings there came from bribing Mr. H with a goose dinner in exchange for putting it all together.
The clerk at the store was horrified when I plunked down $40 for a goose when turkeys were $5 apiece… but given that it saved me several hundred dollars in labor costs, it was the cheapest goose I ever bought. Thank you, Mr. H!
Chicken… it’s what’s for dinner.
Except butchering day. We eat anything but chicken on butchering day!