Don’t Eat Fresh Chicken!

***Warning!  This post contains some graphic language…not vulgarity…just some detailed information about preparing a rooster (actually, a cockerel) for dinner.  As requested by one of our wonderful readers, there are no photos in this post.

We have some sad, yet tasty news…

We have finally confirmed that eight of our ten chickens are cockerels – the three large, white Silkies and five of the Ameraucanas.  They have all been crowing louder and louder every day (well, one of the Silkies just started this morning), and one of our neighbors said they heard them a few mornings ago.  We can’t have any roosters here, so it’s time for them to go to chicken heaven if we can’t find them a home immediately.

We decided it was time to prepare a chicken dinner, so we chose an area behind our house that would allow us to perform the execution without our neighbors having to watch a potentially messy and loud activity.

Since we decided to separate the chicken’s head from his neck with an ax, we needed a stable and flat surface that would not damage the sharp blade.  We had some trees cut down a while ago that were cut into two-foot sections and placed in a corner of our property.  One of the logs was retrieved and then placed on end in the execution area.  We then began to look for the rest of our tools – an ax and knife, a large pot of water, a baking thermometer, a heat source, a small trash can and plastic bag.

Since I have watched a number of YouTube videos about turning a live chicken into a plate of food, I knew that a large pot of water that is heated to about 150° F would help loosen the feathers.  As Kim was heating water on the stove, I remembered that we had an EcoZoom Versa rocket stove that we bought a month or so ago – not for this purpose, but it would work perfectly as a water-pot stand and to keep the water hot as we “processed” the chicken.  This stove uses very little wood to create a lot of heat, so we needed some wood.

It rained the night before and all the wood in our yard was wet, so we used some dryer lint and pine shavings (aka, brooder bedding) to start the fire and to dry small sticks and chunks of ground-up stumps that were laying around the yard.

We also needed a place to drain the blood and to hold the chicken feathers.  Kim found a small garbage can, lined it with a trash bag, and placed it next to the chopping block.

Once the hot water was in place and we confirmed that the temperature was just right, Kim held the roo upside down by his legs to keep him calm and I gently placed his head on the flat side of the log.  Then I held his head with my left hand and the ax with my right.

For safety reasons, I would have preferred to hammer two nails into the log and then place the chicken’s neck between the nails instead of holding the head with my hand.  After all, one slip of the ax and I could remove my fingers instead of his head.  Unfortunately, we couldn’t find any nails and I am a little too impatient to put off an execution.

As I was aiming and preparing to swing the ax, I was thinking about the French Revolution and imagining what I was going to do if I hit my hand with the blade.  Then I remembered that I should focus on what I want to hit, instead of what I don’t want to hit.

After moving the ax up and down a few time, I swung the ax and hit my target.  Next thing I knew I was holding his head as Kim swung his body over the plastic bag.  I dropped his head in the bag and took his legs from Kim so she could get me a wet towel to wash the blood off my face.  Apparently, it squirted on me after the headectomy or as he flopped around above the bag.  To my surprise, his body continued to move around quickly for at least one full minute before it relaxed and went limp.

Using his legs as a handle, I dipped his body in the water for about 30-45 seconds, wiggling it around gently as I waited.  After removing it from the water, I pulled on a few feathers to see if they were ready to be removed.  They came out easily, but there were so many that it took two of us at least 15 minutes to remove all but a few pin feathers.

When I got tired of pulling out feathers, I took his pale body into the kitchen, slipped on some disposable gloves, cut off his tail with a pair of kitchen shears, and proceeded to cut the skin around the vent.  This took much longer than I expected.  Maybe I was being too careful, but I didn’t want to cut the intestines and contaminate the meat.  After about fifteen minutes I was able to put my hand inside, along the backbone, and pull out most of the organs.  A few more scoops and out came the lungs, heart, and some parts that are still unidentified.

I wanted to soak the meat in some salt water overnight to insure all the blood was removed, but Kim decided that we needed to slow-cook it in a crockpot right away.  After about six hours, she served the roo for dinner with some fresh veggies and homemade bread.

Our first roo dinner was absolutely delicious.  In fact, it was the best tasting chicken I have ever eaten.

As I chewed…and chewed…and chewed…that delicious meat, I realized that something was wrong.  The roo was so young that I expected it to be fall-off-the-bone tender, but, instead, it was chewy like a thin piece of jerky.  Although we ate our first roo dinner and enjoyed the taste, I’m very happy that we didn’t have any guest over for dinner that night.

We learned some valuable lessons about raising and eating chickens.

1. Don’t buy “straight-run” chickens if you want hens.  Technically, you should get a 50-50 mix of male and female chicks, but you will more likely get an 80-20 mix (with the 80 being males).  I suspect that some breeders “sex” their chicks by placing the females in one box and the males in another.  Then they sell their females as “sexed” chicks and males as “straight run.”  While this does not seem to be an ethical business practice, I understand that they need to sell the males as well.  The main lesson here:  Don’t be cheap.  It’s worth paying a little extra to get what you want.

2. Keep some dry wood out of the weather at all times.  You never know when you’ll need to heat a big pot of water after it rains.

3. Don’t hold the chicken’s head with one hand and swing the ax near that hand.  I was certifiably stupid for doing this and was within an inch or so of losing some fingers.  Yes, I got lucky this time, but luck is often short-lived.  I’ll have to find a safer way to hold the chicken’s head next time.

4. Don’t eat fresh chicken!  In other words, don’t eat chicken immediately after killing it unless you are starving and unable to wait 24 hours.  After a little research, I learned that it’s best to let the meat rest overnight so it has time to relax…unless you like chewy roos.

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35 Responses to Don’t Eat Fresh Chicken!

  1. Thanks for sharing this and the tips. This process is in our future and I don’t know what to expect, so this post was really helpful! Sorry so many of your babies turned out to be boys, but on the plus side, you have some tasty dinners lined up =)

  2. Ter says:

    Thanks for the info! Hubby (not to mention MIL and I) will be anxious to read this and take your advice! Our crew is a few weeks behind yours; we’re still in the “are they males or are the hens” stage.

  3. So many males – what a shame. Interesting lesson about buying on the cheap. Are you going to buy more hens to increase your flock?

    Thanks for not posting the photos. Not only didn’t I want to see the end result, I didn’t want to see those sweet birds I’ve watch grow up pull at my heart strings.

    • After watching them grow up, hand feeding them, letting them fall asleep on my lap, and enjoying their entertaining personalities for the past few months, killing and cleaning our first roo was like killing a friend…well, almost. I’m not fond of killing anything, especially something that trusts me.

      Yes, we just got eleven newly-hatched chicks…five different breeds. I’ll post some photos and more info soon.

  4. babso2you says:

    Interesting process. I am glad that you are back to posting! I missed your posts! Barb

  5. lifehomemade says:

    Thanks for this! I read somewhere (think it was Storey’s guide to raising chickens) that if you use a sharp knife instead of an ax, it is much less messy – but I suspect that you would have to get really good at that so as not to nick the crop. I’ve not done it yet, so if I do before you, I’ll let you know if it’s any easier or less messy.

  6. Actually, you don’t need to immobilize the head at all. I just sort of drape it over the log end. If the rooster is too lively, hold it firmly by the feet and swing it around like a fan a couple or three times (as if you’re warming up to pitch a softball) which will settle it right down. As for implement of destruction: I sometimes use a Philippine Moro War Knife – which I acquired in said country while there with the military. THEY used them to whack off people’s heads, so I figured they should be just dandy for chickens!.

    Sharp hatchets work well. Pretty much any sharp heavy blade evenly and forcefully applied to the neck will do. Holding the ax/hatchet/bigdangknife in one hand, and the bird’s feet and body elevated in the other, whack away!

    Personally, once the head is severed, I just let the legs go and let the body flop around on the ground. (I do not get blood in my face.)

    If you buy your chickens from a reputable hatchery, you should get near 50/50 male/females. A couple of years ago we got 5 hens out of 25 birds from one hatchery. We no longer do business there. If you bought your birds from a feed store – you are likely to get just what you got… or maybe even ALL males. The store may have received a straight run from the hatchery, but it’s possible that folks who knew how to sex chicks got to the inventory before you did… which is ONE of the reasons I don’t buy chicks from feed stores… the other being potential disease transmission from the scads of folks who tramp through the store with God only knows what on their boots.

    • I’ll have to try your method next time. It makes sense that they won’t move their head much once it’s laying on the block.

      Although I said we used an “ax”, it was actually a 14″ Fiskars hatchet (a small ax). I may try a knife like yours if we need to dispatch any more roosters.

      Our neighbor just helped us harvest a couple of roosters and showed us how he did it years ago. After chopping off the head, he tossed the body in the grass and let it run and flop around. He said this pumps most of the blood out.

      Oh, maybe that’s what happened at the feed store. And it’s interesting that you got 80% males from the feed store as well. We won’t buy chicks there again. Thanks for the advice!

  7. narf77 says:

    I just sat down to read your latest post after killing 4 roosters tonight, removing their skin (in the oven for the dogs…), cutting up their useful meat (in the food processor as mince for the husband) and tossing the carcasses into an enormous pot to simmer on the wood burning stove for top notch stock. I totally and utterly comiserate with you! As a vegetarian the LAST thing I ever wanted to do was kill anything and suddenly we had crowing…hen molestation on a dangerous level and a lack of eggs thanks to hen fear and something had to be done about it. That was back early on in the year and the 4 that we dispatched tonight made 11 gone to rooster heaven since then. We have another batch of 7 as yet silent youngsters but no doubt there will be a few crows within about a month. I often watched things on television about farmers etc. and wondered at how they could be so uncaring about their livestock…I guess when you have to kill them on a regular basis it certainly denatures you to their cute fluffiness. Sorry that your rooster was tough. We have killed roosters over 6 months old and after a stint in the freezer (a very wise move) they were incredibly tender and delicious. At least you have learned now and the next few dispatchings will be easier. We use a large Chinese cleaver to kill our roosters as its easier to maneuvre and if you kill them cleanly they dance about for ages afterwards. We tossed ours into a feed sack as we killed them somewhat like a production line…look at us! We have all now been initiated into the secret clan of the serial chicken killers society! I wonder if we get a secret handshake? Now you just have to work out what you are going to do with all of those innards…ours go to the feral cats and the feathers go into the compost heap but we DO live out in the sticks so no-one cares what we do. Tomorrow…we get to sleep in with NO CROWING! We had to hunt the roosters down tonight as they are feral and live in a large conifer. There should be 7 hens left from the feral gang now and hopefully we can manage future hens so that we don’t get anyone breeding or brooding unless we want them to. Again, well done on what is a very hard task for the very first time. It does get a bit easier but I doubt that I will ever lose my distaste for having to kill something.

  8. mhuron says:

    My husband went through the same thing when he bought straight run chicken. He patiently waited for them to get up to an acceptable wait, and meanwhile went through months of a 40-rooster-strong alarm clock. He also said that it was horrible for the hens, whe were really bashed about by the roosters.

  9. super interesting! I don’t think you needed any pictures! LOL! I wish I had the guts to do that.

  10. Well done you. Our first 6 eggs sitting under our broody hen are due to hatch on Thursday, so we will then go through the same as you, cooing at their cuteness and then waiting to see which grow into roosters. I’m a bit squeemish and don’t think I could behead a chicken, but my husband says he will wring the head of any cockerels. Also I don’t fancy the plucking and degutting, but my neighbour who is a country girl and not a towny-come-to-the-country girl like me says she will show me what to do.

  11. I grew up on a commercial chicken farm, so killing chickens was just part of the business. Dad used to just break their necks with his hands – I’m thinking that’s probably the best way if you have the strength to do it. That way they don’t sling blood everywhere. I’ve also seen some old timers “wind up” chickens – grab them by the head and start swinging them around like a lasso until the head pops off! Most of us would think that is pretty gruesome nowadays, but let me tell you, it was amazing when I was a kid!

    • I know what you mean. When I was a kid, my grandmother told me stories about living on a farm in Tennessee and Ardmore, Alabama in the first half of the 20th century. One of her stories was about her grabbing a chicken by its head or neck and then swinging it around until its head popped off. She called this, “wringing its neck.” Then, she said, it would run around the yard without a head. I thought this was hilarious when she told me about it 40 years ago, but I really didn’t think it was possible until I watched two headless chickens run around our backyard a few days ago. Grandma would have been proud of me for getting closer to my roots and for feeding my family the old-fashioned way.

  12. Venessa says:

    Bummer you had so many males in your group. Looks like we have just 1 of 4…good ratio since I bought them sexed (90% accuracy so they say). I think I remember my grandmother letting the meat rest until the next day. Makes sense I guess. Hopefully your next chicken dinner will be tastier!

  13. oceannah says:

    Good job on taking lemons er, uh, chickens and making dinner :) A killing cone, and a sharp knife is a lot safer and quicker in my opinion. And while it is indeed quite a sight to see a headless chicken flopping about the yard, it is stressful for the bird and therefore pumps stress hormones into the meat…quick efficient butchering is usually the safest and produces good quality meat. Also the best way to cook a ‘home growed’ bird (particularly non-meat-birds) is with moist heat ie: dutch oven or covered roasting pan. Just a few thoughts. You can never have too many skill under your belt if you ask me! You’ll never go hungry :)
    *anna

  14. Pingback: Chickens Fascinate Meeee « Middle Brick Road

  15. Jenn says:

    Yup, always let the meat soak in salt water over night before prepping for freezing or eating…or else you end up eating “rigor mortis.” Sounds like your first chicken processing went very well…and you’ll get faster as you become more familiar and comfortable with the whole process.

  16. You’re a rock star! I admire the effort and look forward to the unfolding tales!

  17. df says:

    Congratulations on a major rite of passage and kudos for the completely honest telling! You survived and you’ll have some good chicken to enjoy (after that first one!), and you are so much wiser. Better still, you’ve shared your hard won wisdom. Thank you!!

  18. Fay Moore says:

    Love this story! Entertaining and informative. By the way, on my blog (a little before July 4th I think) there is the cutest music video made by 3 farm brothers. I think you and other food-raising folks will get a chuckle. It’s a clever parody of a pop song. Look for a title that says something about a little humor for farmers. Enjoy.

    P.S. I want to Press This to my blog as a good example of a How-to story. Do you mind?

  19. maclscott says:

    Thanks for your detailed description for the “harvesting” of roos (as well as your amazing adventure tales in hydroponics). We began this process about 2 summers ago and it is NEVER easy. I never ran into the fresh chicken scenario you described because I could never eat it right away. I always had to wait, for a lengthy deliberation, on becoming a devout vegetarian, for at least a week. But I have always gotten over it, and resumed my life as a poultry-avore. We are upping the anti this fall and I am dreading it. No roos as our 14 chicks met the demise of a grey fox, but our turkey hen hatched out 3 tommies. Tommy Jr., Tommy II and Tommy II (AKA: T-day, Sausage and Jerkey). AND we intentionally raised a buckling goat, along with his doeling cousin and milking auntie. A few months ago when Bucky was extremely obnoxious would have been a good time. Now he is getting… um… nicer…. (Oh crap.)

    • I wish we had more land so we could have turkeys and goats, but our dozen hens have been keeping us busy enough for now. We have also lost about 10 of our chickens, but we’re not sure what’s happening to them. We haven’t found any dead birds or piles of feathers, so I think a hawk or owl is flying off with the smaller ones.

  20. urzaeb says:

    Ok its best to use a milk jug and open the bottom and slightly open the top allowing the chickens head to pass through. Hang the jug and chicken upside down inside the jug with head poking out.and slit his jugular. This will allow him to properly bleed out as it allows the heart to beat much longer.

  21. Everything is very open with a very clear explanation of the issues.
    It was truly informative. Your site is very helpful.
    Many thanks for sharing!

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