We butchered the first two of our chickens this weekend and while we may do some more in-depth posts in the future on the actual process of slaughtering, eviscerating and butchering, this entry is more about the experience as a whole. I’d rather explain that because there is no shortage of far better online tutorials and books than anything this novice could explain. This is once case where getting the details from me would be a bit of Xerox, with you losing a little of the quality of the information.
So why write anything? Well, I think it’s important that anyone who plans to raise meat birds is certain they have the constitution to follow through with the slaughter. It’s a bit of a Catch 22 because if you’re willing to put the time and effort into raising meat birds on a hobby farm, you’re likely someone who already enjoys caring for animals. Or, you’re like my wife and just want to cuddle everything that moves. We considered all of this before buying birds, and decided to give it a shot.
These birds certainly received the same care that all of our animals (pets or commodity) do. For broiler birds, life doesn’t get much sweeter than they had it. I also thanked each one for their sacrifice (although that was probably little consolation) before doing the deed.
I’m confident the birds had a good life and, I believe, a good death too. Whether your culling barren layers or processing meat birds, ensuring a clean kill should be your absolute top priority. The first thing to keep in mind is that a tree stump and a cleaver is not generally considered a humane way to slaughter the bird. Consciousness can last for 30 seconds after decapitation and the heart stops before the animal is bled, impacting the quality of the meat.
A Clean Kill:
The proper way to do it is to invert the bird in a killing cone, sever the arteries in the neck and then pith it. Exsanguination is fairly instant and painless and pithing ensures an end to CNS function. There are some simple ways to tell if you’ve done it right, which I can explain in other posts. Nevertheless, this is a little more personal than whacking it with a cleaver. So, be aware of that ahead time. It helps if you don’t get to buddy-buddy with the birds. Obviously, don’t name them. For the most part I totally ignored these guys over the past 14 weeks. I helped keep the food full and the water clean and that seemed fine with the chickens. Even Kate managed to ignore the better part of her “let me hug and love it” instincts and she was also a part of the slaughter.
Dressing the bird – is it gross?
The good news is, after the life is gone, chicken looks like, well, chicken, pretty quick. If you’ve ever prepared a whole, dressed bird for dinner, you’ve had the same view that you have for most of this processes after the feathers are off. I’m not squeamish per say, but I’m certainly no fan of blood and gore and I didn’t find removing the entrails and gizzards overly nauseating – although I did wear gloves this time.
In the end, I’m very glad we got the meat birds. I’ve learned a lot about food and preparation doing it myself and I always enjoy learning new things. It’s amazing how little most of us actually know about what we’re eating simply because we’ve never seen it before it was being served.
I’ll also add that I didn’t feel “guilty.” Unless you’re a vegetarian, you’ve killed an animal. Maybe not directly, but I certainly don’t feel worse for doing my own dirty work. I disagree with those who say anyone that eats meat should have to slaughter it, but I don’t think anyone who does should feel bad about it. Especially if you’re an omnivore who is serious about “farm to table.”
A final, funny thought
Incredibly, as I write this I’m eating a vegetarian pizza that I didn’t want but accidentally ordered… to explain… I’m grabbing a salad and a slice down the street from my office and the menu says “animal lovers” pizza. I did not read the description and just assumed that would be all sorts of goodness like bacon, sausage, pepperoni (you know, health food). When I informed the waitress of her error, she laughed and explained I was describing a “meat lovers” pizza not an “animal lovers.” I now realize I assumed the latter was also referring to a love of their meat and not their company….
In all seriousness though, I love both, and I hope that means we can foster an environment of happier animals and healthier food. On our little farm, anyway.