Okay, so as a reasonable place to start/recap, here is the plan we started with:
Before doing any of that, we set up a table as a work surface. We had the bags, the tape, a scissors, the box cutter, a couple pairs of gloves, the scale, and some drinking water and coffee. Oh, and a clipboard with paper and pen to take notes on. We covered one of the tables with an opened garbage bag. Aidon covered the back of his neck with something tucked under his cap :)
I also lit a candle, in the kitchen, for the chickens we planned to butcher, as a token of our hope that they would have an easy passage.
Every night we lift up the food so that the Kennys don't eat themselves silly. Sadly, this is a feature of the breed. They are bred for big meaty breasts and thighs. But the flip side of that is that they really can eat themselves into heart attacks and leg problems. To avoid those problems, we raise their food every night. The laying hens can reach the food from the perches, but the Kennys, being so roly poly, can't perch, and therefore can't eat at night or in the early AM. It works out great.
It is generally recommended to have chickens that are about to be butchered be without food for several hours. This allows their intestinal tract to empty somewhat. If you've ever smelled chicken shit, you will understand why this is a very good idea.
We went to the shed, as we do every morning, but instead of just lowering the food, we picked six chickens to move from the shed to the outside coop. We weren't sure if we were going to process 4, 5, or 6 birds, so we corralled six to the outside, lowered the food inside the shed, left some water for the six, and re-shut the shed. The six of them were pretty mellow and just hung out in the sunshine together. They may have eaten a bug or two, but we weren't about to begrudge them that.
Once we had everything set up back at the processing area, David and I went back to the coop. I picked up one of the six, while David opened doors and gates for me. The chicken was as calm as could be, as long as I was holding her securely. We spoke gently to her, and brought her around to the other side of the house where Aidon was waiting.
The next step is to take a plastic grocery bag, with a small hole cut in it, and place it over the bird, with its head sticking out of the hole.
Aidon attempted to put the bag over her head.
Lesson learned: Put the bag over the chicken's head from behind, unless the point is to completely freak the chicken out. Which is definitely NOT the point. Animals should be as unstressed as possible before butchering, as it makes a difference in the flavor and texture of the meat. It's also a lot kinder.
Once the bag was on, she was still incredibly calm, and Aidon taped once or twice around her body. We brought her to the scale and weighed her. While this was a little tricky, since she didn't really want to sit down, and didn't have the ability to balance, we managed it. She was also the ONLY chicken we managed it with. The second one made it so difficult it prompted Aidon to remark "Wouldn't it be a lot easier to do this after it's dead?"
Lesson learned: A dead bird is INFINITELY easier to weigh than a live one. Yes, this is painfully obvious. What can we say - it was our first time, and we were learning as we went!
Note: I actually wrote these lessons down, as we worked. I have nearly 3/4 of a page of sloppily written notes on what we learned.
Actually, I was really glad that we did manage to weigh one before killing it, since we could also weigh it afterward and see how much blood a chicken has, on average (about 6 oz.) It appears that there is about 2.25 pounds of live chicken that doesn't make it to the final processed chicken. (See table below)
So after the first two chickens, the weighing step moved to the last step.
First time through we didn't do any more taping, but that proved to be a mistake. Kenny #1 broke right through the bag during its death throes, and it was a bit unsettling to see all that flapping. We taped better on Kenny #2, but not good enough. One wing managed to get out of a hole in the bag. Not quite as unsettling, but still not what we were going after.
Lesson learned: Tape the bag around the bird firmly. Especially around the shoulders/wings, as well as near the bottom of their bodies, so that they don't break free of it.
Related lesson learned: The initial taping with the bag is fine while being held, but the firm taping is best done while the bird is hanging upside down.
Next, Aidon took the pre-tied bit of rope, and slid the loop over the chicken's feet. We then walked over to the PVC construct, and I held the chicken upside down while Aidon tied the other ends of the rope over the top PVC pipe. I let go of the chicken and let it hang.
Aidon and David taping a bird up, once hanging:
Then we gave the bird a gentle swing, to help calm it. Actually, they were all really calm throughout the whole thing. Kenny #3 was a bit of a squawker a couple of times, but once she was hanging, she was very mellow.
After a few minutes, it was time. We were resolute, but nervous, the first time. It got easier once we were pretty sure we were cutting in the right place, and that it was, in fact, as humane as we had hoped.
We approached the chicken and thanked it and wished it an easy passage. We spoke calmly around it, and didn't dally. Every one of the chickens seemed completely calm at this point.
This picture shows the side of the chicken's head. I'm not sure if the white tuft or the skin bit beneath it is the chicken ear, but the ear is a landmark for where to cut. The place to cut is below both the tuft and the skin bit. Or above, if the chicken is upside down, like this. The point is to sever the carotid artery and the jugular vein.
Pulling down a bit, to make a clean, smooth, accurate cut.
Box cutter, set on the setting just below fully out, ready to go:
Aidon bent the head away from the cut, just slightly, to help start the bleeding, and then backed away. Each of the birds bled easily and well. The first was the most tense (for us) because we didn't have any idea what level of blood flow to expect, etc. Aidon did brilliantly and didn't cut any windpipes, and got good solid bleeds on all four chickens. We had a bucket under the birds to catch the blood. There's a picture of it, but it's not really terribly instructional, and it is kind of gory with no real point. It's blood in a bucket - let your imagination run wild (or ask me, if you REALLY want to see it - I won't tell anyone!)
After about ... a minute, maybe (we'll time this, next time - I could be off by as much as a minute, I suppose, but I don't think so) there was a bunch of flapping, which is clearly a death throe. One or two of them may have had two smaller throes instead, but it was pretty much one major one, and that was about it. It was a bit disconcerting the first time. Both because we didn't know what to expect, and also because it broke free of the bag and ended up flapping up a storm.
As mentioned previously, it's a LOT easier to weigh them at this point. (Unfortunately, with all the wet weather, the birds got their chests a bit dirty the last few days.)
And that's pretty much it, for this part of the process! We killed all four before moving to the next stage. We'll probably do the same thing next time, too. It took about an hour, but that was mostly because we were learning. We could easily do the whole thing a LOT faster, next time.
The actual killing was, mechanically, the easiest part of the day. By far. I think we were properly emotionally and psychologically prepared for it too. We were all pretty proud of ourselves, accomplishing this. We were both definitely raised as city-folk, so managing to do something like this, without a mentor, was really quite ... well ... cool.
March 26th, 2006 chicken stats. 8-week old chickens:
Copyright Kimberly Bobrow Jennery, 1997-2006
Contact Kimberly at: kimberly at bobrow dot net