Saturday, August 7, 2010

I Just Butchered 10 Chickens!

There'll be a little bragging in this post.   I'm a little proud of myself.  And my clan.

Let me start with a story (because there's always a story).  Butchering chickens is nothing new to me.  At least seeing chickens butchered is nothing new.

We always raised chickens for eating, at least when I was very young.  Each end-of-September, as far back as I can remember, my grandparents and aunt and uncle came on a Saturday for butchering chickens.  And then, since everyone was there, we had a big dinner and celebrated our birthdays.

Yep.  We didn't hire a clown or a pony.  We killed chickens.

My sister and I (when we got older) would catch and carry the chickens, upside down by their feet to my grandpa who chopped off the heads and tossed them in an oil drum.  After 10 or so, he fished them out one by one scalded them and bounced them around on the plucking machine.

Next they went to a table made of a piece of plywood balanced on two saw horses where my dad and my grandma gutted them.

Somewhere along the line, people who couldn't bear any other part of it got them and picked out the pin feathers with a paring knife.  This included my mom, my aunt and uncle and, later, my step-mother.

My sister and I never were invited to help other than to carry the chickens (and we thought we were big stuff to do that!) I don't know why.  I don't remember being grossed out by it.  We watched.  It smelled vaguely bad.  The dog nosed around under the table for scraps. This whole enterprise went on every fall until I was maybe 14 or so.

The gizzards went to Mrs. Wardeck up the road.

There you have my whole childhood.  Now to the present.

Mr. GT butchered 3 of our roosters earlier this spring.  He too grew up seeing it done by parents and grandparents, but never helped.  So to the internet he went, figured it all out, and one week when the kids and I were gone, he did the job.

And pretty much hated it.

This time I was invited to help.  Mr. GT confided to me after we were all done, that he was terrified that no one would help and he'd be left to do the whole job alone for 8 hours.
Our setup.  Left side: our old kitchen sink, a corian countertop piece (free on Craig's list) and the hose.  Center back: the plucking station (plywood covered with plastic) and Right: the feet et al. table (another piece of free Corian)

I was squeamish about the gutting.  It wasn't so much the rawness that didn't appeal to me, but rather the fact that it would be warm.  I can do cold raw chicken any time.  The more frozen, the better.

So Mr. GT fired up the propane turkey cooker and sharpened his hatchet.  He had four hanging to bleed out by the time we all got out there.

(I should mention that Banana Boy, who is very sensitive visually, pet-minded and prone to bad dreams had been shipped off to Nonny's last night.  HE was not invited to the butchering.)
I watched Mr. GT chop the head off the fifth one (He hates it.  Maybe I'll give it a go next time.  I once had to drown a nest of baby rabbits for him that had invaded his garden. He's too soft.  However, if you need a possum whacked to death with a shovel, he's your guy.).

He dunked the first chicken and we brought it to the plucking table.  Once you start plucking, the squeamishness for that vanishes.  Plucking is fun!  They sort of "unzip" right off the chicken.  Getting all the little feathers and the broken "stems" is a pain, but really, not hard.
Dunking and Rose Bud holding the one on deck

Pluck, pluck, pluck

Next was the feet/crop/neck/oil gland table.  The feet are super easy to remove (I'm sort of intuitive with this whole butchering thing, I was pleased to discover.  That makes me a 3rd generation expert chicken-butcherer).  The joint-finding, cutting, snapping, snipping thing was very "duh."  Rose Bud quickly latched onto this task, calling all foot-removing for herself.

She also liked to pull the tendons with the pliers after the feet were off, making the toes move up and down.  She had to individually play with each one.

The crop seemed a little creepy, but that became easy after about the 3rd one.  We withheld food from them since noon yesterday, so the crops were all empty.  We loosened each one and then went in to take out the neck.
A little different than "cropping" a photo

I would have loved to send Grandma a whole bag of necks, but sorry, Grandma.  I made them all into broth.  That's her favorite part.

Rose Bud also loved to cut off the oil gland above the tail and also called that job.

By the time we'd finished about 4 chickens, Daisy and Pepper joined us.  They rather sissily helped pluck, using just their fingertips.
Pluck, pluck, pluck

The next station was the gutting station.  Squeam-O.  There's also the whole gall bladder danger you have to be careful off, but in reality, that turned out to be a non-issue, really.  It's deeply hidden and protected in the gut-mass.

So Mr. GT sliced open the first one and I watched, then tried my own slicing.  Two fingers top, two fingers bottom, open up the cavity.

OK.  I am SO a natural at this.  My dad would be so proud.

I was able to get my hand in and it really is not gross at all.  And not as warm as I'd expected.  Every Thanksgiving I loosed the skin on the turkey and stick my arm up past my elbow under the skin to rub herbs all over the meat.  This was really no different (only warmer).

I was hesitant to pull the guts OUT, worried I'd break something, so Mr. GT had to pull out the first 3 after I'd loosened them, but after that, it was all ME.

ME.  ME.  ME.


I gutted a chicken!

Actually, Rose Bud had her hand inside by the 4th one (knock me over with a feather!!)  She was able to loosen everything and stuck her hand into most of them (she liked slitting, opening and loosening) but she never did get any guts pulled out.
Rose Bud, deep inside a chicken

I taught Daisy to open and clean the gizzards.  She loved that job.

Pepper dissected everything.  Two months ago I bought frozen chicken hearts at the grocery store when we were studying the heart and the girls wouldn't even enter the room where they were.  I ended up throwing them out.

Today, Pepper couldn't get enough of identifying parts and cutting them open and touching stuff with her finger.  She loved the lungs and the kidneys best.
Pepper carrying a headless, scalded chicken to the plucking table.  Isn't she CUTE????
Daisy carried raw hearts over to the heart/neck/gizzard pot for later broth-making.

So.  That was the most amazing thing I've ever done!  Seriously, if you've ever thought about it and been too squeamish, JUST DO IT!
Sunshine was at his most useful with the hose in his hand.  He put ice in the cooler, filled the coolers, rinsed everything, and sprayed the hose any chance he got.

So the first 5 were practice.  It took us (basically Mr. GT, Rose Bud and me) 2 hours.

The second 5 took just over an hour with everyone helping.

Just for fun, go read this step-by-step tutorial on how to butcher a chicken.  It is amazing and spot-on.  Very best directions on the web.

(And, we're having beef tonight, in case you were wondering!)

1 comment:

Recovering Noah said...

Good gosh almighty, Sandwich. This post should've come with a warning. Although I suppose the title should have been warning enough.

Chickens?? And baby rabbits?? Good thing you sent me that waterproof mascara. sniff sniff.

I'm too much of a softie. I prefer my chicken to come to me already cooked and on a plate. I'd rather not think about where it originated from.

Although, big kudos to you for having the balls to do it. I would've run screaming like a little school girl.