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Not for the squeamish…

June 28, 2008


 Last supper – really it is last lunch.  

Here is what those adorable chicks I showed you 8 weeks ago, turned into.  Grass and grain eating and pooping fertilizing fools.   I’ve just moved them to fresh grass, and am watering them, you can see them grazing and doing the contented chicken leg and wing stretch.  They have had an enjoyable eight weeks.  I always think if I was a dog, I would want to be one of my dogs, and if I was a chicken, I would want to be one of my chickens… .

We withhold the feed the afternoon before processing the chickens.  They receive water and fresh grass, but no grain.  This allows the the crop  and the rest of the digestive system to clear out.  This step is important,  a clean crop and a flushed out intestinal tract make life a little more pleasant during this task.

We loaded them into our crates during the dark, they stay calm and settle right down in their crates.  They were going to get to travel and see other chickens in the nearby state of Washington at our friends farm, who let us come over and butcher when they do.  On the slate for the day:  4 adults and an assortment of kids from age 9 – 16 were going to  butcher 500 chickens and be cleaned up by lunchtime. This is in addition to doing chores as usual, on three farms They had 365, their friend from church had 70, and we were bringing 71.  We were home by noon. 

 As an aside to people who might be bothered by this post – I worked today alongside a nine year girl teaching her how to butcher a chicken.  Her biggest concern?  Her apron was a little too big, and the straps kept slipping off of her arms.  She was a trooper.  She stuck with it and and like a good trailhorse, she was bombproof, even getting playful and making a dead chicken fart, by bouncing it on the table.  I don’t think she wonders where her food comes from.

This post will be long on pictures, but I will try to explain each so you can see how we spent our day.  I’m still number crunching – I’m scared to see how much they cost me, but the accountant in me has to know to the penny. 

Crossing the Columbia River, looking east towards home.

Yep, this is the place.

Jerseys and broiler pens.

Missy, our greeter.

New baby chicks.

*****WARNING***** the party is over!

Loading the killing cones and bleeding out.  The cones keep the chickens from struggling and they feel safe in an enclosed area… . This helps minimize stess for chickens and humans!  Blood drips into a trough and then into a bucket.  Good compost starter.   Nothing is wasted.


Slitting the throat.


 Bleeding out.

Fully bled and getting ready for the scalder.

Scalder, with soap added to help flocculate the feathers.  The water is approximately 140* and the birds cycle through for one minute.

Automated plucker.



The kids got in too big of hurry, and ran the birds through too fast.  The water cooled a little and the feathers don’t loosen as easily.  When they have to start picking this many off by hand – they slow down.

Heads off and into a cool vat of water.

Gutting (sorry there isn’t a better word for this part).

Taking out the crop.  Things that have to be removed, tail glands, crop and windpipe, and entire gut assembly.  Save heart, liver and gizzard.  At this time, you get to see the health of the bird, by checking them inside and out – literally.

Chickens have been in ice water for an hour.  This container is the type used on fishing boats.  It easily holds 75 – 100 chickens.

Our hostess and boss for the day putting the chickens to drain.//


The feathers from 500 broilers.  Compost material.

More compost material.

The actual butchering is only part of the job.  Building a compost pile out of the offal, and the cleanup of the processing area take some time.  Everything has to be scrubbed and sanitized and put away until the next batch in a month.  Inside the chickens have to be drained and QC’d for feathers, and anything else that won’t look appetizing on a platter.  Customers start arriving by 1:00pm.  Everything needs to be ship shape!

Here we are at home, Melvin is doing an additional QC for us.

Other peoples chickens were processed also that day.  The picture below shows the difference in how you raise your chickens.  Not moving the chickens everyday, or bedding them properly causes causes the sores on the feet from manure build-up.  I grabbed a foot out of the compost, so you could see the difference.  Ours is on the left.  Good dog, Trace you picked the correct one!

39 Comments leave one →
  1. June 28, 2008 5:03 am

    Great, informative post as usual. Wow, I’m always amazed by the speed. Of course, having the right equipment and set up helps tremendously I would imagine.

  2. Sue permalink
    June 28, 2008 7:32 am

    That was the saddest thing I’ve ever seen. I will stop reading your blog now.

    • JPM permalink
      December 13, 2012 9:13 am

      Yes, food really comes from nice packages at the grocery store. It’s all harvested from the packaged food gardens in La-La land.

  3. matronofhusbandry permalink*
    June 28, 2008 10:21 am

    Danielle, thanks, all that shiny equipment is nice. When I do one at home, it takes quite a while. We used to just grab a young cockerel now and then from the new layer flock. But, these guys grow fast and then we are done. I just missed the heatwave – it is supposed to be 97* today, for sure I would have lost some to the heat. Ironically, the state inspected facility is very close to my house, but we don’t like to go there. Too many birds through there make for a very unsanitary place. They don’t require that the food be withheld and it’s not unusual to see birds there waiting to be processed with food containers in their cages. By the end of the day the water in the scalder is like swill. They also have a rendering company pick up the offal and sometimes the stench is unbearable. Ironically, they have nursery stock and a couple of large vegetable gardens that struggle along with Miracle Grow, and it doesn’t occur to them to use the blood or even to compost the byproducts and sell the compost.

  4. matronofhusbandry permalink*
    June 28, 2008 10:49 am

    Sue, I did post a warning in bold at the beginning of this post, and when the pictures did get graphic I inserted another warning.

    I too, come across blogs that I choose not read for various reasons. But I have to ask – do you not eat anything that was ever alive? I eat vegetables too, and the weeds I pull out in order to help the vegetables thrive are just as alive as the carrot that I choose to leave. I have chosen to eat meat and to husband the animals that make my life full. I treat them well and make sure that their final moment is as stress free as possible.

    If you are a vegan, or vegetarian, have you asked the farmer who supplies your food, what he uses for fertilizer? Is it feather meal or chicken manure from some confinement farm where the animals are kept in terrible conditions and tended by people who don’t care about them, or maybe if it is soybased protein you are eating, is it nurtured with fossil fuel based fertilizers?

    For me it seems that looking my food in the face and touching it, whether it is a seed or baby chick keeps me respectful of all life.

  5. June 28, 2008 11:47 am

    Looks pretty efficient to me. We used to butcher 10 to twenty five in the morning when My Mother-in law and I raised birds and it was ongoing drudgery, day after day until they were done. We did it all by hand and that was the amount that we could handle and cool in a day. A plucker would have been wonderful as would the extra hands.
    It’s too bad Sue doesn’t live in the real world, nature can be far crueler.

  6. Nancy permalink
    June 28, 2008 12:48 pm

    We received our 50 chicks and 4 turkeys, they all survived! What great info. on how to butcher. I think the first purchase for the butchering would be the killing cones. Then we’ll add other tools later. I am so excited for my dreams to finally come true!!! My own chickens for meat and eggs and don’t forget the turkeys!!! bon appetite.

  7. June 28, 2008 9:54 pm

    Hi! I’ve been “lurking ” around here for a couple of weeks. I have been challenged , enlightened, entertained,and touched by your posts. Today is no exception. This has to be the most boldly informative explanation of chicken butchering I have seen. I have read many articles and book chapters on the subject, but these photos really make it real. Thank you, and keep on telling it like it is.

  8. June 28, 2008 10:27 pm

    I keep coming back to your blog for informative posts like this – thank you!

    And thank you for your kind comment on my blog about my boy – I really appreciated it.


  9. matronofhusbandry permalink*
    June 29, 2008 7:10 am

    Linda, no wonder the Bossman doesn’t like chickens. It’s grueling work doing it by hand. The equipment is expensive, we never could quite justify the cost, this guy has a good paying job and does this on the side. So he has spared no expense. if the water temperature is right the plucker really get them clean, maybe a hair and a stray quill here and there. When I do them at home I never can get every last little feather.

    As for Sue, I think she got tired of harassing Jinglebob and decided to send me on a guilt trip. She is midguided, I think she must eat like you and I, and going to the store and buying food shouldn’t insulate you. There is killing involved somewhere along the line. I agree, Mother Nature can be gruesome. I’ve had to kill baby chicks that ravens have pulled a leg off of – don’t tell me that wasn’t stressful having your leg pinched off while you were watching. If food got scarce, people with views like that would go hungry real fast.

    Nancy – You devil! I’m glad your chickens arrived safely! Can you believe it, you guys are finally there and getting started. Didn’t it seem like it would never happen. I’ll be in touch about the turkey butchering, and hopefully we will talk before then.
    I have your email – but it is private, so people reading your comment won’t have access to it. Talk to you soon – say HI to the cabinet maker!

    Shannon, Hi yourself, as a former lurker, thanks for the compliments, and stopping by. I’m glad you like the blog, I’m new at this, so I don’t want blogging to become a chore, I write about what I feel strongly about on that day – it may be some stupid story from my childhood or just a dry, number filled how -to. I love books, but I’m hands on and have to just do something to learn it. Chicken butchering is like that, I had done them occasionally, but on a large scale was daunting. Just diving (reaching) in made it easier.

    Sarah, thanks, I wondered if this post would be helpful or would turn people off. I have looked back at the pictures and I don’t see anything wrong or cruel about them. Even if someone doesn’t have all this fancy equipment, the prodedure is the same.
    How is G? I can’t imagine having something so serious happen to my girl.

  10. June 29, 2008 7:21 am

    Wow, what a GREAT post. I’ve read about killing cones but until I saw your pic I didn’t quite ‘get it.’ Was a little sad to see all of the chicken ‘toes’ end up as fertilizer. I buy ’em regularly for stock.

    Thanks for the post and all of the pictures. I think kids raised on a homestead-type farm have a sense of balance that can be lacking in the city – ya’ gotta’ love that 9 yr old!

  11. matronofhusbandry permalink*
    June 29, 2008 9:48 pm

    Hayden, thanks. All the fancy equipment isn’t necessary of course, but if you are doing many, that’s the way to go. I brought home all my chickens legs, and they gave me their hearts and gizzards they didn’t sell. They do compost what they don’t sell each batch. I use mine for stock or for barter. Since theirs had burned feet from the manure build-up, they would have to spend a little time dressing them up for sale. I really didn’t want their feet, compost was a good end use.

    I had to hustle to get those pictures – and keep out of the way and still try to get good shots.

    All the kids we have met there have been homeschooled, and they have met this family through their church. They clamor to get a job there, because they pay by the chicken. A couple of the older kids earned $17.00 an hour. They all want to be there, and boy do they hustle. If they get done with one job, they look for another. The couple whose farm we were at homeschooled all their children before it was as accepted as it is now. Their kids are all grown and have families of their own and are continuing the cycle.

  12. June 30, 2008 8:01 am

    Fascinating. What I’ve learned in the last 9 months or so since I started exploring is that there is an entire universe of folks living more differently that us city folk can ever imagine. All of my biases have been shattered once again. I used to think homeschooling was strictly fanatic christians – now of course I realize it is so much more than that – and I love it! How much we all change when we explore with willing hearts! But – in order to accomplish it there have to be blogs like this one, that help put things in perspective. I appreciate the education!

    Recently a friend who extols the pleasures of the countryside and manual labor has been sniping at me for overly sentimentalizing country life. It hits a nerve with me because I try to be careful not to do that – but I understand the mind set that looks for trouble behind the bucolic setting, for it is where I was just a couple of years ago. Honest reality, without masks or pretense (like this post!) are the only cures. Hard work, yes. Sometimes unpleasant work, yes. But also great joy and benefit.

  13. June 30, 2008 9:46 am

    Great post, as usual. (and I’m late to the party, as usual 🙂 ).

    You can’t go through blogging without offending someone, somewhere. I think the ratio of people touched positively by this post to those negatively is better than most of us manage in life….keep up the good work!

  14. Aubrey permalink
    June 30, 2008 11:27 am

    Hi! So I’m following my own advice. I suggested to my readers that they come over here & say “hey thanks for being such a totally awesome farmer & not destroying the planet with the cruel & filthy ways of the factory farm!”

    And so: “hey thanks for being such a totally awesome farmer & not destroying the planet with the cruel & filthy ways of the factory farm!”

    Great post. And I agree with Rich, above. Try not to take dumb comments personally. You rock my socks.

  15. Aubrey permalink
    June 30, 2008 11:29 am

    oops, I didn’t leave my blog address. It’s , just in case you weren’t sure who the heck I was.

  16. matronofhusbandry permalink*
    June 30, 2008 3:12 pm

    Hayden, don’t feel bad, I had a dim view of homeschooling because of our neighbors (who were too strict and too lax at the same time). But after we had our child, we weren’t liking what we were seeing in our school district. Now, in retrospect, we can see that our neighbor’s kids would have turned into miscreants anyway. Other neighbors who had to homeschool because of severe immune system problems in younger children, raised very fine kids. It’s interesting to me, that both of these families are very religious, and all of these kids played together while growing up. So it isn’t just the 3R’s that needed to be taught.

    I don’t think you are over sentimentalizing country life or what you have ahead of you at all. I get that a lot, from friends who think because we don’t have the degrees they do, we are stupid, because that is how they measure success. If everything goes OK on the farm, they think we just lucked out, and if it goes wrong (Jetta for instance) that it was because we must have done something wrong. They never think things go right because we work hard at trying to make sure it does go smoothly. My “favorite” line is, “How hard could it be, (gardening, successful animal birthing, successful animal reproduction, etc) people have been farming for centuries, what’s to know?” Well, try it for more than one season, and then you tell me. One couple is gloating because
    they are having a great success with their garden, and wondering why mine is so late. Well, I guess because I had to wait to work my soil, I didn’t just buy two loads of compost and have it spread and start planting. They probably won’t stick with it enough seasons, to see that the first year on clean ground is the easy one, so I won’t get the satisfaction of seeing them have a hard time, when they have a larger weed problem to contend with. OOPS this is turning into a rant, and making me sound like I want revenge. Bad farmer, Bad farmer!
    As for bucolic, 99% of the time it is serene, quiet and enjoyable, even when we are working hard. Things I have seen, that I would never have experienced in a desk job, I wouldn’t have traded for the world!

    Rich, welll I did say the party was over, but you can be late if you want! I still think I had a good day, and I’m equally excited that those chickens are gone and in my freezer.

    I’ve been upsetting the applecart since I was born, and I suspect about 9 months before that too 😉 . So, I really wasn’t bothered by Sue’s comment, it just gave me a chance to ask her a few questions, so she could be truthful about how she lives her life.

    Aubrey, thanks for the thanks!

  17. July 1, 2008 8:54 am

    what a great post.

    and as for your reply to sue’s reaction, well said!

    i wish we had that set up. it makes butchering a breeze, instead, we do it all by hand and it’s long and tedious.

    how do you compost the feathers? do you just put them in with everything else? i’m just wondering how to keep the critters out of it (raccoons, possums, coyotes, dogs, cats).

    we are getting 2 great pyrs and will be doing a raw food diet so most of the ‘scraps’ will be dinner for them but i was stumped with what to do with the feathers. i never thought of composting them.

  18. matronofhusbandry permalink*
    July 2, 2008 5:58 am

    Kristine, thanks, what else could I say to Sue, she does eat something that has been alive at one time or another.

    That equipment IS nice, we’re lucky to have a friend that has it. We never could justify the expense. I grab a chicken now and then and butcher, but you’re right it is a pain. The plucking takes the longest for me.

    On the feathers, just put them in the pile, use wood chips like the utility companies have, it’s pretty coarse but soaks up a lot of blood, etc. They have dogs, and they stay out of the piles, I’ve heard of putting lime in the mix, but I’m not sure that he does that. The feathers don’t break down all the way, but they aren’t offensive in the garden either.

    Wow, 2 pyr puppies – that will nice, it takes a lot of meat and veggies just to feed my two, and they only are in the 65 – 75 lb. range. I can’t imagine feeding bigger dogs.

  19. July 8, 2008 1:29 am

    Stumbled upon your blog from another and have to say, while shocked in the beginning, as I continued to view the photos and information shared, I was fascinated, impressed and amazed at the entire process. I still didn’t like the killing cones, but that’s only because I get faint from the sight of blood.
    I think I would stink at butchering anything, but I’m sure thankful and appreciative and respectful of those that do. Because of you and others, who refuse to operate like a filthy factory farm, we have good heathy, sanitary food.

    As a family who homeschools, I was also quite impressed, but not surprised, at the hard work, teamwork, and dedication put forth y all those homeschooled kids. It’s apparent that farming and homeschooling can easily go hand-in-hand. It’s all about real life, isn’t it?

    What your post has widened my eyes to are the ways of the small farmer and yet more reasons to buy my family’s meat and produce from the local small farms, as opposed to grocery stores that sell mass-produced, factory-farmed food.

    Thank you.

  20. July 8, 2008 2:29 pm

    I found this fascinating! We are only 3 years into living on 15 acres, and have not yet started with animals– jsut gardening. We are hoping to start with chickens next year and making plans for the coops and cages, etc… I don’t know that I could do the butchering myself, and I KNOW my husband won’t be able to, he can’t handle the blood. My mom used to tell stories of the way grandma used to do it and to this day, will not eat chicken unless it is smothered in some sort of sauce and she can’t see it.

    My husband toured a chicken factory not long ago and he said the stench was horrible and seeing the way the chickens were processed was very hard to watch. Your way is much more humane and I hope I can get lucky and find someone around here that does it similar to your friends. We live among many mennonites, so I may be able to ask around and get lucky.

    Thanks for showing that there is a more humane way for killing chickens and for taking such excellent pictures.

  21. matronofhusbandry permalink*
    July 9, 2008 10:30 pm

    Twinville2, I didn’t mean to shock anyone, but we eat raise and eat animals for meat, so we like to know how they are handled from start to finish. Thank you for your kind words, you are echoing what most commenters have had to say.

    Those kids are amazing, over the years we have watched different kids teaching their younger siblings how to butcher, what a way to learn with someone who has been in your place, kindly helping you over the rough spots.

    Thank you for seeking out small farmers, a change is taking place, albeit slow, but a change for the better. Thanks for visiting my blog.

    Jenny, thanks for stopping by. The chicken butchering might not be so bad, but if you have neighbors close by that are doing it, that might be the way to go at first.

    I know what your husband means, those places stink and the workers are just there doing a job. I saw a clip on a news story that showed the workers catching the chickens before slaughter, and they were just roughly shoving the chickens in cages for tranport. It made me cry. That’s why McNuggets were invented, there are so many unrecognizable pieces after the processing, they had to come up with something.

    Thanks again – and just gardening? Gardening is a big undertaking too!!

  22. August 16, 2008 7:39 am

    Well, Sue is obvioulsy a vegetarian. I did not find it sad at all, rather interesting indeed! It brought back found (and a little weird) memories of when my family was in training for the mission field in Waxhaw, NC and we had an opportunity to assist a local poultry producer to ‘cull’ her flock. For the labor we recieved as our compensation a goodly number of chickens for our freezers. Our operation was much more amatuerish than yours and one poor friend of ours nearly lost his thumb to an errant swing of the hatchet because they insisted on dispatching the chicken…”their own way”. We had been shown how to whack the birds on the back of the heads with the blunt side of the hatchet which caused them to sort of stretch out their necks. They could then be dropped across the block and quickly dispatched with the hatchet. That worked well for us but our friends insisted on a 2 person approach and the holder and the whacker were a tad out of sync…ahhhh the memories… of screaming bleeding missionaries…


  23. August 17, 2008 9:55 pm

    Kevin, thanks for stopping by, that’s a great story, your friends should have listened to you!

  24. October 15, 2008 10:07 am

    Just got here and I know I’m late to this post but I’ve got to tell you that’s the best pictorial I’ve seen and I am ever so grateful. No matter how much I read, it’s the seeing I really feel more comfortable with. We’re not ready to do this yet (plus it’s late in the year) but I expect we’ll be up to it next year.

  25. Ron permalink
    November 13, 2008 12:45 pm

    You have a great site, very informative. I do have a question on where you got your scalder. If someone made it can I purchase the plans or find out where to buy it? Thank-you Ron

  26. March 10, 2009 6:33 pm

    Amazing. I’ve been wondering about those patches on the chicken feet I got from another farm.

  27. June 20, 2009 7:25 am

    Wow…great post. Love the detail. Going to spend a lot of time reading the archives 🙂

  28. Jenny permalink
    October 7, 2009 8:41 am

    My first time viewing your blog- thanks. It takes time to take photos like that and I appreciate being on the reciving end! I would like to raise chickens too one day and this gives me a good idea of what the butchering would be like. Thanks for sharing your experiences!!

  29. February 25, 2010 2:14 am

    I know I am about 1.5 years late in posting on this 😉 but this is a good post. I did not know that you could use the chicken feathers or the blood for compost! I butcher my own chickens, and just never thought about that…I guess I should say, I haven’t been educated enough!

  30. January 14, 2012 4:00 pm

    Is the farm you processed at near Vancouver, WA? I’m looking for a place to process some chickens this summer for an agricultural experiment with my church.

  31. March 15, 2012 12:18 pm

    great post. Thank you for taking the time to put it together. I’m going to be raising a few chickens for 3 or 4 other families this Summer..on the condition whomever wants chickens gets to come to the butchering “party” I have the utmost respect for anyone who is even half way successful raising livestock and growing their own food. Your post on cooking with a wood stove whetted my appetite. Having grown up w/ wood stove boiler in the basement of our home, I know what you mean when you talk about the ashes, etc. I do love the smell of burning wood. just signed up for your blog. you have a wealth of information here..again ,thank you! DM

  32. December 12, 2012 2:20 am

    Glad I found you! Excellent stuff all over your site! Back in the late 90’s I (and 12 others) helped a friend of ours butcher about 75 of his free-range chickens on a Saturday. Great experience and terrific meat.
    As a teacher, most of our students think their cooked meat sitting on their plate comes from the men dressed in white, wrapping stuff in plastic. When I try to enlighten them, they vow to never eat meat again. Sad.
    Your respect for the animals is refreshing. Your Ron Paul sign sold me. I’m following.
    BTW, I didn’t see a way to contact you via email. I’d like to repost the first portion of this article on my blog with a link back to your original but wanted to ask first. This stuff needs to be spread far and wide.

  33. vikki permalink
    December 13, 2012 12:36 pm

    Kids need to know these things. I lived on my grandparents farm for 2 years. We did chickens by hand. It was gross, but you learn fast that way.

  34. April 2, 2013 4:19 am

    So I am in the process of redesigning my chicken tractors from the salatin style to something along the lines of what I see on here. Can you send some more images to me to better see front and back and what you have done?

    As I said I am going to rip all metal siding off of my Salatin tractors and try to build the A-Frame, try to figure out a door and tarp.


    • April 2, 2013 6:52 am

      Anthony, I still use the Salatin style tractor myself…feeling it gives me a better job on the pasture fertilization. These images are from a friend’s poultry setup and I don’t have any more photos than these. Sorry.

      • April 2, 2013 7:51 am

        Thanks for the info. While I like the tractors it is the gathering of the birds I can’t stand with this style of tractor. I am tired of crawling in to gather birds all of the time, whacking my head and so on. I have not been able to find an easier or faster way to gather birds. Any insight on your method would be great.

        • April 2, 2013 8:02 am

          Anthony, we use 2 plywood boards cut to fit down inside the pen to block them into a quadrant for catching. We only raise birds for ourselves now and this pen is a used one a friend gave us, but when we raised birds for sale, our pens had two hinged lids (looked like butterfly wings when open) on the top instead of the fixed roof and that worked much better for feeding and catching. we also used a cable on the bottom for stabilization instead of the wood bracing, because as you know the bracing is always in the way when you want to catch a bird 😦

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