The past two Saturdays have been butchering days. We were already almost two weeks past the standard butcher date for the type of chickens we had purchased (although 10 weeks for a chicken to go from the size of a tennis ball to the size of a basketball still doesn’t sit quite right), and so we could no longer afford to put it off. We threw together a makeshift outdoor kitchen, filled some tubs with ice water, strung up some twine nooses, and were ready to go.
We were definitely nervous at the start. Neither of us having ever butchered anything before, we were worried about making sure we did things in a humane and sanitary way. We sure looked like amateurs, reading aloud from Storey’s Guide to Keeping Chickens at each step. It was a learning experience in many ways, and with each chicken we became more confident and self-directed: gauging on our own how deep to make the slit in their throat, how long to scald the bird for feather removal, how to tell by feel a gizzard from a heart from a lung.
I think we were both surprised, or at least I was, at how quickly the nervous reverence of the first chicken gave way to a mechanical duty with the remaining. The chickens swiftly transformed–literally and figuratively–from a living animal to a meat. It probably didn’t help that, as we both later admitted, neither of us really liked the meat birds as we were raising them. Compared to the layers, the meat birds were dirty, lazy, and boring. Not that it’s their fault that they were bred to do nothing but gain weight as quickly as possible, but their characteristics combined with our remembering that we had bought, sheltered, and fed the birds for one reason only certainly made it easier to get through the butchering.
It was quite a process on both days, definitely an all-day affair of feathering, gutting, and breaking down. But, it was an activity we were committed to doing, and I think we’re both glad we took part in each step of raising the chicks through eating the meat. We’ve already decided several ways that we’ll want to change both how we raise and process meat chickens in the future, so we can chalk even our mistakes of this year up to a learning experience. Our freezer is now full and the layers seem happy to have the permanent coop to themselves. We’ve had our first few meals of home-grown chicken, and are looking forward to many more, and to most likely bringing in another batch of the meat chicks next spring.