Step 1
Getting Ready To Butcher

When my family butchers our chickens, we set up a work area on the back lawn under a tent. An old, enameled, cast iron sink set up on two saw horses serves as my base of operations…

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That sink was outside my dad’s barn for many years before it occurred to me one day that I could put it to good use. It takes two men and a boy to move the thing. When not being used to butcher chickens, I store the sink outside behind my workshop. The enameled surface cleans up nicely with some bleach solution and a scrub pad.


I removed the original spout and replaced it with a homemade version made from soldered 3/4” copper pipe and fittings. A brass garden hose sprayer on the end does an excellent job. The sprayer can be easily adjusted with a twist to spray lightly or blast a focused stream of water, and that is a nice option to have. Here is a close-up view of the hose sprayer:

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The homemade spout threads into a plastic bulkhead fitting (available from most any agricultural supply store) which fit just right into the sink hole where the old spout was. Water to the sprayer spout comes into the bottom of the bulkhead fitting, back behind the sink as shown here:

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As you can see in the above picture, the old faucet handles are disconnected. How then, you might wonder, does water to the faucet spout get turned on and off? Well, it could be easily turned on and off by twisting the sprayer, but I decided to use another homemade contraption…

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That, my chicken butchering friend, is a foot-operated water valve. It is mounted to an old kitchen cabinet door that rests on the ground under the front of the sink.


What you’re looking at in the picture is a 1/2" ball valve with a 1” by 1” steel-tube arm mounted on the valve handle. Step on the end of the arm (at right in the picture), the valve opens, and water flows up to the sprayer through the clear hose seen in the photo. When I take my foot off the arm, the valve automatically shuts off because the other end of the arm is weighted with a rock. Water is supplied to this valve mechanism by way of a garden hose, which can be seen in the bottom left of the picture.


By the way, the picture also shows some white PVC drain pipe. The pipe is simply wedged up under the sink drain. The waste water flows down, makes a 90-degree turn, and flows out the end of a 10-foot length of pipe. I pile some straw at the drain’s exit to catch little pieces of chicken guts that get down the pipe. The water just flows out onto the lawn and soaks into the ground. If I let the water drain directly on the ground under the sink, it would create a wet, muddy mess right where I’m standing. Here’s another shot of the valve mechanism:

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In the above picture you can see that I’ve utilized some garden hose Y-fittings to direct water to different places. The garden hose seen in the bottom right is the supply line, bringing water from my house. The garden hose visible on the bottom left leads over to my Whizbang Chicken PluckerAnother line supplies the foot valve contraption. The hose heading up to the top of the photo goes to a PowerFlush Lung Remover that I made.

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That lung remover consists of a basic air blower with the water line going into one end (where the air line would normally connect) and a length of 1/8” pipe screwed into the other end (where the air would normally come out). At the end of the pipe is a stainless steel loop (fashioned from a section of hose clamp) with sharp, pointed notches cut into it.

To use the lung remover, it is inserted into the body cavity of your chicken after the guts have been pulled out (lungs don’t come out as easily as everything else--more about this later), the trigger is squeezed. Water blasts out the end, as shown in this picture:

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The combination of blasting/flushing water, and physically scraping with the toothed loop, helps to remove the recalcitrant lungs.


You needn’t make a PowerFlush Lung Remover like mine. You can buy one Like This for around $90. But, truth be told, you don’t really need any kind of lung remover tool to get the chicken’s lungs out of its body.


With a little practice, and the nifty faucet sprayer on my sink, I’ve found that I can remove the lungs with just my fingertips. Until you get used to removing lungs with your fingers, you may want to utilize a simple hand-operated lung remover/scraper.


In the final analysis, you don’t need a Rube Goldberg foot valve and PowerFlush lung remover to process your own birds. But a makeshift outdoor sink with an operational faucet sure does come in handy.


The most essential tool for butchering a chicken is a sharp knife.

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That knife in the bottom of the picture is a boning knife made by Chicago Cutlery. It has a 5” blade. I have tried other knives for butchering, but none come close to that boning knife for comfort and functional usefulness. It is my workhorse knife and I've become quite fond of it.


The blade steel in the Chicago Cutlery knife is a combinatin of carbon and stainless steel. That means it sharpens better, hones better, and holds an edge better than a blade of pure stainless steel, yet doesn't rust like a blade of pure carbn steel.


It’s interesting to note that Chicago Cutlery began by making knives for the poultry industry and their boning knife is the most popular blade they sell. You can buy a new one for less than $20 and it should last you the rest of your chicken butchering days.


The bigger knife you see in the above picture is a nice quality Forschner, made in Switzerland by Victorinox. I got the knife from my sister who once dated a professional chef. He gave her the knife as a Christmas gift. She wasn’t impressed. Shortly after their relationship ended, I got the knife and I’m very pleased with it. I use the large, heavy, 8” blade after butchering, when I cutting chickens into parts for freezing (as I discuss later in this tutorial). I see that Forschner also has a nice selection of poultry knives that I'll bet are a joy to use.

At the top of the picture is a butcher’s steel. I never used a butcher’s steel until I became a backyard chicken killer. Now I couldn’t butcher without it. The steel is used to keep a sharp blade at its sharpest. It will not grind and sharpen a dull blade. After butchering a couple of chickens, I use the steel to quickly refresh the blade on my knife. You can buy an inexpensive butcher’s steel for around $10.


For sharpening your knife blades, you need a simple, reliable, knife sharpener. Here’s a picture of the sharpener I use:

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Chuck the sharpener in your drill, turn it on, and stroke your knife blade between the stones. It doesn’t get much easier than that. Sharpening is fast with this little device. And, unlike so many other sharpening systems, this one is relatively cheap. The sharpener is made by Vermont American. Click Herefor more info about this nifty sharpener.


I’ll take a moment to re-sharpen my blade after every 20 birds. Then I’ll use the butcher’s steel. Cutting chickens with a sharp blade is such a pleasure.


Here’s one last item you’ll need…

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That’s my son James filling a big cooler with cold water from our well. After you butcher your birds, you want to cool them down and store them somewhere where flies can’t get to them. The big cooler full of cold water will do the job. We also add ice to the water. That cooler will hold around 20 chickens (average weight, 4.5 pounds). You needn’t use a storebought cooler for this purpose. Any kind of big, clean, plastic or metal container will do the job too.


So, in review, you need to set yourself up with some sort of backyard butchering station (preferably with a sink and running water), obtain a good, sharp knife, and have a big container of ice water to toss your butchered birds into.


Oh, there are a couple other things you’ll need. Make sure you have one or more kitchen pots (with lids) on hand. They will be needed to put chicken necks and edible internal organs (liver, heart, & gizzard) into. And you’ll need some sort gut bucket for the other internal parts that you will be disposing of.


NOW you’re ready to deal with those birds...


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Click Here to go to Step 2: Remove The Feet
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Click Here to read Herrick Kimball's other poultry-related essays.
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29 comments:

chickenwelder said...

Great job, I couldn't understand most sites. pictures were bad ,not enough info. Yours shows me I did everything wrong, wrong end to enter, green dye everywhere,etc. I got it now. I built your plucker several years ago, great, handled big turkey last weekend, plucked about a hundred turkeys, thanks.ken Wondering about vaccum sealer brands? which do you use?

chickenwelder said...

oops hundred chickens, looking at trying to make your scalder , thanks, ken

craig said...

Excellent- one question
Are you using drinking-water safe hoses? All garden hoses I have looked at over the past few years had 'cancer warnings-not drinking water safe' on the packaging. I have seen drinking-water safe hoses at RV centers

dutchcountry said...

Thanks for the useful info and the clear pictures.
Occasionally we let our chickens hatch, and, of course, more than 50 percent of the chicks will be roosters. So from now on we won't have to ask the neighbour to do the butchering. We've tried it ourselves, with succes.

mindyk said...

Where is "1.1 How to kill the chicken" or do you cut the feet off so they can't run away? :)

Rocko said...

Thank You Mr. Kimball for this site. I am a first time chicken farmer and like you, enjoy the idea of raising and processing our own food. We have six egg-layers, six broilers and one 'Rocky' the rooster. This week is the week for the killing and butchering of the broilers and I have not looked forward to it. Your blogsite has helped allot. I am set-up and ready to go tomorrow. My husband and I Thank You for sharing your knowledge and helping our little family.

HSC said...

This is by far the best "how to butcher a chicken" tutorial on the net! GREAT WORK!!

Rocko said...

The first one went well. Slow but well. I've decided to skin the birds so plucking is not a problem, but still no fun and I do need to practice, I'm afraid I was a little nervous and unsure of myself. Thanks Again.

bearbottomhoney said...

I love your site and I've purchased your books. I've heard that if one is raising cockerels they are turned into capons thru a process known as caponization. Do I need to concern myself with this if I intend to raise a cornish cross breed? Are the testes removed when gutting the bird or do I need to add an extra step to what your pictures show?

Herrick Kimball said...

bearbottomhoney—

The testes come out when gutting the chicken. After you have identified them and processed a few chickens (or a few hundred) and observed closely, you will know better how the chicken's anatomy is assembled and this will be a big help if you decide to try caponizing someday.

Best wishes.

AdoptionMom said...

I think I am missing a step here? I see the Step 1 Getting ready to butcher, then Step 2 I see that the chicken is already dead and de-feathered. Where is the step in between? I'm dreading this. We have a 4-H project that got out of hand, almost all our baby chicks turned out to be roosters and they are attacking each other, so sadly we think it's time to clear them out and keep the hens. :O(
Moe
A city girl living in the country

Herrick Kimball said...

Hi Adoption Mom-

At the top right corner of this page you will see a picture of my son holding up two just-plucked chickens. It is titled, "Before You Butcher....How To Kill, Scald & Pluck Chickens." Click the picture.

Good luck with your project,

Herrick Kimball

AdoptionMom said...

Thank you! That was just what I was looking for. Saturday at 3pm is our big day. A friend is coming over with kids, we are using this as a homeschool learning tool, the friend is an RN and plans to disect some chicken organs and stuff like that when we are done.

Herrick Kimball said...

What a great homeschool lesson.

I can't imagine that any government school in the land would ever teach kids how to butcher chickens. Yet, such a skill is far more practical and good to know than most everything else they want kids to learn.

Which is all the more reason that people should homeschool.

Kudos to you Adoption Mom!

Karen B in northern Idaho said...

This whole tutorial is EXCELLENT in both descriptions and photos. When I was learning, I printed it out and put it all in a small ring binder with the pages encased in plastic page protectors so I could turn pages without getting them gunky :-)

Herrick Kimball said...

Karen B. in Northern Idaho-

Good idea. You are not the first person to tell me this. It warms my heart to know you put the information on this web site to good use.

Best wishes,

Herrick Kimball

The Glover Farm said...

This tutorial was excellent!! I read it twice and went out and did it. It was awesome!! Fresh eggs, Fresh pork, and now Fresh chicken!!! I love my life!!!!!

Homeless said...

Thank you so much for the very informative website. I plan on putting this information to use soon.

Right now, I would love some advice. I am visiting friends who just purchased a whole mess of chickens today. Unfortunately, one of them died during transport. I haven't seen it yet, but they say that it got its head stuck and broke its neck. They also said rigor mortis set in. The chicken was not butchered and was placed in a refrigerator. They plan on burying it or burning it in a fire. I plan on butchering it tomorrow and feeding it to the dogs raw. Am I crazy? Should I let them bury/burn it? At the very least, I figure that it will be a learning experience that I shouldn't pass up.

Thanks in advance,
Jenn

Herrick Kimball said...

Jenn,

If the chicken wasn't sick and it's only a day or two old, that is no problem. It can still be butchered and used for animal food. Some people object to feeding dogs raw chicken, thinking it will create a desire in them to kill live chickens. And then there is the issue of sharp bones in the throat. I'd be more inclined to cook the bird the easiest way possible (boil it) and cut off the meat and mix it with the dog's food. Others may have a different opinion.

Along these lines, I will say that when my sons hunt deer and bring one home, we take what meat we want and every other piece of meat on the animal is cut off the bones and packed into plastic bags and put in the freezer. Then we feed it a little at a time (raw) cut in little pieces mixed in with the dog's dry food. We also cut the bones into short lengths, then wrap and freeze and dole those out to the dog. It's a beagle. She's not very smart as dogs go, but she is well fed.

Waste not, want not.

Homeless said...

Thanks for the super quick reply!. It took me forever, but I did it. One strange thing that happened was that the carcass filled up with water while I was scalding it. And while the bird did not appear the be in rigor mortis, the meat was VERY tough.

It was quite the learning experience. I am anxious to try it again with a fresh bird.

And yes, the dogs loved it... even if it was tough. I imagine it was even more fun for them because it was tough.

paul agada levi chegbe said...

Hi Herrick,
Thank You Sir, I find your articles very important to some of the questions that borders my mind in recent time.
I am a university graduate (Bsc, Chemistry) due to high unemployement rate in my country I had been thinking (with the little money I was able to save) to go into poultry production; chicken processing, rearing, marketing and sales, and poultry feed production and other poultry related services.
Apart from not having enough fund, information on the above mention services is scarce in my country, I want to seize the opportunity from the govt new policy on agriculture to develop my self in this area, I will sincerely appreciate, if in anyway you think you can be of help to me to achieve my goal.
I am from a very large family and was fortunate to be the only one who have attain this level of education, and for that all eyes on me to help (quickly) the family. The tought of that had been giving problem, sometimes I wish I had not gone to school, I had lost the count of the number of places I had submited application for a job.
I know with poultry I will make it big, I have passion for this and a little skill in rearing it for the family.
Sir , how will I make it big? I had try to get enough space in recent time but could not due to high cost on land in my country. I will sincerely appreciate your help in which ever way it will come.
Thank You.

Derrick said...

I Cant find this knife sharpener anywhere, I have a knife sharpener, but it doesnt get them razor sharp, this seems a great tool

Herrick Kimball said...

Derrick,

Other people have told me that they can't find the sharpener too. I posted a review of it on Amazon, but shortly thereafter it was no longer available. Maybe I'll contact the company and see what the deal is. They were once very common.

Herrick

Gregor said...

When my family butchers our chickens, we set up a work area on the back ... chicagocutleryset.blogspot.com

Edmund said...

When my family butchers our chickens, we set up a work area on the back ... professionalcutlerysets.blogspot.com

Roland said...

When my family butchers our chickens, we set up a work area on the back ... 2knifeset.blogspot.com

Peter said...

That knife in the bottom of the picture is a boning knife made by Chicago Cutlery. It has a 5” blade. I have tried other knives for butchering, but ... chicagocutlery.blogspot.com

Emil said...

That knife in the bottom of the picture is a boning knife made by Chicago Cutlery. It has a 5” blade. I have tried other knives for butchering, but ... 2chicagocutleryknives.blogspot.com

Angel Andrewson said...

Exactly mindyk!!! lol...