Step 10
Cutting & Bagging For Freezing

After the butchered chickens have cooled down, we bring them in the house to cut up and package.

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The picture above shows our kitchen table, set up as a chicken packaging center. The whole chickens are removed from the cooler, drained, and carried into the house in the stainless steel bowl. Then they are laid out on the wire cooling racks set over a shallow pan, where they can drain and dry a bit more. We use a small digital scale to weigh them. Our average weight this year was around 4.5 pounds. We have a cutting board and, at the far end of the table there is a vacuum sealing machine.

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The vacuum sealer does a dandy job of sucking all the air out of a bag and heat sealing it. This is only the second year we’ve used such a device.


For many years we bagged and used a twist tie to seal the bag. To get the air out of the bag, we employed a regular vacuum cleaner. I duct-taped a short length of 1/4” diameter vinyl hose to the end of the vacuum cleaner hose, stuck it in the open end of the bag, bunched the plastic up around the hose, and turned the vacuum cleaner on. Once the air was out, I twisted the end while extracting the hose, and put a twist tie on. It helps to have two people for this job. The system worked pretty good, but not nearly as good as the vacuum sealer.

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That’s my son, James, modeling with the vacuum sealer and a bag he just made with the machine. I do have one complaint about that vacuum sealer. It tends to overheat quickly and shut itself down. Then we have to wait foor it to cool.


We will vacuum-bag up several whole chickens (the biggest ones) for roasting. But we cut most of our birds into parts. For example, we will cut some in half for grilling...

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My heavy Forschner knife (mentioned back in Step1) does a far better job that a 5” boning knife when it comes to cutting a chicken in half. Here are two beautiful halves:

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As previously mentioned, the majority of our chickens get cut into parts. I cut wings off, legs off, and separate the breast from the back. Sometimes I’ll cut thighs off the legs. So we end up with meal-size bags of legs, wings, breasts, and thighs. We package big bags of wings. It is a family tradition for James to have homegrown chicken wings on his birthday.

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In the above picture I have removed the leg and wing from one side of the chicken and I have just removed the wing that is in my hand. I’ve had no good training on cutting a chicken up. But it’s not rocket science. Just cut around the leg or wing where it joins the body. You’ll figure it out.

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And there is a nice leg ready for the freezer. All that remains of the bird is the back and breast, which I will cut next…

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The heavy knife does a good job of cutting on down through the weak rib bones that span between the meaty breasts and the backs, which have very little meat on them. I am holding the back on the right of the picture and the breast is, of course, that part on the left. Here’s a picture of the two separated parts:

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And here’s a picture of separated breasts, legs and wings, ready to be bagged:

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The backs go into a big stock pot along with the chicken necks we saved during butchering. They will be used to make stock, which is what I'll tell you about next.

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Click Here to learn How To Make Chicken Stock
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 Bagging Update

www.PoultryShrinkBags.com

For bagging whole chickens, we now use poultry shrink bags. They are amazingly easy to use and I think they are the hands-down best way to package chickens for the freezer. If you go to PoultryShrinkBags.com you can see a step-by-step photo tutorial that explains how to use poultry shrink bags.


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Click Here to read Herrick Kimball's other poultry-related essays.
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23 comments:

kristopher.noiseux said...

how do you dry the chickens before sealing? i've tried this and the sealer runs and runs and runs.....then runs some more. it can't complete the seal since the seam has moisture in it.

by the way, i am almost done with our whizbang plucker....great plans. i'll send a photo when it's complete,

kris

Herrick Kimball said...

Hi kris,

We just drip dry the chickens a bit. They are still quite moist when we seal them.

The directions with the sealer mentioned putting a folded paper towel near the end of the bag to block the flow of water, and we do that. The vacuum sucks some water into the paper towel and that keeps it from getting to the opening.

That said, sometimes a little bit of water gets past the paper towel and does get to the end of the bag. But it has, nevertheless, always sealed-- unless the machine has overheated. When that happens, the device runs and runs but doesn't suck.

On two occassions we overheated the thing and it wouldn't create suction and we thought it was broken. But after setting for awhile (over an hour once), the suck came back.

When it works, the vacuum sealer is a great machine. When it doesn't, it's very discouraging.

Best wishes with the Whizbang Plucker. It makes plucking chickens downright FUN!!

Randy said...

A BIG, disasterous mistake that we made on the first meat bird batch was putting the birds in the freezer too quickly. We were sadly disappointed when all our hard work ended in something that had the texture (but not the taste) of shoeleather. It was awful!

We complained to our friend who has been raising chickens for a while about the work to pluck all 5 that we did that night and about the toughness. He had the same problem and talked to Joel Salatin about it: You must allow the bird to gradually cool before freezing it. He said to leave the chickens in a refridgerator at least overnight, if not 2 nights, before freezing them.

That has worked great. Well, that and the Featherman chicken plucker that he lets us borrow anytime we're ready to process a batch.

BTW: I have no electrical skills, what do you think about me making a Whizbanger Plucker type with a hand crank or bicycle pedal for the rotating power?

Thanks, :) -R&y

David said...

Herrick,

I'm amazed at the effort you put into this extraordinary how to butcher a chicken production. It is far and away the best info of this type on the net and long overdue. Bravo a hundred times over.

One of my goals this year is to take videos of as many home pluckers/processors as possible and post the clips on the net. This will be encouraging as well as informative as many folks have little twists and turns they have figured out on their own.

As for R&y's query, I know of one Featherman being operated by a horse-drawn turn mechanism so I'm sure he can do it. I'm sitting on my bicycle-powered water pump as I type this and I'm certain it could power a unit. There will be tweaking with gear/pulley ratios for sure, but try to get around 200RPMs R%y.

David Schafer

therealbrewer said...

Alton Brown has a valuable video on cutting up whole chickens:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Dbc1aW5C1W0

The good stuff starts at the 5 minute mark.

One thing he shows is how to get the "oyster" - it looks like you are leaving this valuable bite on the back - it's a shame to send it to the stock pot!

Leelagirl08 said...

Thanks so much for this blog!! This is our first year for raising a small lot of chickens & found your information very helpful to make the butchering process a little less scary. :)
Thanks again,
:)

one sleepy mommy said...

Thanks a million! I loved the commentary, the pictures, and the clear instructions. You're a life-saver!

mgeorge0090 said...

This spring I decided to raise a small flock of chickens. I have 6 layer, and had 3 meat birds. I had never butchered a chicken before, so I did some research. This was by far the best site I found. I followed the instructions and refered to the pictures, and I now have 2 beautifully processed birds in my freezer (we already ate one, and it actually had taste to it!). I plan on raising all my chicken next spring. I also took your advise on using this as a learning experience for my kids. My 6 year old daugther helped though the whole process, from slaughter to putting the birds in the freezer. She asked a ton of questions and it was a great learning and bonding experience for both of us. My 4 year old son was still a little uneasy about it, but did watch each step of the process for one of the birds. I think he will help more as he gets older. And for those who feel they need to look out for the welfare of children all over, I did not force either of my kids to watch or help, they chose to help and watch and were free to leave at any time. Again, great site, and a great help.

Thanks,
Mike

Ruby said...

Thank you Herrick for your excellent site and wonderfully detailed instructions.

I wish I would have found your site sooner. We got 25 chicks in May and my husband built a tractor solely out of 3/4" pvc pipe and lots of fittings. It is 5' x 10'. He covered it with chicken fencing and we have an opening in the top on one end to get to the food and water. Well it is very lightweight and we move it at least twice a day. A few days ago on a very windy day it sort of took flight and landed flat but 18 of the chickens were loose. They huddled under the lilac bushes and we were able to round them all up. Now we have a 10' 4x4 laying across the top and haven't had anymore trouble with the wind. Well now the chickens are over 2 months old and we are ready to start butchering. I grew up with Grandma next door who always kept chickens and sold eggs to the grocery store--but I never learned the whole process. Thank
goodness I found your site. Now we actually look forward to getting started and will probably get 25 more chicks when we are done with these. Next year we want to build a coop and raise a few layers.

You're the best!! Thanks again.

Ruby said...

OH--I forgot to say the our chicken tractor is covered by a tarp--that is why it "took flight".

Thanks again,
Ruby

TrainerStef said...

Oh my goodness! A friend have me a chicken and I had no idea what to do with the neck and everything! Your blog is a God-send, really! I thank you so much for all of the great information! My bird is now ready to be roasted. Thank you! Thank you!!!

Amy McPherson Sirk said...

Thanks for this great step by step tutorial. We kept chickens but my mother paid the neighbor boys to do the butchering. We've been trying to decide whether or not to get into raising chickens. Having these directions gives us a lot of what we need to reach that decision.

Chaplain Winston said...

I like to eat chicken backs. If you haven't you are missing a real treat and they great if you are not very hungry. I have butchered a turkey the same way and fried some of the pieces. Turkey backs have a lot of meat.

My question is, I separate the leg from the thigh the thigh being my favorite piece of chicken next to the leg. I have noticed over the years that when I purchase chicken thighs from the grocery store they are cut differently than a whole chicken thigh cut in the described manner.

There is only a center bone and sometimes they are quit large. I enjoy breaking the thigh into its smaller sections as I eat one.

Can you explain why and what happens to all the parts we don't get?

Sam Watkins said...

Much appreciated, mate. Our dog killed one of our laying chickens. With the help of your website here, I butchered the chicken (roughly I'm afraid), and will be able to cook and use it for pet food. I'm not keen to eat it myself since the dog already had a good chew on it and I didn't tackle it immediately.

The web is a wonderful resource for finding such practical info, but someone has to write it and I'm grateful that you did. Thanks again, from Sam - no longer a sissy! :) It was much less nauseating than I was expecting!

mzsade said...

Hi Herrick, I am from India, butcher's here are lazy asses, they don't take the trouble to remove the oesophagus, etc from the neck, and the innards and organs from the cloaca; what the do is simply make a cut below the breast-plate, and remove everything in one fell swoop, they care nothing for the delicacy that you showed. Now i wouldn't have resented it so much were it not for the fact that it sort rules out all stuffed bird recipes for me. So i would like to thank you for your effort and hope to try out your method one of these days. Might be a bit tricky as i live in the city and have none of your accessories, but i will give it a go rest assured.

Patrick said...

Hello, thanks so much for the best blog on this topic I have found. My wife and I live in western Virginia and our trying our hand at homesteading. We can't get internet where we live so it would be EXTREMELY useful to be able to download your "ten steps" as a pdf document, would it be possible to get access to something like that?

Joe said...

It's been great time to read your article, really informative thanks keep it up.
inflatable manufacturing

netmeister said...

With the way things are going and for the opportunity to enjoy more flavorful and nutritional food my wife and I have decided to get into the chicken 'biznuss'leg for our personal needs. We're going to start with 5layers layers. My daughter, I found out raises layers and "meaties" as she calls them for personal use and sale to local country store (I couldn't believe it) recommended black or red star for layers.
your blog on how to butcher is awesome and I'm sure to use when time comes. Very well done. I at one time had to develop and write technical lesson plans so am well qualified to pass on a recommendation of your work that you can value as true praise. Not to discount accolades from grateful readers, mine is both as a grateful reader as well as from a professional instructor.

Googs said...

Hi, its been great reading your guide. There is one question that keeps me busy. What is the maximum age at which you butcher your chickens and still be able to have a good etable meal from them? Can chickens be too old to eat?

Cheers from Holland!

Mike Johnson said...

Great blog i know people's are taking lot of advantage from your posts keep it continue.
Thanks




Shrink Bags

Mike Johnson said...

Great blog i know people's are taking lot of advantage from your posts keep it continue.
Thanks




Shrink Bags

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