Why Learn to Butcher Poultry?
Most people live a pretty comfy life compared to our ancestors. We have an abundance of fairly cheap food available at the local grocery store. Meat comes packaged on slabs of Styrofoam, with the bones and skin removed. Heck, you can even buy it marinated, cooked, and ready to eat.
It wasn’t that long ago when most people went out back, caught a chicken, and wrung its neck for their dinner. But these days, if you mention that you butcher your own birds you just might get an earful about animal rights and what a horrible person you are. Never mind the fact that your accuser often buys meat from the grocery store.
You’ll have the last laugh when the stores have been looted clean, the grid is down, and the only source of meat is what you kill and cook yourself. If you plan ahead and build a covert chicken coop, you’ll have a source of fresh poultry for your post apocalyptic dinners. But don’t wait until the SHTF to learn to kill and dress your birds, get started now! Having this skill will allow you to dress poultry you raise or hunt in the wild. If you are an enterprising individual, you could post an ad on Craigslist offering to take old laying hens for free. You’d be amazed at how many people out there want chickens for eggs, but don’t have the emotional fortitude to do the dirty work and turn their ‘pet’ chickens into a hearty meal.
Raising Poultry for Meat
Why not try your hand at raising chickens, turkeys, geese, or ducks for the table? Heritage chickens take about 4 to 6 months to reach butcher size, while the Cornish hybrids only take 2 months and are much larger (although you won’t be able to get them post SHTF). Ducks should be butchered at 7 to 8 weeks for the easiest plucking and most tender meat. Turkeys and geese are ready in about 4 to 6 months, depending on how big you want them.
Although these photos were taken the last time I butchered a duck, all birds are dressed pretty much the same way. Ducks and geese may need to be dunked in the scalding pot more than once to remove their downy fluff. Keep in mind that it’s a bit more work to butcher the larger birds. Enlist the help of a friend or family member if you are butchering a lot of birds or larger birds.
What You Need:
- Hatchet and chopping block, or…
- Killing cone
- Sharp knife – a paring knife works best for dressing your bird
- Whet stone
- Scalding pot and burner
- Work table
- Bleach water and cloth
The equipment doesn’t need to set you back a fortune. Of course, like every other aspect of chicken keeping, you can find plenty of ‘great stuff’ online to help you do the deed. But I find that this basic list is all that’s really necessary. Make sure that your hatchet and knife are nice and sharp, your scalding pot is big enough to dunk a whole bird, and you have a clean spot to work.
How to Butcher:
- Set up: Start by getting all of your gear together. Put your scalding pot of water on to heat up to 145 – 150 degrees Fahrenheit (You can use propane or electric…or a wood fire in a survival situation). While the water is heating: sharpen your knives and hatchet, clean your table with bleach water, catch your birds and put them in a small pen or a cage (if you didn’t already do that the day before), get a container for the feathers and guts ready.
- Dispatch bird: Once the scalding water is ready, you can get started. If you are chopping the head off, I suggest putting the bird into a feed bag with a hole cut out of one corner for the head to poke through (see first photo). This will allow you to hold the bird and keep it from flapping around and getting bruised. You may put it head first into a killing cone and nick the main arteries in the neck to bleed the bird to death instead (not my preferred method, but do what you gotta do). In my experience, chopping the head off is faster and more humane. Just make sure you sever the spinal column in one quick blow.
- Wash bird: Once the bird stops struggling, give it a quick hose down. I press on the abdomen to push any feces out of the vent. Wash the feet to remove dirt.
- Scald: Dunk the whole bird in the scalding pot and swish around for 40 seconds to 1 minute.
- Pluck: Remove the feathers. This is much easier after scalding. I usually hang the bird over a large bin to catch the feathers and free my hands. Give the bird another rinse when you’re done plucking.
- Disembowel: Start by carefully cutting around the vent. You don’t want to cut into the intestines and get crap all over the carcass. If this happens, wash the bird well. Make the hole large enough to reach in and pull the guts out. Remove intestines first then pull out the gizzard, liver, and heart. Save these organs. The crop might come along with the gizzard, or you may need to remove it from the neck area. To remove the lungs you will need to use your fingers to dig between the ribs and pull them out. Rinse the whole bird in cold water to chill.
- Clean organs: Remove the gall bladder full of green bile from the liver carefully. You don’t want to get the bile on the liver. Wash the heart and liver and set in cold water. Cut the gizzard open and wash out the grit and food. Peel the yellow lining from the inside of gizzard. Place gizzard in cold water.
- Remove feet and oil gland: Find the joint where the foot and drumstick meet. Cut the tissue holding them together. You aren’t cutting through bone, just the ligaments and skin. The oil gland is on the top of the tail and looks like a big pimple. You want to cut under and around this to remove the oil glands or your meat might taste gamey.
- Wash carcass: Wash the bird again in cold water and…
- Chill: A cooler full of ice water works great. In a post SHTF world you might want to just put the bird in a pot and start cooking. However, chilling the carcass and letting it ‘rest’ for 24 to 48 hours will relax the muscle tissue and make the bird tender.
Before you get started it’s a good idea to put the birds designated for butchering into a cage the night before. Give them clean water but no feed. This will make the disemboweling a lot less messy and will decrease the chances of spilling feces on the meat. If you’re butchering multiple birds, take a moment between each one and sharpen your knife. It will make a huge difference in cutting through ligaments and skin. When I butcher up a mess ‘o stewing hens, I like to cook them down in a big pot the same day. Then I cool the carcasses, pick the meat off the bones, and can the meat and broth in quart jars in a pressure canner. (Chicken should be processed for 90 minutes at 15 pounds pressure.) You can also can a Mason Jar Meal, like chicken soup, that’s ready to eat as is. When you’re all done with butchering, you can wash out the intestines and toss all the blood and guts to your remaining chickens…they’ll go into a feeding frenzy over all those nummy bits and pieces.
Getting Your Hands Dirty
Killing an animal isn’t something to take lightly, but it is an important skill to learn. If you want to eat meat in a survival situation, you’ll need to take its life first. This will be more difficult for some folks, especially when you are up close and ready to swing a hatchet. Shooting prey from a distance with a bow or shotgun is more detached. You don’t see the life leaving its eyes. So, if it’s your first time butchering a bird, you need to prepare yourself and know in your heart that it’s right and proper to eat an animal and that you are giving it a humane end.
I’m glad that I’ve had plenty of experience butchering my own poultry and rabbits, so if I’m ever faced with a breakdown of society I can provide meat for my family. There is a real sense of self reliance that comes along with this skill. I know that my animals have a good life and a swift and humane end. And I really don’t give a crap if someone thinks I’m a big meanie. Let ‘em eat cake after the apocalypse, I say.