How to butcher your meat chickens
IF YOU ARE RAISING MEAT birds they can be home dressed with a little skill
and persistence. Once you have killed and dressed a few broilers you’ll be
surprised how quickly and easily it can be done. Killing a chicken and dressing it
is not for the faint-hearted. It does take a certain amount of grit to kill a chicken,
bleed it, and do the butchering work. However, the job isn’t much different than
cleaning a fish or a duck shot during the hunting season.
You may want to have a commercial slaughterhouse do your broilers for you.
You could take the entire flock to the shop and have them commercially killed,
dressed, and frozen.
Poultry can be dressed at home with little or no special equipment. The
primary concern is sanitation. Use clean equipment and prevent contamination
of the carcass with fecal material or the contents of the crop or intestine.
All birds to be slaughtered should be fasted (no food) for 24 to 34 hours before
killing. Fasting empties the digestive tract of feed and ingested matter, thus
reducing possible contamination of the carcass. To fast birds, pen them in a wire bottom cage during the fasting period. A wire-bottom cage prevents birds from
picking up feathers and litter. Provide fresh water to drink during the fasting
period. Water-starved birds will be dehydrated and the skin will appear dark,
dry, and scaly when the feathers are removed.
Holding pens should be of a kind that prevents the soiling of the birds’ feathers.
Dirty birds contaminate the scalding water and on occasion scald, water is drawn
into the lungs and air sacs, so keep scalding water clean by changing it often.
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Killing, bleeding, scalding, picking, pinning, and singeing
Suspend the bird by its feet in a shackle, by a rope, or in a killing cone.
Clasp the head in one hand, pulling down for slight tension and to steady the
bird. With a sharp knife, sever the jugular vein just behind the lower jaw on one
or both sides. Make the cut at least two inches long and into the base of the skull.
To avoid excessive splattering of blood, if a killing cone is not
available, hold the bird by the head until bleeding and flopping stops, which is
about three minutes. The blood can be caught in a container partially filled with
water for later disposal or directed into a sink with a stream of cold water to
hemolyze the blood and prevent clotting.
The scald temperature for broilers, roasters, and capons is from 125° to
140° F. Boiling water should be kept on a stove nearby to keep the temperature of
the scalding water hot enough. The hotter the water the shorter the scald time and
the more chance of overscaled.
Scald time is normally 60 to 90 seconds in water 125° to 140° F. Two dips of 20
to 30 seconds each may be adequate for the hotter water. Grasp the chicken by its
feet. Immerse head-first in the scalding water to the middle of scales on the shank. Move
bird up and down and from side to side while in the water to ensure even and
thorough scalding. Test the release of tail and wing feathers immediately
afterward. Repeat short dips of scalding until large tail and wing feathers are
The bird can either be held, suspended, or placed on a table for picking.
Use a slight pressure with a gentle rubbing action for fast, easy, and thorough
removal of feathers and pinfeathers. This should be done as rapidly as possible. A
suggested picking sequence is wings, tail, legs, breast, neck, and back, in that
order. Establish the sequence that works best for you. Five minutes is adequate
for an experienced feather picker if the bird has been scalded properly
Pinning is easier and faster if it can be done under a gentle stream of
cold water. Again use slight pressure and rubbing motion. A pinning knife or
any other dull instrument will be helpful in getting the few hard-to-get
pinfeathers. Use pressure starting below the follicle to squeeze out the
pinfeathers. A few may have to be pulled.
Semi-mature and mature chickens and turkeys have a few hairs that
are seen when feathers are removed. Singe these hairs by slowly rotating the
de-feathered bird in an open flame. Singe torches are available commercially, but
a bottle gas torch or open flame on a gas range works very well. Do not burn
yourself or start a fire.
The evisceration of the bird
Remove feet at hock joint
Use a boning knife or shears. The bird can be in a
shackle or on a table. Hold feet with one hand so as to put backward and upward
pressure on the hock joint. With a sharp knife, cut through the hock starting on the inside
joint surface. Hold shank and pull the joint into the knife to aid in cutting through the
joint. A slight movement of the bird’s feet may help to complete the cut.
Remove oil gland
Bird still suspended or on the table. Start the cut one inch
forward of the oil gland nipple, cut deep to the tail vertebra, then follow the
vertebra to end of the tail in a scooping motion.
Cut off the head between the head and the first neck vertebra with
a knife or shears.
Split neck skin
Insert knife through the skin at the point of shoulders, then cut
forward guiding the knife up the back of the neck.
Pull crop and trachea (windpipe)
Pull skin loose from the neck. Pull outcrop and
trachea. This can be done after removing the lungs.
The neck can be cut off at this point or after chilling. Cut neck muscle
with knife or shears, then remove neck by twisting. Remove neck flush with body
junction. Wash and chill neck.
There are two kinds of cuts used for the abdominal opening: The midline cut,
which is a vertical cut from the keel down to the vent; and the bar cut, which
leaves a horizontal strip of skin across the abdomen. This can be used to restrain
the legs when the dressing is completed.
Gently pull abdominal skin and wall forward and up away from
entrails (viscera), then make a cut through the skin and wall starting with the
knifepoint just to the right of the point of the keel (over gizzard) and extend cut
to the tail alongside the vent. Make cut slowly and do not cut intestine. This can
be done by not cutting deeply into the abdominal cavity or by holding the wall
up and away from the intestines. Don’t make deep, fast cuts. Complete the cut
around the vent. The vent cut can be done easily and safely by keeping the knife
next to the back and tail, as far as possible from the vent. This cut is routinely
used on broilers and small roasters. Trussing materials are needed if capons or
turkeys are opened in this manner.
This cut is especially useful for large birds such as turkeys and capons.
This procedure does not work well on extremely short-legged birds or birds with
large deposits of abdominal fat. The bar cut provides a natural and simple
method of trussing the carcass after processing. The procedure is done in three
Step 1: Preferably with the bird suspended by the hocks make a half-circle cut
around the vent. Insert a short, thin-bladed knife into the abdominal cavity above
the vent next to the inner surface of the tail vertebrae. Cut laterally in each direction to pin
bones or slightly farther.
Step 2: Insert index finger into the opening cut, up over intestine. Using finger as a
guide, extend cut with shears on around to free the vent. Gently pull cloaca and a
few inches of intestine out to prevent it from dropping into the cavity.
Step 3: Complete bar cut by making a horizontal cut (side to side of bird) about
three inches long. This cut should be about one and one-half to two inches below
the point of the keel. Below this cut, there will be a “bar” of skin about one and
one-half to two inches wide. Thread the cloaca and intestine over the skin bar.
Draw viscera (pull entrails)
Stretch the abdominal opening, insert hand as far
forward as possible, breaking attachments of organs to the wall as you go. Pick
up heart between the index and second finger, cup hand, and gently pull all viscera
out, using a slight twisting motion as the viscera is brought out of the abdominal
cavity. Leave viscera hanging to the bird.
With knife or shears clip off liver—avoid cutting the gall
bladder. The gall bladder may be pinched off of the liver. Trim liver out, rinse. Pull off
the heart, trim off the heart sac and the auricles (top part), and rinse. Clip gizzard
attachments (stomach and intestine). Force thin point of shears through gizzard
and cut thin wall side. Open under a gentle stream of water. Peel gizzard lining,
rinse. Wash all giblets and chill. Break any remaining attachments of viscera and
put viscera in an offal container.
Remove gonads (ovaries or testes)
Pull by hand, or clip attachments with
shears first and then remove by hand, or remove with a lung scraper. The gonads
are attached to the backbone by ligaments (tissues) just above the liver. They will
be on the floor of the cavity when the bird is on its back. Only surgical capons
will be without gonads. Each bird should be checked anyway.
Remove with lung scraper or by hand. By hand, use the index finger
to break attachments of lungs. Start next to ribs and roll finger toward the center.
Repeat for other lungs and pick out lungs. Make certain body cavity is clean
With hose or under the faucet. Thoroughly wash inside of the carcass. Repeat
washing procedures for outside and rub off all adhering dirt, pinfeathers, loose
cuticle, blood, and singed hairs.
Chilling and packing
Put the bird carcass in a chill container filled with tap water. Either let the
water overflow continuously at a slow rate or periodically change the water. This
will cool the carcass to water temperature and further clean the carcass. Use only
water that is safe for drinking.
Ice and water are necessary to chill processed poultry effectively. The
carcass temperature should be brought down to 40° F. before packing in bags.
Large capons will require three hours or longer to chill properly. Turkeys that are
to be frozen should be held in 40° F. chill water for 18 to 24 hours before packing
and freezing. Remove chilled carcasses from ice and water, hang by the wing, and
let drain 10 to 30 minutes before bagging and placing in storage.
Refrigerate at 29 to 34° F. or freeze. Fresh-dressed ready-to-cook
poultry should not be kept over five days in a refrigerator. If poultry is to be
frozen, this should be done by the third day after it is dressed and chilled.
Freshly dressed poultry should not be frozen until after it is chilled to
40° F. or below. Do not put warm freshly dressed poultry in the freezer.
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