Saturday, October 17, 2009

Plucking and Cleaning the Meat Chickens

This is going to be another long post. Many of our meat chickens are jumbo-sized and ready to butcher, so here we go!

The night before, we took the 8 largest birds and put them in cages to keep them from food. These dudes are huge!

And smelly!

We kept them in the garden house overnight. These cornish cross birds are very docile and layed back... very easy to handle.

They do get pretty agressive when hungry, though. These things are eating machines.

This weekend was very rainy, so we setup shop in the new boat house. Just a table, some buckets, and a propane stove to heat the water for scalding the birds - there really isn't much equipment needed.

We bought these birds back during the 1st week of August - just over 9 weeks ago. We weighed 4 birds at a time, and they weighed over 43 lbs! Thats 10 lbs per bird!

They really are the size of small turkeys!

Ok, lets get on with this...

This was our first time butchering chickens. I've skinned pheasants before but never tried scalding and plucking birds. We decided to try this first time all by hand.

We didn't use any 'killing cones', either. They would have been nice, but instead we simply wrapped the birds up in a towel, tied their feet together, hung them from a fencepost, and used a bungee cord to secure them to the fence. The cord and towel really helped them settle down.

A friend said if you pluck them right after killing them, the feathers come out easy... so I gave it a try. They did seem to come out easy... but the skin tore easily, too.

We skinned a couple birds, thinking it would go faster, but it really didn't. Chicken skin seems to tear much easier than a wild bird skin does... and skinning them was as tedious as plucking them in the end. We learned alot this first time!

The birds turned out really nice. Here is the first one, skinned and ready to be cleaned.

The next few parts are alittle gorey, but very interesting. It is alittle gross skinning animals, but fascinating and very quickly everyone - even the older girls - loose their disgust and get very excited to explore the miracle and mechanics of a living animal. Previously living, that is...

To gut them, we simply made a slit just under the breastbone, as pictured here. Then, we just reached up and into the cavity, took hold of all the guts, and literally pulled them all down and out.

Quick, easy, and smooth.

After the guts were out, we rinsed them in cold clean water.

The final step was to chill the bird in a bucket of icewater for 10 minutes.

We'll be freezing and canning the birds, but they need to sit in the refrigerator for a few days to age, first. More on that later.

The scalding and plucking is definitely the most interesting, new, and time consuming process of chicken'ing.

We kept the water hot, and submerged the birds for about 20-30 seconds. You could see the skin turn tan and opaque.

Smelled like chicken soup...

After 30 seconds in the hot water, the feathers came right out. Too much time and the skin would tear easily.

It was fun pulling out the feathers... but took a bit of time. Pretty tedious getting every last quill and bit out, though. Us newbies took about 15 minutes to pluck each bird.

We kept the livers for our neighbor's cat, and also the hearts and gizzards. The gizzards were the most fun - very hard and big! My wife found a really cool trick - after the gizzard is split open, the inner lining peels right out - nice, easy, and clean!

Good thing - she is probably the only one in the family looking forward to eating these...

Here are a bunch of the birds finished and waiting to be bagged for the refrigerator. They were big birds!

The older kids were really wanting to help and do this, but their schedules kept them away for the first ones.

We saved them a couple of the birds to do!

Here's the gang out plucking their birds. They did really well!

Hard to pluck while your holding your nose...

Like we've said before - one of the best things for kids is farm work and chores. They really enjoyed the work and we had a great time talking about all the little cool things we found doing this.

Here's the crap left over from those big birds... just one night's worth of refuse.

They eat alot, grow quickly, and fertilize IMMENSELY!

There was suprisingly little else to clean up and deal with. We only had a small "wal-mart" plastic sack worth of feathers... I expected garbage bags of them, but there were just a few!

There was only a half-bucket of heads, feet, and guts left over, too.
These birds have HUGE feet! Way bigger than any I saw for snacks on the streets of Taiwan or Shanghai!

Here's a proud kid after finishing the plucking. I think he is as glad its done as he is of his work.
Hope you enjoyed this - we really did. There are 13 more birds left that aren't as big as these dudes were - we'll be butchering them in 2 more weeks when they are bigger.
We learned alot, and had fun.
We all definitely recommend using an automated chicken-plucker next time. Check out this one!

Stay tuned - we are hoping to rent one of these pluckers for our next round.