On Killing Chickens – Graphic Post

This is the story of how we went from having too many roosters running around to having a freezer stocked with chicken: This post is graphic and may be upsetting to some people, so if you’re going to start crying/be traumatized/send me hate mail, you should click away right now and go read about baking cupcakes or something.

The other day, I was walking by the chicken coop and noticed that four of the roosters were terrorizing one of the hens.  They were grouped around her, taking turns mounting her, ignoring all the other hens in the coop.  When they weren’t on top of her they were pecking her right on top of the head, trying to keep her on the ground.  It was pretty horrifying, and I ran into the coop and rescued the poor hen the second I realized what was going on (she’s fine, don’t worry).

That was when I decided:
I have to get rid of these damn roosters.

Over the years, I’ve lost many of my chickens, but never on purpose.  The first time was when someone came over to my house with their dog, and even though my dogs love our chickens, this dog jumped out of the car and killed one of my hens within ten seconds.  I cried in the woods for the whole afternoon and wouldn’t talk to anyone.

I know, it’s just a chicken.

But there’s something so sweet about (most of) them, how they run through the grass chasing bugs and how they adore corn and will follow you around all day trying to get it.  I love how they can be such troublemakers, finding the one tiny hole in a garden fence and then eating a whole bed of seedlings in five minutes.  Gradually, I’ve learned not to be so heartbroken if a chicken dies.  It’s a natural part of raising animals and farming.  If I’m doing my best to protect them, there’s not much else that can be done.  Chickens die. It happens.

Even though we’ve been keeping chickens for years, I’ve never killed one of them myself, and I took this decision very seriously.  There are huge stretches of time where I don’t eat meat;  I like tomato-cucumber sandwiches for lunch and a bowl of chickpea curry for dinner, and I rarely crave steak.  There are a couple times a month that I do like to make something with meat in it, though, and I absolutely want that meat to be from a humanely raised, local and sustainable.  All of those pretentious sounding catch phrases seem more important when it comes to killing an animal.  The thing is, I’m not interested in the top-dollar, organic chicken from the natural food store — I’ve never met the farmer, I’ve never seen the chickens, and I know better than to believe a bunch of stuff written on plastic packaging.  When I want to eat meat, I want it to be venison that was a gift from a hunter friend with a stocked freezer, sausage from my neighbors pigs, or trout from a nearby stream.

I finally got up the nerve to call up another farmer and set a time to bring my roosters over to his house, where he graciously agreed to show me everything I needed to know.  I was nervous, and even though I knew I was doing the right thing, I couldn’t sleep the night before I was going to kill them.

The main thing I want to tell anyone who might be struggling with that same decision is that it turns out, it’s not that bad at all.  Thinking about it beforehand is much worse than actually doing it. It helped me a lot to have a very experienced farmer show me how to do everything quickly and without a lot of unnecessary emotional drama.  He told me “it’s okay to be friends with your food.”

There are a lot of ways to kill a chicken, but I’m sold on the method we used.  (I wish I could offer more step-by-step pictures here, but since this was my first time and it was almost dark outside still, I didn’t bother trying to take a lot of good pictures.  I know that a quick google search will show you if you want to see.)  My friend pulled a stump from his firewood pile, hammered two nails into it about 1 1/2″ apart, and then set a trash can right next to the stump.  He showed me how, in a matter of seconds, you firmly grab the chicken with one hand on its feet and the other on its neck, lay it on the stump so its neck is in between the nails, and then, holding its body onto the stump with one hand, grab your axe and just give it a really good whack on the neck.  You immediately toss the chicken into the empty trash can where it will bleed and flop around quite dramatically.  The most important thing I learned is not to hesitate once you decide to start, to be determined and strong about it.  My roosters were dead within seconds, before they really even knew what was going on, which is what I wanted.  I probably don’t need to tell you, but I want to emphasize two things: 1. Roosters hate it when you pick them up and will try to fly away.  Grab them strongly and be ready for this, because if they do fly away and you have to chase them all over the property trying to catch them, it will make the process much more traumatic for both of you.  2. This is not the time for a half-hearted attempt with the axe.  Go for it.  Roosters have stronger necks than you’d think and you need to put some power into it.

Once the killing part was over, the plucking and butchering was much easier than I expected.  We dipped the carcasses in boiling water for a minute and then plucked the feathers into the trash can, a process that was simple and finished quickly.  (I thought it would take a long time and make a huge mess — It didn’t).  My friend cut their feet off and then showed me how to take out the guts, which, although it was disgusting, I kind of… liked.  It’s a good kind of disgusting.  It reminded me of scooping out the seeds from the inside of a pumpkin, but warm and mushy. It was easy.  Then you just give the birds a rinse in clean water, pack them into freezer bags and stash them away for future dinners.  My friend told me that you should let them rest in the fridge for a couple days before you eat them because the meat will be more tender, so I haven’t actually cooked anything yet, but I’m excited to make chicken and dumplings tomorrow.

Now that it’s over, I’m hugely relieved.  I realized I was making way too big of a deal about all of this and getting way too emotional.  It’s really bad to have too many roosters, and it makes complete sense to feed your family with the extras.   When it was over and done, I felt a huge sense of pride and accomplishment thinking about how many meals I could make with all of this chicken.  That day, I actually ended up doing a bunch of other tasks that I’d been putting off, because I realized that if I could kill and butcher chickens before it was even light outside, these other things I was worrying about were also going to be a breeze.

If you’re at all like I was, torn about the idea of doing this, putting it off even though you know you should, I urge you to go ahead and do it.  It was a very positive experience and left me feeling very empowered.

For a fantastic tutorial on chicken butchering, including all the pretty pictures I didn’t take, I highly recommend the Girl’s Guide to Guns and Butter’s Chicken Butchering 101 post. 

Good luck!

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15 responses to “On Killing Chickens – Graphic Post

  1. I love this post! I am totally into coming to terms with killing one’s own food. “When I want to eat meat, I want it to be venison that was a gift from a hunter friend with a stocked freezer, sausage from my neighbors pigs, or trout from a nearby stream.” I agree with this wholeheartedly! My thoughts exactly!

  2. I watched my parents and grandparents kill chickens while growing up, so I also have no problem with it. They used a slightly different technique, however. They believed that when the headless chicken flops around it bruises the meat, so they would string up a clothes line, tie the chickens’ feet to the line, then walk down the line and cut all the heads off. This allowed the blood to drain and the chickens to flop around without bruising the meat.

  3. “…if you’re going to start crying/be traumatized/send me hate mail, you should click away right now and go read about baking cupcakes or something…”

    *laughs* Nice! I appreciate this, have hens, but have never butchered. I did have to put one hen down once, due to an infected prolapse, but we didn’t eat her, just buried her. I do plan on trying this sometime though! Thank you for sharing your experience!

  4. Great post. Killing is part of raising food and it is good to be honest about it and discuss it openly. And now you can make Coq-au-vin!

  5. You had me at the baking cupcakes part. Great post.

  6. Great reflection.
    As a bow-hunter, I share similar impulses that you do, as far as not eating much meat. I’m not perfect–I’ll grab fast-food once in a while, but I prefer to treat eating meat as more of a luxury.
    When you choose to–or have to–kill what you eat, it brings a greater appreciation of life. There’s no other way to say it, as cheesy as it sounds.
    I’ve already killed one doe, and if I get another deer this season, I’ll have enough venison for a year. My fiance isn’t a huge fan of venison, but she likes the chili and sausage I’ll make.
    Here is a post I wrote about hunting: http://mindfulstew.wordpress.com/2012/05/26/why-i-hunt/

  7. We raise chickens, too. And the “head says yes, but heart says no” always is there in times of too many roosters, too many old hens, etc. Bravo to you for following through. I have to admit I usually cower in the house while my husband does the deed.

  8. I can totally appreciate and understand the feelings you communicated in this post. I’m glad it was such an empowering experience for you. We view raising our animals and knowing where our food comes from in the same way you do and try to keep meat eating to 3-4 times a week with vegetarian meals the rest of the time. When I was younger my father and his friends used the same process for turkey butchering and processing that you did for your roosters. They would complete a whole flock in a morning, very efficient! I look forward to reading more about your farm life.

  9. I had a chicken hurt a while back and was upset about it so i understand. But I also get getting rid of the roosters that are a bother to you. We don’t have roosters but would guess it would be easier to kill those then the hens :) I hope I can be brave if and when we have to kill one of our girls if needed. :(

  10. We learned to do this just this past year. Makes you really appreciate the food on your table. Bravo!

  11. Not a big reality-tv fan but the Beekman Boys had a very good episode about slaughtering their pigs. They had a great point, if you eat meat, you should know more about the animal, it’s life and it’s death. A good reminder and a very nice post, thank you.

  12. This is so very cool. I live in a rural community and know several people who raise chickens for the sole purpose of butchering them for good eats all winter. Though I don’t think I could ever do it myself, I applaud those who can. I read an article in a magazine just last night about the inhumane treatment of many of the animals whose meat we buy in the store. I’m a meat eater myself and I shudder at the thought of animals being mistreated, then tortured prior to their deaths prior to my purchasing them at the store. I relish the idea of buying meat from people you know, so you can be certain of how those animals were raised/treated prior to becoming delicious on the table!
    Thanks for this post and GREAT JOB!!

  13. Will you please tell me how you managed to keep your chickens without the need to kill them yourself or have them killed (this is what I understood when you say you had never lost a chicken on purpose)? I am researching to find a way to keep a flock for eggs but not have to reduce the number of hens by killing them or having them killed..thanks

  14. Just did this dance ….. Had to blog about it and thought I would get hate mail….. But I didn’t! At an early age the farmer I worked for told me to read; “The Secret Life of Plants”. I did and started to hear carrots screaming. Life’s choices, at 60, I chose to take responsibility for much of my food.
    Gonna be ugly making coleslaw tonight…..
    Peace out for now :)

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