This past Sunday, I had the pleasure of taking part in a group chicken processing project as part of our Community Chickens venture, and it was a fulfilling experience processing meat that I won’t soon forget, even after I cook and eat the birds I brought home.
I’ve long been a fan of providing my own meat, a process I learned about growing up on a farm where hunting and fishing were encouraged recreational hobbies. This experience was much different though, as it brought together members of GRIT, MOTHER EARTH NEWS, Ogden Publications advertising staff and spouse and offspring, and thrust us all together into the business of killing and cleaning meat birds. We had a great setup at GRIT Editor Hank Will’s Osage County Kansas farm.
Unlike my experiences with pheasant and other game birds, these were chickens just like I’d usually buy at the store – albeit more humanely raised – which I’d never fully processed before, with people whom I’d only had a professional relationship with. It was awesome.
For me, my goal at the outset was to have a hand in every phase to fully be able to process a chicken in the future, which I want to do again someday.
In the kill cones, I took part in the dispatching early on in the day. Next, it was on to the scalding tank, where I dunked a rooster for about a minute, then to the plucker, which worked beautifully. I only had to spend about five minutes at most cleaning the final feathers off the chicken. And then came the evisceration table, and it was here that I spent most of the remainder of the day.
I don’t mind cleaning guts; through hunting I’ve done it numerous times. But unlike a pheasant, we cleaned these broilers so that every bit of the meat was saved. With pheasants, I often try hardest to save the breast and wings. Now it was about cleaning out the entire inner cavity.
Just like cleaning any animal, you don’t want to puncture anything for the cleanest possible process. Most importantly though for saving the quality of the meat is to avoid the gall bladder connected to the liver. As the day went on, I felt more and more comfortable with this and developed my own technique for slowly and carefully pulling out innards (we processed around 30 chickens that day). I wasn’t the only one at the table who jumped when, my hand in the cavity, an air pocket at just the right place resulted in the headless chicken quacking like a duck.
After a little while of just fishing for innards, we started to have a small excess pile of birds that hadn’t had the head and neck parts cut, so a little observation and coaching by MOTHER EARTH NEWS’ Sr. Associate Editor Troy Griepentrog let me get the removal of the crop of the neck as well as the esophagus and windpipe down, as well as cutting off the legs and the oil gland on the rear. Then it was back to making a small cut above the vent and removing innards.
I learned so much about processing chickens, and look forward to being able to do it again one day. To some, it would seem almost barbaric to gather and slaughter meat birds in this way. To me, as always with processing animals, it’s far less barbaric when you observe reverence for the bird by processing it yourself; at least that way you are forced to observe and recognize the gravity of the life-taking moment, paying due respect to the animal itself.
Bottom photo by Suzanne Griepentrog
Caleb Regan and his wife, Gwen, live in rural Douglas County, Kansas, where they enjoy hunting, fishing, and raising and growing as much of their own food as they can. Caleb can’t imagine a better scenario than getting to work on a rural lifestyle magazine as a profession, and then living that same lifestyle right in the heartland of America. Connect with him on Google+.