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Poultry Processing: Processing Chickens in Fall 2010

By Caleb Regan, Managing Editor

Tags: Poultry Processing, Processing Chickens, Chicken Processing, Poultry Farming, Home Meat Processing, Cleaning Chickens, How to Clean a Chicken, Caleb Regan,

A photo of the author, Caleb ReganWeekend before last, I had the opportunity to head out to Prairie Turnip Farm in Osage County, Kansas, and participate in 3 hours of chicken processing in which about 40 birds went from pasture to freezer.

It’s always a good experience for me. Inevitably in that setting of editors, farmers/ranchers, spouses, scientists, country folk and friends, you’ll learn something or remember something long forgotten – even something as simple as that the atrium is the chamber of the heart opposite the ventricle (we kept wanting to say aeorta).

Processing chickens starts at the kill cones.Anyways, it’s always good to get out there and process some birds, and bringing home a couple extra chickens in the 5- to 6-pound neighborhood never hurts, thanks to the generosity of others.

My experience this particular Saturday was mainly doing a lot of the killing at the kill cones. I’m a hunter, but taking a life is still something that wears on you, especially if it’s time and time again. I found myself being glad when I was alone; that way the process wasn’t rushed, and I could stand back from the kill cones at the conclusion and sort of let a minute or two pass and recognize the gravity of the moment as a way of paying proper respect. And I certainly didn't want to feel the need to talk at that time; there's nothing to be said.

I’ve watched deer die in the field, and I’m always glad to be alone. It’s just not something you really want to share with other people – I’m usually just deep in thought, and nothing about it is cheerful. And the repetitive nicking of the jugular and feeling the stream of warm blood on my hands, I have to admit I was glad when that part was over for me. When the final bird was dispatched, it was a relief.

Not that the killing bothered me. It’s obviously a necessary part of the process and I took pride in playing that role and performing it in the least amount of time as possible. I was glad to do my best to perform it well.

But, I do admit it was a good feeling to get past that and stand next to the evisceration table for awhile, where I spent most of my time the previous year.

Removing crops and legs, then on to the actual gutting. 

The chicken plucker makes the process so much easier than my mom tells it. She remembers mainly the stench, like a lot of other people who've done significant home chicken processing. The Featherman plucker performed wonderfully.


After 40 birds (about 25 Freedom Rangers from MOTHER EARTH NEWS Sr. Associate Editor Troy Griepentrog, and 15 Cornish-Rock crosses from GRIT Editor Hank Will) in about 3 hours including cleanup, we were eating quiche under the eaves of the polebarn and making jokes about spices from the jalapeño chips getting stuck in our crops.

The whole experience just makes me wonder, When and why did mainstream America become so disconnected from our food

Kill Cone and Evisceration Table Photos: courtesy Karen Keb

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 .

11/6/2010 8:18:21 PM

Caleb, I appreciate your article. We recently processed roosters. Neither of us have experienced taking a life before. It took us literally weeks to get ourselves up to the task. After spring brood we ended up with 19 hens and seven roosters. Once those roos started their cockadoodle doo thing there was no longer the idyllic pastoral setting we had previously enjoyed. Both hens and roos were very stressed. We knew we had to cull some roos. Couldn't find anyone locally to do the job for us. We either had to do it ourselves or sell to someone else who would have killed them for meat. It's foolish to invest to maturity and not have organic meat on our own table. Couldn't stand the thought of someone else killing them to eat as they wouldn't have appreciated the sacrifice as deeply as we would having raised them from eggs. You put words to something I haven't been able to when trying to explain why we did what we did to others who just don't get it. It it something only my husband and I could share together. It was very difficult but had to be done. The calm that was restored to the flock after ridding it of excess roos was immediate. That surprised me and was a welcome confirmation that what we did was right. Allowing a flock to grow unchecked is irresponsible husbandry. We also are left pondering how Americans have become so removed from their food sources and the resulting ill effects. Ive always been grateful for our food but now it's much deeper understanding the sacrifice.

almost country_1
10/26/2010 4:02:59 PM

Thanks for sharing that, Caleb. I've been wanting to connect more with my food for so long--not so easy in a huge metro area like Chicago. But I think I'm probably not looking hard enough. I feel very strongly that if I'm going to eat meat--and I do--I should be able to kill it, or at least bear witness to the process. And the process should be as humane as possible. It was pretty weird watching feathered birds tumble around and emerge as the naked chickens I'm most familiar with. Cool machine, really. I hope to experience it in person someday.

10/26/2010 1:30:59 PM

Eric - Well said. Not a cavalier time at all, and I think that has everything to do with it being easier and better when left alone. If it's just me, I know that I'm not dismissing the occurrence, and there's no likelihood that someone will feel the need to dismiss it with mood-lightening remarks, etc. And you're right, it's a total connection, in a sense with all life. I wonder if any other animal feels like that when they take a life? It's an interesting, wonderful world in which we live! Check in from time to time and let me know how it's coming along for you folks –

eric kolber
10/26/2010 12:24:08 PM

I felt like this was a very thoughtful article on the home processing of chicken event. My wife and I are hobby farmers and have spent the last couple years preparing gardens and orchards on the land we plan to retire to on the weekends. We want to have chickens for eggs and food but neither of us grew up hunting so we are a little uncomfortable with the thought of that process yet we know our forebearers did it and we want to also, so reading an article like this helps us prepare for the time when we will kill and process our first chicken. The reverence for life Caleb spoke of was comforting because Our Lord has that same feeling about life, as He has transmitted in the Bible. Caleb describes that desire to be alone, it is not a cavalier time but a time of conncetion with the food that God has provided for us. Thank you Caleb. Eric Kolber