When we decided to get 20 meat chickens this past spring, I knew that meant we would soon learn a new self-reliance skill: chicken processing.
Although we’ve cleaned fish and small game, butchering chickens, then cleaning and prepping them for the freezer is different. There are more of them to process all at once, for one thing. Plus we were doing this outdoors from our off grid homestead in Canada’s subarctic Northwest Territories.
If you’re considering getting meat chickens for your own off grid homestead, use these tips to help things go more smoothly.
1. Get Help From An Experienced Off Grid Homesteader
While much has been written about processing chickens in general, my online research didn’t yield much about processing chickens off the grid. This puzzled me. Was it because it doesn’t really matter whether you have access to power or not? Or just because off grid homesteaders are generally too busy surviving to have time to write about it?
I decided to ask my chicken-expert friends instead. We got some great tips from homesteading friends down in Saskatchewan (they’re on the grid) about the general chicken butchering part - the most important being “get an automatic plucker.”
We lucked out because as it turns out my good friend Fran who lives up the trail has both experience butchering chickens off the grid AND she has a plucker too. Even better, she brought her family along so we had lots of help on our first chicken processing day.
Newbie Tip: Get advice in person, online, or over the phone from an experienced chicken owner who lives off the grid.
2. Set Out Supplies Ahead of Time
Based on what we learned on YouTube combined with recommendations from friends, we set out everything we thought we’d need the day before processing the chickens. This saved time the next morning and helped us feel more confident and prepared.
I gathered clean rags, buckets, bowls, and knives. I also prepared one spray bottle of vinegar and water and another of bleach and water. We set up our fold-out table by our fire pit and I disinfected it with bleach and water. We then added a heavy glass tabletop to it and also disinfected this - and then we set up our DIY killing cones made from used milk jugs.
3. Make or Buy Ice
If your off grid setup includes an electric or propane fridge (with room in it), you don’t have to worry so much about having ice handy. Cooling down your chickens after butchering and plucking but before storing is important to avoid harmful bacterial growth - especially if it you are processing chickens outdoors on a hot day.
When you butcher several chickens at once, it can take some time to gut them and clean them. So keep the meat in the fridge in a large bowl or pan until you can get to it. Although we have an electric fridge (yes, it’s an energy hog) it’s jam-packed with food at all times for our large family. So we filled one of our extra-large coolers with ice to keep the birds cool until I could gut them.
4. Chicken Pluckers Need Power
Automatic chicken pluckers are just dandy - a real time-saver. So if you can get your hands on one, I highly recommend it. They’re fast and effective and will save hours when you’re processing chickens off the grid. However, the chicken plucker we used required power. So if you plan to use one, make sure you have an extension cord handy.
Either plug your chicken plugger directly into a portable generator or run the extension cord to the house - this is what we did. Just remember to charge up your batteries or choose a sunny day for your solar panels when butchering your chickens.
5. Boil Water Ahead of Time
Whether you use the chicken plucker or the old fashioned “plunge and rinse” method of loosening feathers, you’re going to need a ton of scalding water. When you’re processing chickens off the grid, you have several options:
- Boil water in large stockpots on an indoor stove then carry them outside
- Heat water in a dutch oven over a campfire
- Use an outdoor propane stove to boil water
- Boil the water indoors, then keep it hot over an outdoor campfire or on a propane stove
We hadn’t thought ahead on this and didn’t have time to dig out our large, stand-alone propane stove. So we opted for method one and boiled three large stockpots of water on our indoor propane cooktop. The big kids carefully carried each pot of water outdoors and kept them warm on a backup propane heater while our little kids kept the dogs from getting underfoot.
6. Plan Your Storage
Before you start processing chickens off the grid, consider your short and long-term meat storage space.
Before I lived off the grid I thought nothing of buying meat on sale and tossing it in the freezer. However, as I now know, freezers use a lot of power, and until we have a better power storage option than our aging battery bank, we've given up our chest freezer.
Since we live so far north (about 250 miles south of the Arctic Circle,) we use our back deck as a freezer from the end of October through March. But we processed these chickens in August.
We do, however, have a small fridge freezer. Also, our close friend and neighbor Morris has a chest freezer with some room in it. (He has a better battery and solar panel set up too.)
We figured that if we butchered eight 5-7 pound meat chickens, and ate one for our Sunday dinner, we could store two in our fridge freezer and five in Morris' freezer. He agreed right away, knowing that he always has a seat at our dinner table.
(Note: Now that my new All American canner has arrived, I plan to can chicken going forward.)
The lesson here is to consider your off grid power options. Think carefully about where and how you'll store your meat BEFORE you plan your first chicken harvesting day.
7. Clean Up to Avoid Predators
Now, whether you keep backyard chickens in the suburbs, at your rural homestead, or your off grid homestead like I do, cleaning up after processing is extremely important. Otherwise, you could find all sorts of new visitors in your backyard. Around here we have to keep an eye out for dogs, coyotes, wolves, pine martens, and this time of year black bears on a mission to fatten up for winter
Once the chickens had been dispatched, gutted, and soaked in a cooler of ice, I was off to the kitchen to give them another wash and package them for the freezer. In the meantime, the rest of my gang was washing down our equipment with hot water and bleach. We had a roaring fire going outdoors and all the feathers and remaining bits were burned to avoid attracting unwanted predatorial guests.
Overall, our first time processing chickens off the grid was a great success. Our chicken dinner was delicious, and we're feeling more confident about our ability to secure our food supply by raising chickens at our far northern off grid homestead.