As November approached I knew I’d need to eliminate a couple of young roosters from my flock. So it was time to add a new homesteading skill: butchering a chicken. Though I have Harvey Ussery’s book, The Small-Scale Poultry Flock, with its detailed, illustrated instructions on butchering, I didn’t feel confident tackling it on my own without at least observing it first.
So I prevailed on a friend who’s very experienced with this to give me a lesson. The deal was, she would demonstrate the process with one bird and keep that one for her own use, then help me with the other one, which I planned to roast for Thanksgiving. My friend is one of the kindest, gentlest people I know, so having her in charge made it seem more okay to be engaging in this seemingly brutal act.
Here she demonstrates a cut:
... and I tackle the job of plucking a bird:
We used killing cones — an easier method, where the bird is upside-down and immobilized while the killing cuts are made. Supposedly it also calms the bird, but I’m not so sure about that. I did think my rooster was breathing awfully fast while I prepared to make the cut, but I don’t know—maybe that’s just the way chickens breathe. Anyway the killing and plucking were easier than I expected — only the butchering presented a challenge, since it takes some skill and experience to know just where and how to cut and how to remove the various organs properly. Still, I got most of it done with a little help from my friend. I was a bit apprehensive about the whole affair, so it was a great relief when I was able to head home with a freshly-killed bird for Thanksgiving.
Also on the menu was a squash pie made from my homegrown butternut squash (my first-ever pie!) and chestnut stuffing, made from my own chestnuts. As for the chicken, I thought about 20 minutes per pound of roasting at 375 would do it. At about 3-1/2 pounds, that would be a little over an hour. Well, I must have roasted that bird for an hour and forty-five minutes, and it was still really tough, though still good eating — just hard to cut off the bones. In any case, I got four chicken dinners out of it, as well as three quarts of very good chicken soup.
Only later I learned that dual-purpose homestead breeds (like my Buckeye) don’t cook the same as your supermarket birds. In fact, I read on another homesteader’s blog about “brining” a turkey — soaking it for several hours in salt water — before roasting it. Then I somewhat belatedly acquired The Joy of Cooking, which has everything you’d need to know about cooking just about anything, and learned that lower-fat meats, such as game birds, need to be cooked more slowly, at a lower temperature. Also I learned that the darker meat of these birds is still somewhat pink when done, while I had taken this as a sign of underdone-ness.
Well, Thanksgiving week turned out to be a crash-course in butchering. Saturday morning at eight o’clock I got a call from a neighbor who, along with his nephew, had been trying to get a deer. He had asked me earlier if I’d like some deer meat, and I said sure, and offered to come and help cut it up. I had heard shots the previous evening, so I wasn’t surprised when he told me they had finally gotten one — two, in fact. So on Saturday I spent a couple of hours over at the neighbors’ place cutting up deer meat, and came home with 34 pounds of venison. That’s about as much meat as I eat in a year!