You can find Grama Sue's Rainbow Eggs at:

The Hy Vee on Agency in Burlington, IA


Wednesday - Friday 9am to 1pm at the farm 1/2 mi east of the Nauvoo-Colusa Jr. High then 3/4 mile North on 1050.

Wednesday 3-7 pm at the Painted Corners on HWY 96 in Lomax, IL


7 - 11 am Keokuk Farmer's Market at the mall

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Butchering Chickens

Well, I took more than just a few pictures and it took me two days to load them! Warning, if you are squeamish, you might not want to read this post :)

Butchering chickens for me starts out with lots of cleaning. I'm not known for my house keeping skills, but when it comes to cooking for others or butchering meat, I'm really, really picky.

The kitchen needs to be spotless and the sinks and the counters are all bleached down.

The scalding pan is scrubbed and bleached.

And so is the freezer.

The garage gets hosed down.

And then I sharpen my knife. A sharp knife makes the job easier and safer. Believe it or not you are more likely to cut yourself with a dull knife than with a sharp one. The effort it takes to cut with a dull knife makes it easier for the knife to slip and hit your hands.

I fill the cooler half full with water, ice and a couple of cups of salt after scrubbing and bleaching it.

Then I'm ready.

The night before Grampa Tom went out and caught the chickens we will butcher. There are several reasons why we do this. 1. They are easier to catch at night when they are roosting. 2. It is less stressful on the birds. (The few times we have just caught a bird and then butchered it, there have been liquids in places where there shouldn't have been liquids. I'm told this is because of the stress of being chased. 3. An overnight fast for the birds makes for much less poop and a much more sanitary process. 4. This gives the livers a chance to rest. Birds that have eaten recently will have a pale liver. A red liver has more nutrients in it.

Grampa Tom fills the scalding pan. He aims for 145 degrees. To hot and the birds will cook. To cool and the feathers won't come off. He immerses the bird 4 or 5 times and then proceeds to pluck.

I don't have any pictures of the actual kill because I was once a city girl and so far I've managed to keep one part of that city girl persona in tact. No killing for me! I've insisted that I was made to give life, not take it. I wait until the heads of whatever we are butchering to be gone before I go out. I don't want their eyes looking at me saying "What did you do this to me for?' 

According to my kids, who have always helped with this, Grampa Tom steps on the bird's head and yanks it off very quickly. Then the bird runs around with it's head cut off for about a minute. They always think this is a hilarious sight. Sick kids ... Yes, you've heard the saying ... it's actually happens.

Before I start each chicken, I say a little prayer thanking God for the chicken and asking His help to butcher it so that I butcher the chicken, not my fingers. I sliced my fingers to the bone a couple of times before I learned to do this. I also thank God throughout the process as He answers my prayer :) 

Sometimes, my brothers and sisters in Christ are confused because I rarely say "grace" before a meal. I am thankful for my food, I just pray as I'm growing it, shopping for it, putting it into my pantry, processing it and cooking it. It's a little bit different, but it works for me.

Once the bird is plucked, I remove the feet. Right where the leg bends, there is a joint. To find the right place, I bend the leg backwards and put my knife in the place where the joint comes together. Then I slowly work the knife into the joint, cut the cartilage and remove the foot.

The next step is to remove the pin feathers. I start out by giving the chicken a good rub down with a stiff brush. Most of them will come out this way.

There are  always a few stubborn ones that I have to use a my fingernail and or a pair of tweezers to get out. Some are just beginning to form. You can work all day and not get them all out. On a white feathered bird you don't even notice them, but I've decided  that with a dark feathered bird I just have to put up with them, unappetizing it is. This may be the reason people started breading and frying chicken in the first place :)

Next, I locate the food and the wind pipe on the neck.

I pull them out and make a couple of cuts at the base of the neck so I can locate the crop.

I loosen the connective tissue surrounding the crop with my finger, pull it away from the carcass and then cut it away just under the crop. Once this is done you can cut off the neck if you want.

Now it's time for the other end. On top of the tail there is an oil gland. I'm told this part is no good for eating, so you want to make your first cut just above this gland.

Carefully cut through the back bone. If you cut to far, you will go through the vent, which will make the whole process more poopy. Most of the time, if the chicken hasn't had any food all night, I can gut without any manure getting on the meat, but if you accidentally cut the vent, it will definitely happen. I keep a bottle of bleach water next to the sink. If this does happen, I  immediately douse it with bleach water and then run lots of fresh cold water over it. In the big processing plants, they throw the carcass into a big sanitizing bath  where it has time to soak up all that sanitizer. YUCK! 

Once the back bone is cut, carefully make cuts on both sides of the tail.

And then around the front. There will be some belly fat. Don't cut this. It will pull out with the rest of the innards.

If there isn't enough room to get your hand inside the bird (which is rare with roosters) you can cut along the outside of the rib cage on each side of the bird. I do this by putting my knife inside the bird and cutting out so that I don't cut the innards accidentally.

Then comes the really gross part. You have to run your hands all around the inside of the bird to free the innards from the connective tissue that holds it to the ribs. Then slowly pull them out of the body.

This is what you will pull out. The heart in the upper left hand corner often comes out detached, but if not it will be located near the liver (the dark mass) the other giblet part you may want to save out of the innards is the gizzard. It is the hard round yellow thingy in the middle of the picture. The yellow is the fat that surrounds the stomach muscle (which is the gizzard).

This is what a your chicken looks like after it's been gutted.  Look familiar?

I then place the carcass in my icy salt water for 8 to 24 hours. The cooling tenderizes the meat, so does the salt. The salt also helps to remove excess blood from the carcass and provides a little bit of protection from bacterial contamination. If you are salt sensitive you can leave it out, but I think it makes a better chicken.

You have to be careful when cutting out the liver. The picture I took turned out all blurry, but at the base of the liver is a bile duct. It is a short little green oval. Move the liver around until you see it, then cut the liver away, leaving a little bit of the liver attached just to make sure you don't nick it. I'm told if you do, the bile fluid will make any meat it touches very bitter. I have nicked it on occasion. I throw out anything that got the fluid on it and then wash the knife well before going on. 

To process the gizzard, pull the fat off and then make a cut down one side. Try not to go to far. The objective is to keep the stomach lining intact, pulling the stomach muscle away from it.

Peal the gizzard away from the stomach lining.

And hopefully you will wind up with the stomach lining intact (in my hand in this picture) and the gizzard.

But most of the time, the lining rips. Not really a problem. I just dump the contents into my throw away pan and pull the lining away. Then I rinse the gizzard well before putting it in my chill water.

About every 4 or 5 chickens, I take my gut garbage out for my dogs and cats. They love it. If you don't have critters you can throw them to, they make excellent compost too. Just make sure they are well buried in the pile because they will stink if you don't.

This is what my cooler looks like with 17 birds in it. I like to put the giblets in a separate pan, but you don't have to. I keep the feet. You can make gelatin out of them, but I usually wind up using them for dog treats later. 

When I am ready to pack the birds, I arrange them in the sink so they can drain for a bit first.

I also drain the giblets in colanders. Personally, I hate giblets, but my husband likes the hearts and livers. My 
favorite father-in-law loves gizzards so I separate them just so they will be easy to pack.

I like to double wrap my birds. I believe in recycling. If we were packing these for someone else, I'd use cling wrap for the inner layer, but since this time we were butchering for us, empty bread wrappers are good enough.

I use freezer wrap for the second layer. The instructions say to put the meat down on the shiny side of the paper. Thank God for written instructions. I always forget which side. I fold over the creases and tape them with masking tape. Grampa Tom keeps threatening to buy one of those fancy vacuum bagger contraptions so we could just stick them in a bag and not have to do all this. Someday ...

Then I flip it over and write the contents and the date on the other side. Once I've marked it. In the freezer it goes! 

So now you know. We used to sell to private customers, but we are pretty confused about the law now. It may be illegal for us to sell our chickens with our butchering set up. Apparently, we need thousands of dollars worth of buildings and equipment to satisfy the government.  

But you know what? I'd put my chickens up in a lab test against those big guys anytime, and I'd win. I've read the regulations on federally inspected poultry. The last time I looked into it, they were proposing lowering the "acceptable" rate of fecal contamination from somewhere over 50% to in the 25% range. The only thing these government regulations do is make it difficult to impossible for you to get good meat unless you process it yourself.  

If you are interested in buying live birds to butcher yourself, let me know. The next time we have them ready, I'll contact you.

God Bless You All!

~Grama Sue

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