Coming Full Circle (aka how we came to kill our first animal on the farm)

Faulk Farmstead

DISCLAIMER:  This post does talk about butchering an animal – if this is not your thing, you’ve been warned…

 

So, from the beginning, my plan was to one day come to the point where I could source my food completely from my land.  But not just the “land” being my garden.  I’m talking real meat and potatoes here.  Meat, dairy, veggies.  You know what I mean.

 

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The vegetables have truly been a thrill.  Being able to harvest bushels of beans multiple times, as well as kale, garlic, and everything else, has been more than rewarding.  The eggs?  Everything I had hoped for.  Meat?  Well, we were thinking that would be awhile – as our ram and ewe have not yet, um, made their union “official”.  This week, however, we found that things have changed a bit…

 

We have this rooster.  For those that know us, I’m not talking about Doris Day – our rooster we thought was a flamboyant hen – but that’s another story altogether.  I’m talking ’bout Cockadoo, our sexlink rooster that has ALWAYS made it clear that he is THE rooster here.  Well, Cockadoo has always been a bit… cocky.  When myself or the girls would come out to feed them or collect eggs, he would puff up and do a bit of a charge in our direction, but he kindly reserved the attacking and spur-directing towards the defenseless goats.  Nice guy, right?

 

The last known photograph of Cockadoo, the white rooster - back in his smaller days...
The last known photograph of Cockadoo, the white rooster – back in his smaller days…

So fast-forward to this past week.  When I heard Emma screaming from the pasture.  Screaming.  Here was the rooster – chasing her.  Fast.  By the time I had gotten out there, he had backed off and she was attempting to regain her composure.  Then comes the next day.  Condensed version: I get cornered in the 4-foot tall goat shed by the rooster.  Spurs come flying.  I kick hard.  Repeat.  I feed chickens.  Attacked again.  Kick again.  I am angry.  I tell Micky that the rooster is out of chances and I have already planned his dinner.  I’m sure you can see where this is going.

 

So after spending the weekend avoiding the chicken pasture – for my safety, of course! – Monday comes.  The determined “day.”  Now, keep in mind, while Micky has butchered his share of deer and elk, we haven’t done a chicken before.  After a you-tube-ish crash course in chicken butchering, we came up with a game plan:

 

  1. Rig up a traffic cone upside down to place the bird in
  2. Knock out the bird before cutting it’s throat.  For some reason, the ONE thing I felt bad about was that the damn rooster would be aware of us cutting it’s throat.  Go figure.  A blunt blow to the back of the head did the trick.  Kind of.
  3. After chicken bleeds out, remove head and dunk in simmering water to loosen feathers and de-feather the beast.
  4. Butcher!  This was in Micky’s court.
  5. Clean up bird, let rest for a couple days, then FEAST!

 

Ok, now here is how it really happened:

 

  1. Traffic cone: Good idea.  Trimmed the skinny part of the cone to help the huge rooster’s head fit through.  After we had reached the point of no-return, realized….  We had a big rooster and it didn’t quite fit.  But we made it fit.
  2. Thought the bird was knocked out.  After the throat was slit, realized he wasn’t quite.  I think Mick got tired of watching him struggle and move around – so the head just got cut off.  Eh.
  3. De-feathering: This actually worked awesome!  Water temp at 175, dunking up and down for 30 seconds.  Perfection.  If any of this could be considered perfection.
  4. Butchering:.  My husband truly rocks at this.  Our only road bump was the crop.  This is a sac-like structure partway down the esophagus that holds food, debris, and whatnot before it heads down towards the gizzard.  Our well-intended attempts to avoid puncturing this failed, but clean-up was easy.  Everything else went great, until the wings.  It was the end of the process for us, and after Micky said “You don’t really eat the wings anyway, right?”, the wings were gone.
  5. Clean up went uneventful – aside from the fact that my bird was a little odd looking without wings, but hey!  Our first time pretty much rocked!

 

So, moral of the story?  Don’t expect it to go as you thought it would – the first time.  Clearly, we have some learning and adjusting to do, but all in all, I think we did pretty damn good.

 

I then had 2 days to come up with the BEST POSSIBLE way to cook this guy.  The thing with pasture-raised, free-ranging poultry is: this is not the chicken you are buying in your standard market.   These chickens are active, have the ability to forage for their food, and have wide open spaces to develop in.  If you were to cook it up like you would a standard store-bought bird, you could likely end up with something drier and tougher than you would like.

 

My conclusion ended up being to cook this bird slow and low.  Our bird ended up being between 3 and 4 pounds.  I was uber excited to finally taste real pasture-raised poultry, so I kept the seasoning to a minimum: Drizzle of EVOO, sea salt, crushed pepper, and a smattering of dried sage.  That’s it.  Popped in a stoneware baker and baked at 275 degrees for 3 hours, then upped it to 375 for another 30 minutes, until the internal temp was about 175.

 

The result?  Hands down, BEST.  CHICKEN.  EVER.  The meat was much darker and more flavorful than I had expected, literally fall-off-the-bone tender.  And I wasn’t the only one that felt this enamored with the food.  Around the table, we were all in awe.  🙂

 

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That crispy, hot, yumminess...
That crispy, hot, yumminess…
Oh yeah....  Falling off the bone, peeps...
Oh yeah…. Falling off the bone, peeps…

 

Wait a minute…  I am NOT done.  I have to tell you about the best part of the whole meal!   “Huh?  The chicken wasn’t the best part?”  Nope.  This was our FIRST meal that we were able to completely produce:  Mashed taters from the garden, roasted green beans from the garden – oh, and the chicken!

 

THIS is what I have been yearning to do.

THIS is when all the researching, sweating, and hard work has led up to.

MY CONFIRMATION:  We can do this.  And we will continue to do this.  Finally, I feel like I am meant to do this.

 

The Prairie Homestead Barn Hop – Check it out!



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42 thoughts on “Coming Full Circle (aka how we came to kill our first animal on the farm)

    1. Cheryl –
      Best of luck to you! It is hard work, but worth every minute. We always talk about how much we have learned and how much our life has changed – in a good way!

  1. Congratulations you guys!! We were terrified when we butchered our first chicken. We were very lucky to have family that were butchering all of their meat birds that weekend, so we took him there and they taught us how to do it. The struggling that you speak of after you slit his throat- that will happen no matter what, even if he’s properly knocked out. The chicken isn’t aware of what’s happening or feeling pain, that’s a natural reaction of the nervous system. The first couple of times I saw it I was horrified and felt SO bad for the chicken, but then I learned that they can’t feel any of it, it’s just nerves doing their thing. Oh and the crop- YES. That has happened to us every time! Still haven’t figured out how to get it out without puncturing it, and it’s always a surprise to see what’s in there! I’m so glad you guys had your first homegrown meal, that’s amazing!! 🙂

    1. Thanks Meredith! We did two meat birds this past month – and things went much more smoothly! I figure it has been good practice for this spring – we hope to do a large flock of meat birds then! Thanks for checking the blog out!

  2. We used to butcher 100 chickens in a day in our farm. Easiest thing is to take a big 6by6 piece if wood, put 2 nails in it side by side. Maybe 1 inch a part. Put your chickens neck in there and pull his legs a bit so he is stretched out. Then chop off his head with a sharp hatchet. Then they are instant dead no worry about feeling bad cause they are definetly dead!

  3. Your story brought back memories. As a teen, we had just such a rooster, a leghorn. My mom and all of us kids endured his antics for quite a while. First time my dad got attacked he threw a 2×4 and broke his leg. My mom put it in a splint and nursed him back to health…first thing he did once he was completely healed? He went back to chasing all humans and scratching the backs of their legs. We finally had him for dinner also. We had other roosters, not all had his mentality. Even animals have control issues!

  4. My grandparents used to raise chickens and every spring they would put them in the freezer….my grandpa would take a clothes hanger and undo it to where it had a loop on one end,,,he would go chase the chicken he wanted and it’s foot would go in the loop and then grandpa would scoop it up and hand it to my grandma, she would wring the chickens neck, then my uncle would chop the head off and then throw the chicken on the ground and it would literally flop all over the yard..scared the Jeeves outta me. We won’t even go to the big black kettle of boiling water they dunked them in to get the feathers off then scorching the pin feathers off over the burner on the gas cook stove. Then making bed pillows out of the feathers!!????????????????????????????????

  5. I think a lot of people experience something very similar the first time they butcher a chicken. Cooking suggestion: Try butterflied chicken!!!! It’s THE favorite chicken dish around here. Cut the entire spine out of the chicken (cup up both sides of it with good kitchen shears). Then flip over, breast side up, and push down on the chest to crack the ribs until the carcass is about as flat as it’s going to get. Get a large cast iron skillet HOT and add some sort of fat. Place the chicken skin side down and allow to sear for about 4 minutes. Oh yeah, preheat your oven to 350F while all this is going on. While it’s searing, liberally salt and pepper the, now opened up, cavity. Flip over and season breast side with garlic, salt, pepper, rosemary, and thyme (or whatever else you want). Throw in the oven for about 90 minutes. Bake uncovered to keep the skin good and crispy. It’s done when the leg twists off easily.

    1. The technical cooking name for this is “spatchcocking”. Sounds dirty, doesn’t it? 🙂 But it makes for great cooked chicken. It cooks evenly and thoroughly and you get crispy skin all the way around.

  6. That’s great! We haven’t gotten there just yet. But I am close.
    They don’t need vaccinations or any thing to butcher them do they?

      1. Neither have we but so many people have talked or mentioned it just got me wondering. But thanks it’s always good to know others do the same. (: Have a great day.

  7. This gave me a good chuckle… Brings back memories. I actually trade a friend of mine to butcher ours. She has the professional killing cones, and plucker. She can do a 100 in under 2 hours… But I do butcher our rabbits. I know my mom had a bucket that she had cut a hole out of in the bottom. She’d just put the chickens head through the hole, slit it’s throat and have it hung up while it drained. Bucket did a decent job keeping the chicken from thrashing and bruising itself… Bigger buckets for the turkeys. “Life on the farm” as my dad used to say…

  8. I’m back! Was just reading some of the other comments… Just going to suggest that if you know you are butchering, if you can lock them up without food and water the night before, helps with the crop and everything full of food and “goodies.”

    1. Shelley – Our last two times butchering, my husband and I said the same thing to each other. Just a bit too late! Will DEFINITELY do that next time! Thank you!

  9. I find it interesting that so many people talk about slitting the throat, THEN removing the head. Or even knocking them out, for that matter. My parents used a cone made of some thick (1/4″? 3/8″?) plastic. Tie a little baling twine around the neck year the head, thread it through the hole at the bottom of the cone so you can make sure the bird’s head goes through and then hold it relatively still, and then a nice clean whack with an ax. Putting the birds on their backs generally makes them docile enough to tie the loop on their heads and get them into the cone. The other nice thing is that it keeps the bruising to a minimum (both bruising of the bird’s wings and of the arm of whoever’s doing the butchering when they don’t have to hold it at arm’s length while it bleeds out).

    Once I have my farm, I intend to use the same method. It works like a charm.

    1. Thanks Red! I love all of these new tips from everyone! Thanks so much! Each time it gets easier and easier… 🙂

  10. Grandma had two nails about two inches apart in a stump. She’d lay that chicken’s neck between the nails and whack all in one swoop; then she’d wait while the body ran across the yard.

  11. This is great! I killed and butchered a chicken for the first time last summer. It wasn’t my chicken, though, so I’m hoping I can do it when I raise my own. Isn’t free-range/pastured chicken the best tasting?

  12. You rock! My one concern about having chickens would be their eventual demise at my hands. With regard to the dryness of the meat–have you thought about brining? Most whole poultry you buy at the store has been brined. You can google it, the process is pretty straightforward. After the initial process (which I seem to remember taking about 24 hours) you can cook your bird however you like.

    1. Sarah,
      I hadn’t looked into brining but had heard great things about it. I love how moist and tender the chicken is when I cook it low and slow. If you brine, can you cook it quicker? Thanks!

  13. Hi Mel! Love – LOVE your blog! We just got our first “farm” almost 3 years ago… and like you – I LOVE EVERY MINUTE OF IT!!!! Even the hot summers and cold winters. We don’t have chickens – yet… hubby says no – but I think I will persuade him soon! But, did you have a lid for your pot when you were cooking your rooster? We raise meat rabbits and I am always looking for ways to cook it so it doesn’t get too dry. Right now, we raise meat rabbits and have Katahdin sheep. HAPPY FARMING!

    1. Hey Miley! Thank you for your kind words! It sounds like you folks are pretty busy too! As far as cooking the bird, I often will cover it for the first 2/3 of cooking time then remove near the end, as I like my skin to crisp up a bit. I recently tried brining my bird prior to cooking – and talk about moist! I’m sure that would work great for your rabbits! Take care! 🙂

  14. We have two roosters that are always on the attack, so we go everywhere armed w/ a stick, shovel, etc,,, WIsh we could get rid of one or both of them, but no one here has the stomach for butchering 🙁 If we did, we’d be raising rabbits for meat.

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