In almost every flock of chickens there is, has been, or will be an excess of roosters. So it was with my mother’s flock recently. Finding that we had three roosters among the hens, we decided it was time to butcher them and stop the crowing wars that had been going on between the front and back pens. When my dad came home one night, I was surprised to be asked to be ready in five minutes to go help him and my brother butcher the roosters.
I hurried to put on my old chicken clothes, plus a headband to keep my ears warm and a scarf to wear over my nose. When I walked into the kitchen, where my parents and sister Natalie were talking, I reminded them that I didn’t know for sure whether or not Licorice, one of the four chickens hatched last spring, was a rooster. The choice of keeping or butchering Licorice was left to me since the only life being considered was that of the chicken. Since I was relatively certain that Licorice was a rooster, and we had a different rooster that we were keeping, I decided to go ahead and deal with all three of the chickens at the same time. My dad handed Jesse and I each a knife that had a hinge where the handle met the blade, allowing the blade to fold into the handle so that it was covered, and we went outside to get the process over and done.
I had watched my dad and other siblings butcher chickens before, so I had a general idea of what would look right to me, but having never done it before I was a little unsure. Our dad wanted Jesse and I to decide what to do though, so we chose a branch on the sycamore tree for the slip knot of twine to be used for holding the chickens up by their feet and Jesse placed the round, white table near there. After I attached the twine to the tree branch, my dad showed me how to tie a slip knot for the chicken’s feet. Having arranged the cleaning area to our satisfaction, we went to the chicken pen to catch the three roosters.
Usually, when I go into the chicken pen, all the chickens rush up to me, trying to tip the bucket of grain that’s in my hand. This time though, they all moved a little farther away. I realized that they would probably be more friendly if I had a bucket full of grain in, so I ran back to the garage for it. When I came back to the pen, clucking at them with bucket in hand, the chickens among them that didn’t mind people so much came up to me. Happily, two of the roosters we wanted to catch were among the first to approach me. I picked up one, handed it to Jesse and went back for the other.
When I walked to him with the second bird, Jesse told me he would rather catch the third rooster than stand and hold the other two, Marzipan and Licorice, so I took them, one under each arm, anticipating the fun of watching someone else chase a scared chicken in circles around the pen. The rooster, Truffle, managed to avoid his would-be captor’s hands and ran over to the side of the pen were I was standing. Jesse and I cornered him; however, he slipped past me. I had tried to catch him between my body and the fence since my hands were full with the other two roosters, but I was too late. At that point, Dad came in the pen to help us catch Truffle. The two roosters in my arms were getting nervous, so I didn’t try to help in catching Truffle anymore until he ran to the corner near the chicken coop. The coop is situated in the pen so that if there was only one person chasing it, a chicken could always escape around the other side. Dad and Jesse went around the coop on one side and I went on the other side. Truffle was nicely silly enough to run inside the coop and into a nesting box where we could easily catch him. Jesse raised the lid to the nesting boxes and, while I held the lid open, he extricated the large rooster from the hen sized nesting box.
We triumphantly walked back with the three roosters to the area we had set up for butchering. Jesse began, fastening his rooster’s feet with the twine. When it was my turn, I placed the rooster’s feet through the slip knot, tightening it, then held the neck firmly away from the body with my left hand and holding the knife in my right hand, cut the head off at the neck, using my body weight to help get through quickly. As soon as the cut was finished, I jumped back to avoid being splattered with blood when the chicken’s after-death reflexes made the body flail for a few moments. After each of us had gone through that first step, Dad pulled the tail feathers off of each one and we put them in a plastic bag for me to save them.
Using the knife that Dad had given me, I cut through the skin along the underside, then cut it away from the body up to the wings and down to the legs.
I pulled the flight feathers off of the wings, clearing them away from the second joint. I cut through the second joints on both wings, and cut through the joint that attached the foot to the leg. The chicken was beginning to look light one you might find in plastic wrapping at the store. The light started to fade more quickly, so we moved the table up onto the back patio where there were a couple of lights. By that point, Dad had completely finished with his chicken, and Jesse was ready to rinse his, which he did by swishing it through warm water in a large metal bowl and picking off what feathers he could.
For me, it was time to reach my hand inside the chicken and pull the organs and anything else I could grab, out. Basically, the only things I wasn’t supposed to take away, were the bones and the meat. I cut away a large glob of fat that was located near where the tail had been, to make the hole for my hand bigger. I had expected the entrails to come out much more easily than they did, I found it difficult to hold them in such a way as to make it possible to pull on them. In the process of figuring out how to hold the squishy stuff and pull on it at the same time, I accidentally broke an intestine, which was exactly what I was trying not to do. I found that there were many more little bits and pieces of the internal system packed tightly in there than I had previously realized. When I finally had everything out of the chicken, I rinsed the bird as well as I could in the water that Jesse and Dad had already used, then Natalie got me some clean warm water to finish rinsing it in. I enjoyed the feeling of the warm water, since the chicken’s body had failed to keep my hands warm while I was performing the last step. I placed the clean chicken in a plastic bag with the other two chicken’s, glad to be finished with the process for now.
Of course, we weren’t completely finished, since there was still some clean up to be done. I gathered what trash I could and stuffed it into the bag we had specifically for that purpose, while Jesse cleaned off the bloody table. Then I finally went inside the house. I washed my hands three times before I was satisfied of their complete cleanliness, not wanting them to smell like the inside of a chicken for the rest of the day and the day after. I went back outside to place the bag of feathers I was saving in the garage, then went inside and washed my hands a fourth time.
Dad offered to let me taste a piece of liver or heart that he had cooked while Jesse and I were cleaning things outside. I had tried liver on accident a couple of times and found that I didn’t care for flavor or texture of it, so I took a very small slice of the heart instead. It reminded me of how I remember the texture of duck, a little bit rubbery and a very dark moist meat. I enjoyed the taste, but the idea of eating it was strange enough to me that I was unwilling to have any more right then. After tasting the heart muscle, I showered. Then, satisfied that I was finally completely clean, I ate dinner, happy that I was done butchering chickens for the moment.
As long as I have chickens, there will probably be times when I will need to know how to butcher one. I hope to hatch chicks again next year and there will almost certainly be roosters that I will need to deal with among the brood. When that time comes, however, I will be ready to deal with every part of the procedure, from raising the chicken to killing it and cleaning up afterward.