How To Process A Chicken At Home

Meat chickens are one meat source that can be raised with minimal space, convert feed efficiently, and can be processed at home with not much more...
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  1. booker81
    With the rising cost of food and especially meat, many people are looking to closer to home to start raising their food. Backyard gardens are on the rise, and many people are starting to raise their own chickens for eggs. Meat chickens are one meat source that can be raised with minimal space (compared to say, a cow), convert feed efficiently, and can be processed at home with not much more than a sharp knife and a big pot.

    This post will go through all of the steps to process a chicken at home.


    Obviously, this is "graphic". If you aren't here to see how meat is made from a living animal, stop here and go check out another page. If you are anti-meat, stop here. If you can't stand the sight of anatomy, stop here. If you are not interested in how to process a chicken, stop here.

    Ok.

    Here's a shot of some of the meat birds. They are Cornish cross from Tractor Supply. They are seven weeks old, about the average age of all the chicken you get in a store. They are fed a 20% protein feed, no medication/antibiotics/hormones etc. These guys eat a LOT - in seven weeks, one dozen consumed about 200lbs of feed. They need a lot of water as well, close to the end, the dozen was consuming about 3 gallons a day.​


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    First step not shown is getting your chicken. These guys are lazy and don't really run much. Pick them up and carry them to your designated slaughter spot. My spot is in the garage, with a rope hung from a gambrel pulley. The rope has a loop at the end, which I double around to make a noose of sorts that slides easily. I place the chicken's feet in the noose, and gently lower them to hang. Chickens will stop struggling and hang limp when upside down.
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    Find the jawbone of the chicken on one side. I use a scalpel, since it's the absolute sharpest blade I can get. You want your cut to be fast and quick, for minimal suffering to your chicken. Think about if you cut yourself on a very sharp knife - the pain doesn't start for a few minutes. In the chicken's case, in a few minutes, they will no longer be alive to have that pain. Cut deep enough to slice the artery, but not so deep you cut the trachea. I hold the scruff of the chicken to make the skin tight against the throat - not choking him, but snug.
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    I do one fast slice, and then lower the chicken into a contractor bag inside a bucket that has some heavy stuff in the bottom. This way, they are placed in the dark, they don't struggle, and they will pass away without panic. At the end of their life, when blood loss is nearly complete, muscle spasms will occur. The bucket keeps blood and whatnot contained.
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    I like to wash off the chicken to remove the blood and any dirt or poo. I find it makes the scalding not have the stink many complain about.
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    I keep my scald water on the stove, in an old water bath canning pot. I fill about 2/3 full, and then squirt in a good squirt or two of dish soap. This helps work into the feathers to loosen, and also keeps the smell down. I find the prewash with the hose helps heat transfer, so I lose less heat when scalding, which means less time to bring the water to temp. I aim for about 150 degrees, and check the water temp between birds.
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    I do one bird at a time. Put him in the water, and use a pair of tongs to swish him around. You want all parts of him to get nice and warm. The water temp is also not high enough to burn you, or cook the meat.
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    Scalding is done when you can grasp a wing feather and it pulls out, instead of pulling the bird out of the water. This is usually under a minute.
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    Start plucking. Feathers will slide right out, I like to go against the grain of the feathers to really get them out fast.
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    You can take feathers by the handful.

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    The wing feathers are little, just slide them off. I don't do a perfect pluck, just get the majority off. I will do a final go over when I wash the bird after gutting.
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    The feet have a skin on them, that can be peeled off. Feet make a good stock.
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    One cleaned off foot.
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    Find the joint at the hock, and place the blade there. You should be able to cut right through. If you are struggling, you are too high or too low.
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    Once the cut is nearly through, cut from the bottom of the joint.
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    The feet come off.
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    Cut along the back of the neck....
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    All the way from the base of the head to the back.
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    Slide the skin up on the base of the head, and cut the head off at the base.
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    Peel the skin off the neck and the "tubing", and then cut off the neck skin with the head attached. Leave the tubing to keep food from coming from the crop out.
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    Peel the tubing - esophagus and trachea - from the neck.
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    Turn the chicken over, and separate some of the skin off the breast. The crop is stuck to the skin and the breast meat. Work it off both, so there is a sack attached to the esophagus, and then the tubing going into the body.
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    Can see the lumpy crop with food in it here. I'm working it off the skin.
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    Completely separated crop. If you leave the esophagus intact, food and such won't come out. I like to feed my chickens a bit before slaughter, so there is stuff in the crop. You don't have to, but it can get tricky to initially peel it. With food in it, you can grab it and work it apart.
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    I'm pulling apart the crop and tubing, there are bits of meat/glands attached. Just peel them off. I have the neck bent to the side (left). Cut the tubing off as deep down as you can, but be careful not to slice the breast meat.
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    Put the bird back up again (breast down), and find a good spot to cut the neck off. I just use my scalpel - young Cornish birds don't have a lot of hard bone. I actually use a scalpel all the way through, no other knives.
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    I'm starting the cuts to gut the bird. They have pelvic bones, and I use these as a guide for my first cut. I cut toward the bone, so I can open the bird up without cutting the guts.
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    I make another cut on the other pelvic bone, so I have two slits, one on each side, and about 1" or so wide.
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    I work my fingers in carefully and use the knife to open up the two holes until I open the gut cavity. Once I have both holes open, I just connect them by cutting the skin.
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    Find the end intestine that comes out to the vent. Loosen it off the gut cavity.
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    Cut around that tube by cutting around the vent.
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    I usually cut the tail off here at this point.
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    Reach in and use your hand to slide around the gut cavity, loosening up and tearing off the thin membrane that holds everything to the body. Be fairly gentle, so you're not ripping into the guts.
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    Reach to the front, and grab the heart and just pull everything out.
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    The lungs also need to come out. They are wedged between the ribs sort of in the middle. They are the bright red parts in this picture. I use my finger and slide it between the ribs, and pry them out. There are special tools, but I find I can pop them out with my fingers fairly easily. You can also see the "beans" - they are the cream colored bean shapes.This is a young rooster.​

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    All of the parts. The lungs are on the lower left. You can see the ridges where they sit in the ribs.​

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    At this point, you can throw out all of the parts, but many bits are great for stock. To use the liver, you need to carefully remove the gallbladder. It's a greenish/blackish pod, and is stuck to the liver. Carefully cut it's base out and remove. If you rupture it, immediately remove and wash off the liver.
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    I'm holding the gizzard. This is the big and HARD thing in the gut cavity. It's hard to mistake it for anything else.
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    To prepare the gizzard, just cut in half...
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    Open it up....
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    And then peel the yellow membrane off.
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    Innard parts - top is lungs, then heart below them, liver to right of the heart, gizzard and then gallbladder next to it. At the bottom are the intestines. This was a boy rooster, so his cojones are on the top to the right of the lungs. These look like white beans, and are stuck to the back. If you have an older rooster, these can get big, over an inch long.
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    One last step is to remove the kidneys. I find the easiest is to "scramble" them with my finger, they are buried almost in the back bone. When I wash the bird, I'll flush the bits out with water.
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    Washing the bird :) I use this time to really clean up any stray feathers.
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    Clean bird.
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    Finishing touches. I like to use the back skin to hold the legs together to keep it easy to pack him up. Just cut a hole in the skin, about 1" up from the edge. It only has to be about 2" wide.
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    Making the cut....
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    Tuck the legs into the skin hole to truss them up.
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    For extra fancy, flip the wings back to tuck them.
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    Trussed up and ready to pack!
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    You can use freezer bags. I love my Foodsaver, and these guys fit perfectly into the large rolls. I think they store better as well.
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    At this point, the bird should rest in the fridge. You don't want to cook them right away, you need to let nature do it's thing and let rigor pass. If you grab a leg and it's not moving easily, it's not ready to cook. I let them rest in the fridge for 2-3 days, and then put them in the freezer until I'm ready to cook them.​

    When doing this the first time, expect about an hour of work. You'll get faster over time, some folks can do everything in about 15 minutes or less per bird, and there are many tools (such as pluckers) that can really speed things up. However, this is just to show that you can process a chicken with no more than a pot and a sharp knife.

    Back to How to Raise & Process Chickens for Meat - Tips, Information and Pictures

    This article was originally posted at my personal blog.​

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Comments

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  1. 6littlegirls
    I will be doing this to my girls in the fall this years as they will be well into their 2 years.
  2. dragonthehunter
    Just finished processing my first bird thanks so much
  3. CanadianBuckeye
    This is the best tutorial I've come across on the entire Web. Thanks so much for posting such detailed descriptions and photos, they will help a lot- I have four young cockerels that need to be done this weekend and I've been putting it off. Your post has made me feel a lot better about the whole thing! Thanks again.
  4. BGee
    This was better instructions than my first deer cleaning. Thank you
  5. machinfarm
    mossyroo, what are you doing to cool the carcasses after processing (i.e. are you soaking them in cold water, putting them in the fridge, putting them right into the freezer, etc?) The process of rigor takes about 4-6 hours from the time it begins (starting about an hour after death) and if you are putting them into ice water or a fridge that's set very cold, it can slow the process down tremendously. If you freeze, it will halt the process and once thawed, it will resume (so after thawing it will go through 4-6 hours of rigor in your fridge, etc.)
  6. mossyroo
    Need some advice on chicken processing. We just completed our second round and seem to be doing something wrong. It is my understanding from reading that rigor should eventually relax. Ours remain stiff in a full upright pose making them difficult to fit in a roaster. Processed Sat. afternoon and still stiff Mon morning.
  7. machinfarm
    This article was a godsend! We had already done 3 of our meat roos and, despite watching every Youtube video on butchering we could find, all three times were smelly and we felt like we were fumbling through it.
    We used several tips that we learned from this article when we processed a bird today and it was night and day from the last times, and the best looking finished bird we've had yet. Thank you!
  8. Beckaberry
    Great pics and info!!!! I am not a first timer, but am processing 6 this weekend!
  9. Sunflower
    Thank you for the great tutorial.
  10. arielleacres
    Thanks for this post. I have been looking for some good pictures for gutting the bird and this definately helped.
  11. DesertChic
    Wow. That was a really impressive article. You did an outstanding job of both explaining the process and supplying good photos. I still have a few months before I'll have to consider doing any of this, but I greatly appreciate the info to help me prepare for that fateful day.
  12. offgridhermit
    Thank you. I bookmarked this, and also took and saved pix of when I butchered, so I have something to look back on for my next time butchering.
  13. BrewedInNh
    Thank you so much for posting this information. We just processed our flock of 9 hens. It was our first time processing a bird and this article helped more than I can say.
  14. JenBoughtHens
    Oh wow- you did a beautiful job. I will definitely reference this when we process our first chickens. Thank you.
  15. countrydream7
    one day i will try and approach this don't know if I can eat something I cut up.. will see...otherwise very good pics and info
  16. sara213
    Very informative post!
  17. irischick
    Thanks so much for the information. Very well detailed with great pictures. It was very easy to follow. We are going to try to process ours using this info. Excellent job!!!
  18. ms4runr
    Brilliant! Already tried this with a friend. Missed a few steps! The initial step helped a LOT as I have not been able to do the killing on my own. This will make it easier, along with the rest. Very valuable info. THANKS.
  19. poultrylubber
    Thanks for sharing this article it was really helpful
  20. gratch73a
    Excellent tutorial. Used what I learned to butcher a couple of my roosters today. Thanks for taking the time to put this together.
  21. annaraven
    Thank you for the great instructions! Just processed one of my boys. He had a great life and I think he had a respectful processing. I especially appreciated the info about using the contractor bag and about the last spasm. Helped to know what to expect. And the temperature for the water to scald with was also really helpful. Those are things that I would never have guessed or expected to find elsewhere. Thank you!
  22. Darklingstorm
    Awesome, you showed me the part that was missing. In all the videos and books no one has clearly shown how to cut open the cavity. Its always with their hand in the way of the actual cut and you can't see what someone is doing.
    I think I can do it now.
    BIG THANK YOU
  23. JohnBerry
    Thanks. This was excellent. I only have layers but this is a good resource for the future.
  24. SarniaTricia
    I used this for my first time... fabulous instructions and the pictures were a great help!!
  25. jchny2000
    Wonderfully well written, and the pictures are amazing.
    I picked up some good tips from this.
    Very well done, thank you!
  26. armerchris
    Being a bird hunter, I am familiar with processing birds, but there were some things I learned here specific to chickens, thanks for the post.
  27. ELauraD
    I will add my cudo's to the other's for a job well done. I appreciate this as I will no doubt be doing this some time in the future. You instill a no nonsense confidence with the step by step pictorial and description.
  28. flyfisher
    This is better than any description I've ever read in a book. Thanks.
  29. Seslar
    Thank you! Starting my first flock, and I culled six roosters out of our first batch of ten straight-run spring chicks. It was my first time killing and butchering chickens, though I'd dispatched many, many upland game birds and waterfowl, those were always already crippled or dying. This was different. I appreciate your terrific instructions and pictures. It made things go smoothly and humanely.
  30. marlo1968
    Very informative, thanks for writing it and including all the pics. As a kid I helped my parents butcher some chickens, and am planning to do this later in the summer, but wasn't sure of all the steps. Thanks again!
  31. EggTooth
    Thanks a bunch! I just got our first chicken (6 one- day olds for eggs) but would like to raise meat birds sometime in future. This article gives me the step-by-steps I'll need =)
  32. hschweitzer
    Thank you so much for the descriptive and very educational guide. I am about to process for the first time, and the only part that I balk at is the actual killing, and your method is very quiet and kind. Thanks for taking the time to photograph and write up all the steps, it helps so much!
  33. Yukonchick
    Turkeys, that is
  34. Yukonchick
    I used to work for Lilydale. Hope I can remember. About 25 to 30 of us would do around 8 to 10 thousand a day. Super high speed poultry processing.
  35. booker81
    Wellll....if you've seen me wield a hatchet or a set of loppers, you'd know why I don't cut the head off :) I have pretty poor hand strength and coordination, and I do all our processing, so the simplest and easiest way for me is to cut the neck with the scalpel. :) There are probably more ways to process a chicken than to "skin a cat", this is only a guide for folks who want a complete step by step of how I do it, but alterations to the process to fit the needs of the processor are always available!
  36. sgarth05
    I'm no where near ready to process my own meat. I've only bought our very first set of three chicks a couple weeks ago. But I'm not overly squeemish and have bagged many rabbits we've killed on our property. I just have never cooked them. My husband wondered why the process is so detailed. Why should you slit the throat and that entire process over cutting the entire head off completely?
  37. kellya126
    Just processed our first broiler!! Used this article for step by step directions and thank you so much for making it almost easier than expected!! Great article!!
  38. ladyfeather
    Excellent article and thank you!
  39. cyw iar
    Thanks for this. In my newbie squeamishness, I really appreciate what seems like a quick, clean kill method (into the contractor bag); my inner 7 year old (I remember having to pluck one of my grandmother's chickens once), appreciates the "prewash" and the addition of dishsoap to the scald water. It makes the thought of processing my own a lot easier!
  40. Anna_MN
    I just butchered 14 cornish X about an hour ago and followed this article step by step. Everything turned out great! Thanks for the great info
  41. WestCoast Hen
    I agree, great article. I've done loads of research on this and your article is the best. Well done and thanks for all the pics. I raised 6 meat birds last summer but got out of most of the butchering by giving birth to my son 3 days before. I think I'll get more meat birds this summer and follow your guide. Thanks!
  42. TexasStewart
    Great Job! Thank you for the article!
  43. HereInOz
    I am getting ready to process my first birds tomorrow and have referenced many how-to articles, but none are as clear and helpful as yours, thank you for sharing this!
  44. v.cyr
    this helped me out a lot on my second batch(early this last march)... the first ones I did , trying to follow the instructions in the storey's guide to raising poultry, I had some trouble cleaning(combo of poorly illustrated instructions, inexperience, and big hands)... your instructions (with their clear, concise, photos)made cleaning the three I did this spring go much smoother... thanks...
  45. RealChicken
    Thank you for this article! It's very helpful. Hopefully, when the time comes to cull a bird I will be able to do it as humanely as possible with a minimum of fuss.
  46. Dutchess
    WOW! Great job! I will be trying out the "meaties" this year and was wondering if I was going to pay the $5.00 (around here) for each chicken processed, or do it myself. My DH says he'll help me, he's done it before!
    The photos really help a lot! Step by step is much appreciated too! You make it look really easy. Thank you for sharing your expertise!
  47. Beekissed
    I agree..been doing them for years but you managed to still give me a few things I will implement into my own routine, like the wing folding and the neat way you've done around the vent.
  48. elmacri
    Great photos, I thought i did mine just fine but have managed to still pick up a couple of tips from you. Many thanks.
  49. booker81
    If anyone wonders about the "one glove on" pics that are on there - I actually did two birds with my brother photographing. Sometime in there, I did cut myself, and I put a glove on over my bandaid :) I then uploaded the pics from either bird that showed the steps the best, so yeah, some are from the first bird, some from the second (with my one glove move going on). I usually process barehanded (with cleanly washed hands), but always use gloves if I have an open cut or what not on my hands.
  50. Mum
    I'm going to bookmark for when I've gathered up the courage to give this a go.

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