One of the greatest joys in life is raising your own chickens. Observing chicks grow into full chickens and roosters is something everyone should experience at least once in their life. The life cycle, once experienced, is an amazing, fascinating, and ultimately a humbling experience.
Producing your own chicken meat and eggs give you a sense of pride and accomplishment.
Starting off with chickens isn’t trivial, but with time and practice, you will be able to raise them successfully and provide yourself with valuable meat, eggs, and feathers in situations where those things become a matter of life and death.
Probably the least known aspect of chicken raising is the slaughtering. With commercial farming, most of us have just become accustomed to going to the grocery store and buying or meat in perfectly packaged portions.
A lot of us haven’t even seen an animal slaughtered, and if you ever saw how the commercial industry does it, you would think twice about buying from them ever again.
Those grocery stores won’t have your packaged meat in a SHTF situation, and if you haven’t prepared for that already, the best place to start is chickens.
Chickens are by far the easiest to raise – besides rabbits – and they provide you with too many eggs to know what to do with, and when you are ready, a lot of meat.
The Ol’Block and Axe
The chopping block method is arguably the oldest one for slaughtering animals, especially chickens. It’s simple to do, cheap to implement, and guarantees instant death when done right. The only problem is doing it right, and if have ‘bad aim’ you can cause the chicken a lot of bodily harm.
A few factors cause These ‘bad swings.’ The obvious one is over-compensating for how much force is needed and applying too much force due to a dull axe.
Make sure you sharpen your axe and keep it as sharp as possible all the time. You won’t need a big crazy swing to decapitate the chicken; just a firm and accurate chop will do the job, every time.
It’s important to note what type of axe you should use. A hatchet that is only used for slaughtering, and not for chopping wood is ideal. As stated, you want this as sharp as possible all the time, and chopping wood will dull the hatchet. You want to make sure it’s light, but firm in your hand as well.
Now, the block can be a number of things, but most people use an old tree stump or a round from a tree.
The only thing that is important about the block is to make sure it’s flat as possible and big enough for the chicken. Any aggressive angle on the block means you will need to compensate for it in your swing. You already have enough to worry about; this is the last thing you want in the back of your mind while you are preparing your swing.
A lot of people put guides into the block to hold the chickens head in place. These blocks can be something as simple as a couple of nails, or an elaborate contraption that locks the head down.
These are not necessary, but if they give you more confidence in your swing, then implement them.
Some people have others hold the chicken while they swing, but it’s just as easy alone, and depending on you, easier to do alone. The important thing to keep in mind is to have enough confidence in your swing, so you know it will be one clean cut swing.
If you don’t have the confidence to do it, practice. Draw a line on your chopping block, and swing at it. Go through the entire process of mock placing the chicken on the block and swinging. Keep doing it till you are confident enough and the whole process becomes second nature.
The first time is always an intense experience no matter what method you decide to use. Be prepared for the nerves to take over the body and make it flop around for awhile.
This is why we have the saying, “Running around like a chicken with its head cut off.” This isn’t the chicken having its last dance; these are only the nerves firing off because the brain was severed from the spinal cord.
When done correctly, it’s instant death for the chicken, and it’s very easy to implement on the homestead.
Slitting the Neck
This is another very traditional method and is used by many chicken raisers to kill many in the same amount of time. It requires an extremely sharp knife, a steady hand, and something to hold the chicken.
If you severe the jugular veins properly, the blood flow stops going to the brain. This gives the chicken a quick and relatively painless death.
Most people use cones that will allow the chickens head to poke out of the bottom and give you a clean cut while the chicken is secured in the cone. You can set up as many cones as you need, and slaughter as many as you need without having to continually prep and catch a new one for multiple slaughters.
The knife has to be extremely sharp, and this can’t be stressed enough. The cut has to be quick and accurate. You have to go deep enough to sever the jugular, but not too deep that you are digging into bone. This makes the cut not as clean, and cause more harm to the chicken.
Just remember a quick swipe across the neck, deep enough to sever the jugular. DO NOT saw at the chicken’s neck either. If you have to saw at the chicken, your knife isn’t sharp enough.
Because you should be using cones for this method, the blood will drain out of them as well, and this is another reason why this is popular among people who have to kill many chickens at once. For some reason, the chickens also appear to be very calm once they are upside down in the cones, making it easy to perform a clean cut.
There is one downside to this method when compared to the block and axe, though. The chicken will feel pain for longer, even though it is a relatively short amount of time, it’s worth noting for those that are looking for the most humane way possible.
Breaking the Neck
This is the last method we will cover. It’s popular among backyard gardeners and people who are only raising a few chickens on a small amount of land, or those that don’t have the means to implement the other methods in this article.
This method can be humane, or extremely painful and it’s best to do as much research as possible before even attempting this.
Most people that do this will do it by hand. You may have heard about someone’s grandma grabbing a chicken by the neck and just whipping it into the air to break the neck. This is not how you do it, and you can cause a lot of harm to the chicken.
You will want to lay the chicken in your lap while sitting down to perform this correctly. Secure the chicken with your weaker arm. Whatever is the most comfortable for you and the chicken is the best way to secure it. With your stronger hand, you will be doing the break.
To break the chicken’s neck, you need to do it one swift motion.(Swift is a common theme in slaughtering.) You have to grab the neck at the base of the skull and break it by pulling towards the body and out in one fluid motion. If you have done it correctly, you will hear a snap.
Another method people use to break the chicken’s neck is laying them down, placing something long and sturdy over the neck at the base of the skull, and pulling up. There are also contraptions you can make or buy that will hold the chicken upside down and allow you to pull on the chicken’s neck.
This method has to be performed perfectly for it to be humane, or else you will cripple the chicken and cause it severe pain until you kill it or it dies. In a SHTF scenario, this might be your only option, though. So learn how to do it properly in case this becomes your only option.
Cleaning the Chicken
Now that you have slaughtered the poultry, you need to clean the bird so you can cook it. The first step is to get rid of those feathers. There are many techniques to do this, but the most effective way is dipping them into hot water a few times to loosen the skin around the feathers. This makes the plucking process a quick task as opposed to a long drawn-out process.
The water needs to be at least 145 degrees. Lot’s of people argue that 148 degrees is the perfect temperature. It’s important to note that if the water is too hot, the skin will begin to tear, cook and make the plucking process insanely difficult.
Once the water is at the right temperature, simply dunk the bird by the feet for a few seconds a few times and begin plucking. If the feathers are not coming out easy enough, just dunk it a few more times and go at it again.
Pull at the larger feathers, and if they come out with no resistance, the chicken is ready to be plucked. It should take you no time at all to get all the feathers off of the chicken once it’s ready to be plucked.
Once all the feathers are off, you can stick it in an ice bath if you are not ready to butcher it just yet. This is a good opportunity to ensure that your butchering knife is sharp and ready.
To begin the butchering process, you will want to start by removing the feet. This is the simplest part of the process. All you need to do is cut the ligaments at the joint and remove the feet (which can then be used to make a broth).
From here on out, you will need a bucket or something to put all the insides in. The head is the next thing to come off.
Cut around through the skin till you get to the neck bone and separate the head from the body from one of the joints. If you are having problems separating it, shears work well.
You will then need to make a slit into the skin above the breasts so you can reach in there and pull everything out. Gently reach into this slit and open up the body cavity so you can pull everything out.
Take your time and pull all the innards out slowly. You should be able to reach in there easily and pull everything out. DO NOT rupture the intestines as it will contaminate the meat.
Everything will still be connected to the chicken at this point. To finish your chicken for consumption, you will need to cut the anus out.
That is what is keeping everything connected to the bird. You will want to cut a “V” and be mindful of the intestines as well. Once you have made your cut, it should come out of the bird with ease.
This video is an excellent guide to the cleaning process by a professional butcher.
They are the best farm animal to raise for preppers because of the manure, eggs, and meat that they provide.
The joy and struggle of raising them is a wonderful growing experience, and we hope that this article has enlightened you on the possibilities of providing poultry for yourself in a humane way.
Heath is a homesteader, permaculturist, farmer and ex-level 1 combatives instructor in the U.S. Army, with a lifelong passion for martial arts.