Basics of Preparing Chicken

Learn how to pick, pluck and prepare your own poultry.


| July/August 1977



Chicken Farm

Homegrown "scratch" chickens have a far better taste than the additive-packed, cage-reared, "factory" birds sold in the supermarkets. And that's one reason so many of us are starting to raise your own backyard flock of biddies for eggs and meat again. It's also why so many of us — for the first time in our lives — are (gulp) facing the unfamiliar and somewhat scary task of dressing out some of those backyard birds.


PHOTO: FOTOLIA/FOTOKON

The price of freedom is always responsibility. And if you've taken up the raising of your own chickens to free yourself from weak, watery agribiz eggs and additive-laden, preservative-packed, and water-injected supermarket meat ... sooner or later you're going to have to assume the responsibility of picking, plucking, and preparing your own poultry.

When that day comes (EDITOR'S NOTE: Experienced homestead poultry raisers know that smaller birds, such as Leghorns, make delectable fried chicken when they're no bigger than a pound and three quarters to two pounds in size and that larger breeds, such as White Rocks, can be eaten as fryers as soon as they reach a weight of three pounds. They can also be eaten fried when they're larger too, of course ... but there's something so mouthwateringly special about that first meal of homegrown fried chicken every summer that the old hands among us always seem to rush it to the table a little faster, maybe, than we should), your first step will be to examine your flock and pick out the first bird you want to butcher.

(EDITOR'S NOTE: Your chickens will stay a lot calmer and you'll work a lot less while catching the birds if you'll get yourself a long (eight to ten feet) length of 3/16 inch or 1/4 inch metal rod from the hardware store or a junkyard and bend one end into a handle and the other into a crook just b ig enough to slip over a chicken's leg but not big enough to slip over its foot. It's then a simple matter to slowly movearound through a pen or house full of the poultry and "hook" the birds one at a time at your leisure.) 

Carefully inspect the chickens you catch. Pinfeathers are more difficult to remove than larger ones so, if you're rushing the season a little, make sure the young birds you butcher are well feathered out ... otherwise, they may be hard to pick. You should also feel around the two bones that protrude just below the vent of mature hens. If you can fit three fingers between these bones, the chicken is probably laying which means (if you want the eggs) that you should pass that particular lady by in favor of another hen on which the bones are closer together.

As you select each bird — or group of birds — for the table, you can either cage them for later slaughter or kill them then and there. There are several ways to do this, but I prefer the simple and straightforward "axe and chopping block" method. The block can be any chunk of firewood, as long as it's solid and squared off on both ends so that it won't move around or tip over and cause you to hurt yourself or maim a chicken as you wield your axe or hatchet.

Hold the tips of each bird's wings (to give you more control) right along with its feet in one hand as you position the chicken's head (with its neck well stretched out) on the block. One quick, firm, well-placed blow (as shown in Figure 1 in the Image Gallery) with a sharp axe or hatchet, then, is all you should need to sever the bird's head.

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3/13/2007 11:10:44 AM

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