Processing Your Backyard Chickens


Chickens in the backyard can become meat on the table, but only if we can get them from the backyard into the cooking pot. This can challenge our skills as well as emotions, so let’s discuss the basics on how to get the job done.


In the years past, my husband and I have only processed three to four chickens at a time: killed them with a hatchet, hung them from a clothes line, scalded and then hand-plucked each bird. Because we lacked skills and even proper knives, the job was unpleasant and the results not picture-pretty. We wanted to get 16 chickens into the freezer this fall, and so we improved the process

Processing Chickens at Home with Killing Cones

First, we transitioned from the hatchet to five “killing cones” made out of sheet metal, using a pattern out of the “Anyone Can Build a Tub-Style Mechanical Chicken Plucker” manual by Herrick Kimball. I feel the cones allowed the birds to remain calmer and eliminated the risk of a misdirected hatchet stroke. Each cone was positioned over a drywall bucket so the blood could later be transferred to the compost pile.


While in the cones, the birds’ carotid arteries are cut bilaterally with a very sharp knife. It was helpful to have their legs anchored so their movements didn’t result in a bird flopping out onto the ground. Cable-clamps attached to each cone by a light-weight chain did a great job because of the ease of taking these clamps on and off. The birds only take about five minutes to bleed out, and then it’s off to the hot water pot for scalding so the feathers can be easily removed.

8/26/2020 7:41:34 PM

I really appreciated the attention given to the "emotional components." How refreshing! I also agree wholeheartedly with the attitude you describe; particularly I think consciously choosing NOT to distance or desensitize oneself is exactly the right way to approach animal husbandry and something we could do with more of in this area of food production. It has to be about nurturing the big picture goals of sustainability with a reverence and respect for life in word and deed. It ought to be a "turning-towards", not a "looking-away". Kudos, from one heritage chicken keeper to another.

8/26/2020 7:19:17 AM

Save money, skin your birds. It's easy, slit around the middle, pull the skin down to the feet and cut. I cut off the head and the last joint on the wings since there is not enough meat to warrant the effort and pull the skin off that way. No trouble with feathers.

9/26/2019 7:35:36 AM

A good plucker doesn’t cost $2000. You can buy a brand new Yardbird WITH a warranty for about $500. I’ve had mine for years. I love it!!

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