Chicken Butchering Day

Our first chicken-butchering day. I was so excited you’d think we were doing it ourselves. Instead a local Mennonite woman is doing them for us. Originally we were supposed to have them to the Hurst’s farm at 8:00 a.m. But Esther called Friday and asked if we could be there at 6:00 a.m. The other farm they were going to do them at wasn’t ready, so they were doing them at their place. She can’t get the heads off herself so her husband was going to have to help her, and he has to leave for work at 8:00.

So we were up at 5:00 on Monday morning. It was still pretty dark, but by the time we were dressed and out to the pasture at 5:15 it had already given way to that light gray early morning light. It was cool, but damp and humid. I could tell it was going to develop into a hot, humid, sultry day.

As we drove the truck down to the red pasture gate we saw headlights coming down the road and wondered if it was Dad coming already. I got out to open the gate for Matt to drive through, and sure enough Dad pulled up just then.

Dad had come up with the idea the day before to put up a cattle panel from the chickenhouse to the fence. Then we could drive them around the house to the trailer and they’d be trapped against the panel. So that’s what we did – it worked great, we had them loaded in less than 20 minutes. But I don’t think that would have been the case had it been only Matt and I. I held the other gate behind the chickens, and also held up the poultry netting to keep them from going over it. Dad and Matt caught them 2 at a time and put them into the trailer.

Dad went back to the house to stay with the kids, who were still in bed. Matt and I took off, stopped at Kwik Star for coffee, and headed for New Haven. We pulled into the Hurst’s at 6:00 on the dot. Jim showed us where to drop the trailer, and we stood around and chatted a bit. He told us a little about their process, we talked about the recent flooding, admired their new puppies. They have a chicken picker that will pluck 10 chickens at once in about 2 minutes. Amazing! Even more amazing is that they’re doing 3,000 chickens just in the month of June. Jim didn’t act too excited about butchering chickens, but said that Esther really likes it so they do. That was kind of sweet.

I would have liked to stay and watch, but we had to get back and get the kids up and let Dad get to work. So we went home, the girls fed their bottle calves and got cleaned up. I typed and printed up the sales slips and recipes for our chicken customers. We were back out to the Hursts at 8:30.

Esther wasn’t quite done bagging, so I stood and chatted with her. She’s a very likeable person and I found we had a lot in common. We both enjoy math (and calculators). We both would have liked to live 150 years ago when farms weren’t so big as they are today, just a few animals and enough land to keep it self-sufficient. We both like gardening.

2 of her 6 children were helping her now. The 10-year-old daughter was pulling the birds out of the tank and setting them on the table. Then the 8-year-old son was putting the giblets into them. There was also a 3-year-old son playing around there, and later the 13-year-old daughter came out. It kind of tickled me when Esther asked her if she had the towels hung out yet, and she said no. Esther asked her if she was going to get them hung out, and she said no again. You imagine that their children are more old-fashioned and obedient. Glad to see that, in some ways, they’re just like mine.

We loaded the chickens into a stock tank we had lined with a tarp in the back of the pickup. Dropped the girls off at Bible school on our way back through town, then took the birds home and got them into the freezer right away. Then we bagged up the ones that were going to the Utilities and Matt took them in. On his way in Al saw him and said, “Hey, those look pretty good, I’ll take 5.” So our own share is now down to 8. I wanted to keep 15 to 20, but if it helps us sell more chickens out of the next batch I’ll sacrifice.

Our neighbor wanted his chickens live, so we left 5 in the pen when we loaded in the morning. He was out there catching them when we got back, so Matt went out to help him. Oops! I shorted him a chicken – they wanted 6. So later in the morning I took one of the bagged ones down to them. I walked in the door and he said, “Are these chickens or turkeys?” His wife said she saw how big they were and thought they’d be fatty, but they weren’t. So that was a relief – when we originally told them we were butchering at 8 1/2 weeks they didn’t think they’d be big enough. Glad to have proved them wrong :)

Haven’t sat down and crunched any numbers yet, though I’m certain we lost money on them. But if we sell enough (eventually) to pay for the building and equipment that will be good enough. I’m thinking that if we’re going to keep doing this we may be best off getting a certified scale so we can sell them (and charge for them) by the pound. I’ll have to crunch those numbers, too.

Having the day off to do farm stuff just renewed my drive to work towards that kind of life for ourselves full time.

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2 Responses to Chicken Butchering Day

  1. Anonymous says:

    This sounds like what I am striving for on our farm. At this point I am trying to work up the courage to go out and try butchering a couple roosters myself!! My husband does the chopping and I do the dressing but I thought I could suprise him and try one myself. I just don’t want to hurt the thing instead of kill it!! Your farm sounds great and I pray that at some point I we can also raise sell and butcher for sale. What kind of chickens do you raise? Just trying to find the largest ones to butcher early for more tender meat. Thanks!!-Dawn

  2. We raise the cornish-cross broilers from Hoovers Hatchery. We butcher them at 9 weeks for a 5.5 to 6-pound chicken, but many people butcher them at 7 or 8 weeks for something a little smaller. We’ve always done all cockrels, but next year we may do straight runs. Then we’ll still butcher at 9 weeks but the females should be a little smaller for our customers that want that.