Over the last few years we have raised meat chickens as a family (which includes my husband and I, our 4 adult children with their families). The 1st year we only raised 25 birds just to see if we could do it successfully. Over the last 3 years and as our skills improved we have increased the number of birds we purchased. The first 2 years we tried heritage breeds like buff orphingtons, and braumas. We bought 200 cockerels for about 50-60 cents each. We had to raise these for about 6 months for them to be big enough for the freezer. This year we decided to raise a faster growing non heritage breed. This not only allowed us to reduce the feed costs, but also made it possible to process them before the weather turned cold. We chose the Red Ranger breed and they didn’t let us down. They reached full size in half the time and in the end were much meatier than the previous varieties. This year we raised 140 total birds in about 3 months. The only thing to watch out for is that these faster growing varieties must have feed in front of them all the time.
We had our process day a couple of weeks ago and offered a class for those who wanted to come and observe or try their hand at the process. This is how we do it.
First off we leave the birds locked in the coop so they will be easier to catch, and we do not feed them that morning. We give everyone an assignment so they know what station they will be in charge of. Our granddaughters and some of the boys whose families came to observe became the chicken catchers. These two girls are 5 and 9, and the boys that helped were 7 and 9.
We cut it to size and screwed it to a 2×6 and attached the 2×6’s to a piece of plywood that we attached to the fence.
The dunk tanks are 2 large pots filled with water heated to 160 degrees. We add dish soap to break down the oils in the feathers and allows the hot water to penetrate better. The water temperature needs to be kept at the appropriate temp (approximately 160 degrees) so the the feathers will be easily removed. Too low of a temp. and the feathers will not come out cleanly, too hot and the skin will tear, making the cleaning process much more difficult. Our Pots are 30 quart stock pots about the size of a water bath caner. We dunk the chickens for about 20 seconds, dunking up and down to get all the feathers wet. The chickens are them transferred to a chill tank. This tank which is filled with cold water chills and firms the skin so that the plucking machine will not rip it.
We then use a plucking machine like this one (here)
This machine has many rubber fingers placed around the bottom and sides of a barrel. The bottom of the barrel spins, the bird rolls around inside rubbing against the rubber fingers pulling out all the feathers. Well almost all. At the same time water is sprayed into the inside of the barrel washing all the removed feathers out the bottom. Its a real time saver. We can do 1-2 birds at a time in as little as just 60 to 90 seconds.
We then pass the bird to the next station where they remove the feet and head and any feathers that may have been missed by the plucking machine.
Chickens are then passed on to the gut removal station. This process is not as bad as it sounds. Just 4 small cuts is all it takes.
Cut #1 ….. make a small cut in the skin just below the craw and pull open. Pull the wind pipe and esophagus free.
Cut #2 ….. Make the second cut on the stomach area just in front of the vent. Just a couple of inches will do. Pull open, then reach in and separate the gizzard from the back of the breast bone. This will allow the insides to be removed freely. Now for the fun part, just reach in and pull it all out, making sure to hook your index finger around the wind pipe and esophagus that you freed up in the first step.
Cut #3 and #4 ….. These two cuts are quick and easy, one down each side of the vent. This will free up all the insides from the outsides. See the polyface farms tutorial below for a good look at this process.
Joel Salitin from polyface farms has a great video tutorial on this.
They separate the heart, liver and gizzard and pass the bird on to be chilled and bagged. So much fun the whole family gets involved.