First Slaughter and Processing - Chickens

Processed Freedom Rangers ready for cooling and packing

We had our first experience with slaughtering and processing animals yesterday. One of our friends raised about 85 pastured chickens (Freedom Rangers) and after 9 weeks it was time to feed them to the masses. His customer base in Queens, NY had been asking for chicken since he started selling at the market and today they got their wish.

It's his first year farming and processing livestock on his own, so this was a learning experience for everyone. About eight of us showed up for processing. Only one had processing experience, so it went a little bit slow at first, but then we got into a pretty good rhythm. We started around 8am getting set-up and walking through one batch very slowly. By 2:30pm we had processed all the birds, packed them up in plastic and stored them in the cooler. Weighing, pricing and labeling took place later that afternoon.

The Chicken Processing Process

Sweetbreads cleaning killing cones after processing

Chicken processing is pretty simple. There's lots of minor variations, but here are the steps we followed. Feed is removed from the birds' area the night before processing. This ensures easier processing for us (not a lot of feed in the crop and a relatively clean digestive system). In the morning the birds are collected in crates and transported to the processing facility. Being a new farmer, and not wanting to invest in chicken processing equipment right off the bat, our friend lined up the use of another farm's equipment. 

Scalder at 150 degrees, waiting for chickensWe unloaded the chicken crates and processed six at a time. You can see the cone system above. You flip over the bird, hold its chest to calm it down and drop it in the cone. Holding the neck out the jugular veins are slit and the chickens bleed out for a couple minutes. Once it's pretty clear that they're dead and done bleeding out they are put in the scalder, which rotates the chickens in and out of 150 degree water for a minute or so. The scalder loosens the feathers for plucking. 

Plucking was pretty fun, I'll be honest. The plucker at this farm has a trap door on the front so at the end of the plucking time the birds come flying out into a cold water bath. To prevent misfires someone stands with a board as a backstop. The feathers shoot out the bottom into a tub and a bright-white, fully plucked chicken pops out the front. The plucker really gets humming.

After a cold water bath the chickens are ready for evisceration. Any pin feathers are removed by hand, the feet are removed at the knee joint, head and neck come off, pope's nose removed, and finally, the insides are removed. Once you see it done there's not much to it.

Chicken plucker and bird flying into cold water bathThe plucked and eviscerated birds are placed on cooling racks and put into the cooler where they await packaging, weighing and labeling.

A fun day's work and a great learning experience. We're told that the process is similar for larger animals, only the equipment is larger, the mess is bigger (except no feathers!) and the cooling time is a lot longer. I'm looking forward to working with our own animals!