Our birds were much healthier this past year. We had a few that succumbed to odd ailments. One chick had a heart problem and was very small when it died. One got lame and the others would not leave it alone. This is one of the problems with chickens, they are not tolerant of deformity. I suppose that is a good thing in the animal world. If they don't do away with the weak and deformed then the genes will be passed one to another. They don't differentiate between injury and genetics. This poor chicken had fallen off the ramp and gotten kicked around a bit. I think it may have recovered but it would have taken lots of time and effort on our part, and it is doubtful we would have ever been able to reintroduce that chicken to the general population, so we butchered him a little early.
I say all this so you will expect to have some birds that just won't thrive. It's usually 2 or 3 and don't get all upset when it happens. It happens in nature as well, there are usually one or two from a clutch that just don't thrive for one reason or other.
(The above pictures were taken around Sept. 15th 2009. The birds are all the same age, so you can tell who is growing faster. The hens at this age loved it inside, especially on rainy days. This was a rainy day and they were looking at me like I was crazy to stand outside in the rain and take their picture.)
When it comes time for butchering you will need to have prepared for the day(s). Get some help if you can, it makes the process go much faster. Make sure that you have at least one full day set aside for this. It takes time to clean and set up your area and I find it frustrating to set up and take down all the necessary items for just a couple hours of slaughter.
A plucker is nice, but not necessary we went for years without one, but it does take more time to butcher. You can easily build one for yourself from a drill, PVC cap threaded rod and rubber bungie cord. See here:
on the tutorial link below are directions for building and using a "whizbang chicken plucker". My sister-in-law built one of these and likes it very much. We didn't want to make that investment quite yet. I'm sure she'd loan us hers if we asked, but it would be lots of trouble getting it here and our plucker does a great job.
We use bleach for sanitizing, lots of it. It's a cheap product that is very effective. As you will see in the tutorial lots of water needs to be used and you can set that up rather easily.
One thing I got last year that really helped was a long rubber apron. Mr. D came home with some large sheets of rubber from the dump one day and we used mine as a pattern and made one for him too. They helped keep us dry.
We built a "killing cone" which seems to be the best way for killing and bleeding. Very easy to build see here:
You can remove the bird for bleeding, but we leave ours in the cone until all that is done and then take them to scald.
Water for scalding should be about 150 degrees. We use a large pot with a lid over a wood fire. And dip the bird for a few seconds. Check a large feather or two and if it is not loose dip again. You don't want to dip too long or the skin will come right off. After the bird is bled, dipped and defeathered, you can do the rest inside, but we find it is quite convenient to do all the gutting and cutting outside. Just need a nonporous surface and clean it often. I keep a bucket with rags and bleach handy at all times. Don't get bleach all over the bird, rinse well after each time you clean your surface and remember to wear clothes you don't mind getting a few bleached spots on.
I guess I'll leave the rest for the expert to explain. He has been very helpful to us. I purchased two of his books. I wanted to build a 'Whizbang Garden Cart" but Mr. D found one at the dump and we just replaced the wood using the same hardware.
our "rustic" looking cone, but has worked all these years with no problems
fireplace with pot ready for scalding
our "new" plucker. Notice the rubber flap to protect the electric drill from getting all wet. This plucker worked great
Mr. D using the plucker... notice the feathers in the bushes... looks like snow, but it was feathers.
coolers all ready with ice water for the dressed birds.... this lowers the temperature of the meat quickly and discourages bacterial growth
table set up for gutting and dressing... notice the glass top... this was an old shower door.... non porous and easy to sanitize... though a little hard on knives...
OK we can't get through all of this without a little blood... another view of the table in use...
result of one day's work... just the two of us. We have done lots more when there are more hands to help, but we didn't have too many to do this year. Only 20 meat birds, three geriatric chickens and one old rooster, plus 3 ducks. It was a good two days work.
day two, finishing up in the dark.
I hope this encourages you to raise some meat birds and eat healthier. You'll be glad you did!
Have a blessed day in the Lord,