Chicken Dinner

You may recall that some time ago, our long-time vegetarian family made the decision to eat some of our chickens. We love our birds, and are so grateful for the eggs they provide our family, but the truth is that sometimes some of the birds have to go. It’s not possible to maintain a closed-loop system without eliminating some of your animals from time to time, and after a lot of discussion we concluded that it would be easier on our consciences to slaughter our chickens here at home as humanely as possible than to sell them and have no idea what their fates would be.

I will admit it was hard for me to come to terms with slaughtering our chickens, at first. Equally hard to come to terms with was how much I loved that first chicken dinner we had. I was not expecting to enjoy chicken so much! Now that chicken has become a somewhat regular part of our diet, I decided it was time for me to help Jae with the slaughtering process, to take responsibility for the birds I raised and the food on my plate. Until now, Jae has done the “dirty work” without me, often with a friend lending a hand. This was weighing heavily on my conscience.

So, with rations dwindling in the kitchen and a rather tight budget for the week, it became apparent that it was time for another chicken dinner – and it was time for me to help Jae with the slaughter.

When I first stepped outside and saw the chosen hen sitting calmly on the porch, I nearly lost my nerve. A panicky feeling settled in on me and I thought, “I can’t do this! I’ll have to go back to being veg!” I took a deep breath and held the chicken in my arms. She looked at me, calm as can be, and I stroked her feathers. I thanked her for the eggs she’s given, spoke words of gratitude to her, and as I looked into her eyes I felt myself calming down. The hen wasn’t panicking, why was I?

I held the hen out in front of me, her head resting lightly on the chopping block. Still she was calm; I could feel her heart beating steadily, not racing, not alarmed. A split second later, Jae’s axe came down on her neck and it was done. No squawking, no panic, no distress. Just a calm bird who was with us one moment and gone the next.

Jae told me he’d be alright to finish the job if I felt I needed to go back into the house, but I wanted to see the whole process through from start to finish. I was surprised by how very OK I felt about what had just happened (truthfully, I had thought I’d be a mess of tears). It felt good to take responsibility for my dinner, and I was so relieved to see first-hand that the hen had not had one moment of distress or suffering.

So now I know how to slaughter, clean, gut and butcher a chicken – and if you have the stomach for it, you can see the process for yourself.  If you’re a staunch vegetarian or someone who hasn’t faced the reality of what it means to eat animals, you might want to skip past the following photos.

Here she is, moments after her head was removed. I was surprised by how quickly the head came off, in one quick, clean whack.

To loosen the feathers prior to plucking, the hen is dipped several times in a large pot of boiling hot water.

The quick bath makes plucking pretty easy. The feathers come off rather effortlessly, without many little pin hairs left behind. (Any pin hairs that remain are later scorched off quickly with a blow torch.)

A few minutes later, a plucked chicken, ready to be gutted.

Normally when Jae cleans a chicken, he wears rubber kitchen gloves. However, having none available presently, a plastic bag over the hand was the next best substitute. It was not nearly as gross as I had imagined, watching those innards come out.

The organs we put aside in a pan for the dogs to enjoy. A few moments after this photo was taken, we added a handful of partially-formed eggs to the mix – yolks and the beginnings of whites, in all sizes from little pea-sized yellow orbs to nearly full-sized eggs missing only the shells. It was amazing! So many multitudes of eggs in every stage of development. I was in awe (and the dogs LOVED this tasty treat!).

With the bird feathered and gutted, Jae moved the operation into the kitchen where he butchered the rest of the body and prepared dinner.  I didn’t get any photos of the butchering process, unfortunately, but we were left with a nice meaty skeleton for making soup broth in the morning.

Our dinner was delectable. Basmati & wild rice with strips of chicken on top, cooked in a lemony herb sauce, with a crisp, fresh spinach & feta salad on the side. Mmmmm! The kids devoured their dinner (Raina had plenty of salad, as always, and after finishing off his rice, Lynden scooped up a leg and a wing that were cooked separately and polished those off as well!).

The chicken was a little on the tough side, I will admit, with the hen having been a two-year-old layer, but it was delicious nonetheless, and all the more satisfying to eat after having helped in the process of bringing it to the table, start to finish.

Do I still believe, as I once did, that it is wrong to kill animals for food? No. Absolutely, I do not. But I do believe factory farming is an atrocious sin, and that folks need to know where their food is coming from. I believe that animals have an inherent right to live as they were born to live – with fresh air to breathe, real food to eat (pasture!), and an absence of cages (our own animals are free-range; no cages on this farm!). I believe that people should play an active role in the production of their food, by visiting their local producer and supporting humane, sustainable farmers if raising one’s own animals is not a possibility. I believe grocery stores need to be abolished and local food networks need to fill the gap that is left behind when they finally are. And I have hope that we are moving collectively in this direction, that one day factory farms and grocery stores will be atrocities of the past that our kids learn about in history books.


6 thoughts on “Chicken Dinner

  1. Fair play! You’ve a much stronger stomach in you than I. I remember I had to leave the kitchen because I felt I was going to faint when watching my Gran gut a fish. I strongly agree with you that animals deserve to be treated much better than they currently are and admire the respect yuo show yours.

  2. I love this post, Lindsay. Thanks for sharing it. I’ve been vegetarian for 15 years and while my kids are 90% veg, as their dad is not they do eat some meat. I, too, believe that factory farming is an atrocious sin, but I’m starting to believe that eating animals doesn’t have to be. We’re getting meat birds for the first time this year, as well as some turkeys for Thanksgiving & Christmas, and I’m even considering raising a pig. While I think it’ll be challenging for me to dispatch the birds (though perhaps not, as you discovered) and I won’t partake in the meal myself (more a personal preference, than a political one) I know they will have a wonderful life here and will be revered for providing nourishment for my family.

  3. When we went to the farm to watch and learn how to process a chicken I was surprised at how easy it all seemed. The chicken did squawk, though, and tried to get free while the farmer was holding it.
    Just yesterday while I was walking around the grocery store I got an overwhelming feeling like I was in a virtual/fake reality – people passing each other without so much as a glance towards others, picking up food products that don’t resemble anything that can really be called food – in shiny packages and marketing – it was so surreal. So I’m with you on the better model to replace these giant buildings called grocery stores – thank you for the lessons Linds, I’m so so impressed with your skills and thirst for sustainable knowledge!! xo

  4. Great post. I agree, it is very satisfying knowing where your food comes from and being able to do it yourself! If you leave the meat for a couple days it helps soften the meat a bit. Means planning ahead and having space to store it. If you pluck the chicken dry, (no hot water) it can be left for longer.

    Here is my post with similar graphic photos

    And how exciting your baby will soon be here! Sending you hugs.

  5. Just found your blog Lindsey, and how grateful I did!
    Thank you for sharing your processing photos. We have layers, and this summer we raised some chicks – quite a few cockerels, so I know I’ll be needing to do the above also. I’ve never seen a chicken gutted etc, so thanks for that one, as I think that bit was putting me off.
    Best wishes!

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