Part 2: Chicken Processing, the Rusty Clippers, and Thanking Your Bird

As mentioned previously, Chris and I recently attended a poultry processing workshop, held by Distelrath Farms (aka my new favorite people/place). The fine people at Distelrath just posted photos, so I thought I would share a little more of our experience.

While I don’t think the photos are anything to get queasy over (especially not compared to what “processing” means for the vast majority of chicken consumed in this country), this post does contain chickens in various states of undress. And, let’s face it – my bar for things to get queasy over might be slightly more elevated than some.

Step 1: Catch the chickens. Chris hopped right into one of the moveable runs they had out in the pasture, but I let the first gal who hopped in grab one for me. Hey, I chase after chickens all the time in the backyard, and she seemed quite good at it. I figured I’d expedite the process.

20120728. Distelrath Farms' poultry processing workshop.

Step 2: Get a good knife sharpening lesson from Andrew as he preps the knives, water, buckets, etc. While getting this lesson, freak out internally and hide the fact that you keep thinking to yourself, “Am I really doing this? CAN I really do this? OMG, I really hope I can do this. Breathe. Breathe.”

20120728. Distelrath Farms' poultry processing workshop.

MOO! MOO! Oh, you’re processing chickens today? Hmmm, haven’t seen any. Have you checked behind the shed? MOO!

Step 3: Hang chickens up by their feet, take more deep breaths, get a lesson in knife work and how to cut the jugular, and then… do it. The chickens became very calm the second we hung them up and started closing their eyes – which helped with the whole mental/psychic part of this. We paired up, and since I had the knife in my hand, I went first. Gulp.

20120728. Distelrath Farms' poultry processing workshop.

This is my less-than-thrilled face re: what is about to occur. In Andrew’s words: “I’m not going to lie: this part sucks.”

Step 4: Learn how to process the chicken from start to finish! They don’t have a plucker there, so we learned how to skin the chicken and part it. Here’s Andrew showing how to remove the legs (I think). For me, this is where all those biology dissection classes kicked in (I also can’t help but think of all the chicken parts I uncovered every time I rub Dino Puppy’s belly or Beaker’s chest – creepy, I know. Don’t tell them).

20120728. Distelrath Farms' poultry processing workshop.Step 5: Actually doing it! At the beginning, I did a lot of patting the (now dead) bird and saying, “Thank you, bird.” For real, I did.

20120728. Distelrath Farms' poultry processing workshop.

Ah, those rusty shears. Here I am in the process of skinning the bird and about to cut off the head.

20120728. Distelrath Farms' poultry processing workshop.

I think I was trying to figure out what was needing to be pulled out and what needed to stay in at this point.

Step 6: Chris gets his turn.

20120728. Distelrath Farms' poultry processing workshop.Step 7: Rinse, clean, quality control, wrap up your birds… then pose proudly with your fellow bird processing partners in crime!

20120728. Distelrath Farms' poultry processing workshop.

What a great experience. If anyone has specific questions about the process, I’m happy to go into tons of detail. I just didn’t want to belabor the whole thing too terribly much. Anyway… ask away!

8 thoughts on “Part 2: Chicken Processing, the Rusty Clippers, and Thanking Your Bird

  1. Do the chickens seem to “know” what’s coming, or did they seem pretty oblivious the whole time?

    Also, I think you cooked the meat already, yes? How is it different in taste and texture than what we get at the store? (I’m thinking it’s probably much better).

    • I think the chickens were more upset at being chased around in the big pen as we tried to catch them than anything! I’ve read some books that say you should try to keep your live chickens away from the butchering area because they could get freaked. These ones, though, settled down in their cages and waited quite patiently for us to get to them. Poor dears.

      As far as taste and texture, the two birds we slaughtered were “hybrid” birds (meaning they’re good for eggs and edible as meat – but not really GOOD as meat). We did a beer can chicken dealio with the first one, and it was incredibly tasty. Surprisingly tasty! Since it was such a small bird, there wasn’t a ton of meat on it, and the extremities got a little crispy. Even the crispy parts were awesome, though. I mean, roughly five hours before we cooked it, the chicken had been alive – you don’t get a whole lot fresher than that!

      Hey, Alina – I know how to butcher a freaking chicken, yo!

    • It doesn’t sound weird at all – but then, maybe I’m a little weird, too! I just think it’s so cool that I now know how to process a chicken from start to finish. How many people in this day and age can say that, you know?

  2. I wonder if, when the chickens saw Chris’s shirt, they got a little sad… 🙂

    I said it during Part 1, but I’ll say it again. Good job!
    It’s pretty cool: I’ve been re-reading “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” and when Michael Pollan is learning how to process a chicken, I kept thinking of you two!

    • Ah hahaha!!! Oh, lordy lou, I didn’t even notice that! Poor chickies.

      And THANK YOU. It was nerve-wracking a tiny bit, but mostly it was really an awesome experience. I need to re-read that book, too – there’s another I haven’t read yet… Food Inc, maybe? I just got done reading “The Town that Food Saved,” and I would definitely recommend it.

      • Thanks for the recommendation, Christie! I can’t wait to grab a copy. (I just added a dozen books to my Amazon wish list from just looking up that one title. Oh sheesh.)

    • You sound like me with my book wish list! We should start doing book reviews on our respective blogs. Oh, hey… maybe we can incorporate something like that into our first guest blog posts on each other’s blogs!!! 🙂

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