How to Butcher a Chicken – Step by Step

Tonight, we had chicken roll-ups for dinner. But they weren’t just any old chicken roll-ups. They were made from our very first home butchered chicken. Yes friends, we finally did it. Well, Jerry did at least. I was the overseer.

What prompted us to kill one of our chickens, you ask? Necessity. Jerry still hasn’t had any luck finding a full time job, and his 20 hr./wk part time gig isn’t exactly enough to pay the bills and put food on the table.

I’m cleaning my dad’s house twice a month (which is a real blessing), but it’s still tough right now. We are so fortunate to have our food storage built up, and lots of hamburger in the freezer, but we were ready for a change. We wanted some chicken!

The kids were surprisingly enthusiastic about the whole idea. Jada was running around singing about the dinner we’d be having, it’s her favorite meal.

Jerry told a story about when he was younger and watched his grandfather chop a chicken’s head off and how funny it was to watch the headless chicken run around the yard. They all laughed at the idea (though I found it to be quite morbid humor). Ty and Jada were ready to see this for themselves!

We found the biggest pot we have, which happens to be my pressure canner, filled it with water, and put it on the wood cook stove to bring to a boil. When the water was nicely rolling, Jerry got a stump ready. We decided to hammer two nails into the wood to help hold the chicken’s head in place. With a sharpened machete in hand, he retrieved the chosen chicken; a young rooster we had no need for, and prepared him for his doom.

Holding a chicken upside down will make them very calm, and relaxed. Once he was inverted, the young roo just hung there completely content. Me and the kids watched from a little distance as Jerry laid it’s head across the stump, between the two nails. I couldn’t believe how it just laid there!  After a hesitant murmur to himself, “Oh my goodness…”, Jerry swiftly chopped with the machete, and the head was quickly and cleanly separated from the body.

We all stood in our own silent horror as we watched the body flip and flop around the yard. I glanced over at the kids who were both staring with mouths gaped open. After a moment, I said to Jerry sarcastically, “Funny, huh?” Nobody was laughing. Jerry tried to make light of the situation and laugh a little, for the kid’s sake. They both joined in with their own nervous laughter, but it didn’t last long.

At least the chicken wasn’t suffering. I was very proud of Jerry for doing such a good job. I had feared that the machete wouldn’t be sharp enough to completely sever the head with one blow… how sad that would have been! No, it wasn’t in pain. It’s body was just flopping around from reflexes. We were all glad when it stopped moving. “That was kinda sad,” Jada said. We all agreed.

Ty and Jada were interested in looking at the chicken’s head though. “Yuck!” Ty said. Yeah, it was gross. But the kids really did do well about the whole thing.

Jerry went and picked up the body by the legs and we all headed to the wood cook stove. On our way up, Jada commented again that it was interesting to watch, but sad. I told her, “Baby, you’re right, it was sad. It shouldn’t be funny to kill an animal. We should not enjoy watching it die. It is a sad thing. But we do it because God gave us animals for meat… it’s our food. We do it with thankfulness to Him, and to the chicken for giving his life to feed us.” She nodded in understanding.

I wasn’t sure if the entire chicken would fit into the pot, but it did. Fortunately, it was pretty small. We now realize that when it comes time to do one of the hens, we’ll definitely need a larger pot. After thoroughly dipping it twice, we were ready for the next step: plucking.

Jada had volunteered to help, but once it came time to do so, we decided to let Jerry do all of the work. She did sit right next to him to watch how it was done. He cleaned the chicken outside on a cutting board since we didn’t have a table to work on. The feathers were getting everywhere, so we definitely didn’t want to do this indoors.

Jerry cut the wings off at the joint, and got them out of the way. Then he cut the feet and neck off.

Jada couldn’t contain her curiosity, “Can I touch it?” she asked. She picked up the chicken’s foot, and was thoroughly grossed out. (We’d gone to a festival earlier that day, so she has her face painted here.) Silly girl.

Once most of the feathers were plucked, we moved indoors. We didn’t worry much about all of the smaller feathers that remained ’cause we were gonna skin it anyways. If you are planning on baking or roasting the chicken, you need to leave the skin on so that the meat doesn’t get dried out. But we were putting this fella in the crockpot, so we didn’t need the skin. It made it a little easier to skin it instead of plucking it completely clean.

Next step, gutting the chicken. Jerry felt for where the breastbone ended, and made his cut below that bone. He cut all the way around the tail and removed that piece, opening the bird completely up.

Reaching in, he carefully pulled out the organs. The kids were truly fascinated by this. Jada especially enjoyed the little biology lesson she got. They asked a lot of questions about what was what, so that was cool.

Once it was all cleaned out and skinned, he went straight into the crockpot to cook for a few hours. There wasn’t a lot of meat, and it was kinda tough (which are both expected from a rooster), but it was dinner.

So, there you have it. Our first home butchered chicken. All in all, it went quite well. I’m glad Jerry did all of the hard stuff… okay, everything. I was perfectly happy to stand to the side sharing tips I’d read in books, and taking pictures. It feels good having one more skill under our belts.

Alright now, what do you think? Could you do it? Have you done it? I wanna hear what’s going through your mind.

35 thoughts on “How to Butcher a Chicken – Step by Step”

  1. Congrats Jer and family. Been looking for a site that seriously is
    trying to be self-sufficent and you guys get the prize.
    Children involved in homesteading is great. You just wonder how they are going to take the nitty gritty of the grubbing. Quite well! I say.
    Gannna Nana and her brood of grans are going to the woods and homestead this year. Wish us luck. Menfolks are great at havesting deer. We don’t think they can kill a chicken. LOL.
    Love this site and will return.

  2. Not yet but have been thinking about it.A friend of mine will be doing some this summr and I`m taking some old hens with me and do mine.I think I can do it with her help.

  3. I’m so impressed. Well done. The only time I ever saw this done and actually I wasn’t there for the head chopping, just the body flopping, I couldn’t eat chicken for a year. Thinking I’m recovered now since we plan on having chickens for meat and eggs when we move. One of the items on our wish list.

  4. Nope! Vegetarian life would be the life for us! I was a vegetarian for 22 years. Recently gave it up 2 years ago. I told my hubby that we will kindly resort back to that lifestyle if needed. My children would make pets of all the animals before we had a chance to butcher. Eggs, goat cheese and beans are sustainable proteins. Sorry. Just too squeamish! But- this is where awesome bartering and trade come in. I would gladly pay loaves of bread for someone ‘else’ to do the dirty work.

  5. Whenever we have an accidental rooster, we have to “send it back to the Easter Bunny” It makes great Rooster Pot Pie. We also once had a turkey named Thanksgiving Dinner…people got a good laugh when my son introduced people to him (very yummy too.) I wrote about it in a post called “The price of being an omnivore.”

  6. WTG! I think you did a great job and taught your kids a valuable lesson. In the meantime, your chicken rolls recipe is a great food storage recipe for me. I can use my canned chicken in it since I don’t have any spare roosters, or any roosters at all for that matter!

  7. I love your blog! Found you while surfing for a homemade mayo recipe. Kudos to you for having your children watch. I think kids think all food comes from “the store”. It’s important for kids to know the truth about where food comes from. And I think you did a perfect job balancing the shocking truth (that sometimes animals die for our food) with the fact that all food comes from God and that, if we are going to use animals for food, He asks that we return the favor by treating all creatures humanely right up until their end.

  8. Now we need a tutorial on making feather pillows at home…..excuse my ignorance, but are the feathers salvageable after being dipped?

  9. Early spring we raised about 10 cornish x birds, and my husband killed and feathered them while I dressed them. Then during the summer, we raised 10 freedom ranger chickens, 3 turkeys, and 4 ducks that we slaughtered, and this time I actually did some of the killing. We used a butchering cone instead of chopping off the heads. My goal is to eventually use as much of the bird as we possibly can. This year I managed to save the fat around the organs for cooking, cooked up the gizzards (yum), and saved the feet, backs, and necks for making stock. Next time I want to learn how to cook the liver and hearts. This has been our first year harvesting our own birds, and like you I feel very satisfied that I know how. Now I’ve just got to work on my canning skills. 🙂

  10. Wow… you finally did it. I’m so happy it was a success. Yup, roosters can be tough and skinny, but good eatin’ anyway. I can’t believe you cut off the wings. Mr. D would not be happy with me if I cut off either the wings, tail or skin… of course I rarely cook chicken in a crock pot either.

    We butchered 8 Muscovy drakes yesterday. It was a drizzly, but unusually warm day. These ducklings were hatched in July. There were 8 drakes and 3 hens. We kept the hens. Another of our Muscovy hens just hatched 5 chicks. We will probably butcher some of those this spring. We have found that Muscovy are a great meat bird.

    We had just finished butchering when the rain came. It rained all night. God’s provision again.

    So far this year we have put about 300 lbs of poultry (275 of chicken and 25 of duck) into the freezer and we thank the Lord for this wonderful harvest.

    I worked on squash on Saturday and was able to process 54 quarts and those are also in the freezer. We have yet to harvest the beets and I still have tomatoes ripening up in the house. I would love to have another few quarts of tomatoes put up for winter. We don’t eat a lot of pasta sauce, but it is nice not to have to run to the store for this.

    It’s just the beginning Kendra… maybe in the spring you can get some meat birds to raise. The cornish cross giants dress out about 10-13 lbs. You can remove the wing tips, but keep the upper part of the wing:)

    on our blog where I wrote about our butchering process… I think you commented on this post about a year ago… doesn’t seem like it’s been that long…

    Hope that Jerry finds more work soon.

    God bless!

  11. My husband puts the chickens neck under a rake handle, stands on the handle and pulls the chickens legs up. This dislocates the neck and allows him to hang it upside down. He cut the end off of a traffic cone and lets the head hang down to bleed it. We used to skin them until we built a chicken plucker. It was well worth the time and dollars (minimal) spent to build it. Most of the items, we had around the barn. The two of us can do 30 chickens in about 3-1/2 hour.

  12. We use the same stump and nail method rather than a killing cone because it seems more humane. Watching a chicken bleed out alive and look at you was too gross for us. We usually hang them from some chicken leg cuffs (made out of twine) to flap around and bleed out a bit without breaking wings. Previous poster was right, let the chicken chill overnight or longer to make it much more tender than cooking a fresh-kill bird, you could brine it like a turkey if you want to get fancy. Also if I skin them I don’t bother with plucking. Invest in a drill plucker or look for directions to make your own. Scalding temp has to be just right, but it is SO MUCH easier if you want them plucked and plan to grow your own on a regular basis. Laying breeds are almost not worth butchering for broth they are so skinny, so stick with dual purpose at least. Last week we went to a poultry auction. You could pick up many large roosters for .50-$1 and rabbits as well. We got a 40lb turkey for $15. If you don’t mind butchering, the price per pound was less than growing your own. (I would age it in the fridge, crockpot it and possibly grind up the meat as well, but still a very good deal per pound.)

  13. Looks like a good job- can I suggest getting a thermometer to check the temp of the water – 160- 180 seems to be the best- The skin in the picture looks like the water was a bit hotter than needed because it looks cooked. Most home grown birds are tougher than the grocery store frankenchicks because the frakenchicks get so big really quick that they are still tender when killed. But taste and health cannot compare!
    Enjoy your 1st of many to come!

  14. Hey Kendra. Great job. I love the way the kids are involved. Wonderful they are learning to respect the animals too. It can be a hard lesson to learn but they will know where their food actually comes from. For us it made the blessing before dinner so much more meaningful. (kids don’t think that Food Lion is providing for them they KNOW that God is) We are getting ready to do our chickens and turkeys. One tip someone passed along to us for plucking was to add a couple of drops of Dawn to the water. Has to be Dawn (the only name brand I buy)but it works like a charm.

  15. We recently butchered about 60 chickens with our neighbor. The fastest way to skin them is to dip them in hot water to help the skin come off easily and to help the feathers stay in one place, then chop the feet and wings off at the joints you want and skin them with the feathers on! I like to start cutting the skin by the breast and then pull and cut the skin off. If you roll the skin, you can keep most of the feathers contained in the skin. Just be careful when you cut around the abdomen opening. My neighbor said that the chickens are tougher if you eat them the same day as butchering them.

  16. We also use a cone like Lisa B. does. My husband easily fashioned one from a scrap piece of sheet metal we had–keeps the blood all in one spot! We like to use this method for our chicken butchering:
    Very easy to get onto after you do about 2 of them and doesn’t involve needing to take out the guts or pluck the feathers. You chop off the head, skin it, then cut off the meat. The trickiest part was getting onto the way you cut off the breast so as to get all of it, but once you get it, it works great. You only lose out on the “next-to-nothing” amount of meat on it’s back. A good method unless you want to roast the bird whole.

  17. No, I’ve never kept chickens of my own. My husband was raised on a semi-farm, raising pigs and beef cows (although only a very few at a time). He said that chickens are some of the dirtiest animals, and that we would never keep any. After seeing my sister-in-laws chickens, I thought I agreed…. Although, I must say, after reading your blog, and another that praises chickens so highly, I almost wish we could keep chickens.

    I did get $48 worth of chicken breasts at the store yesterday for $10. Thought that was an accomplishment. 🙂

  18. We raise some chickens every year for butchering and for me, it doesn’t get easier to watch so I don’t. We raise Cornish Jumbo Cross for meat and butcher them at 3 different sizes (cornish about 1-2 pounds), roasters (about 5-6 pounds) and for pieces (this year some of mine were 12-13 pounds). We also butcher our extra roosters but they are best for stew birds. We had a freezer full of chicken, turkeys and ducks but the freezer stopped working earlier this fall and we lost all of the meat because we didn’t catch it in time. Thankfully we still have the beef and pork in another freezer.

    One thing that makes it easier for butchering is making a cone with an opening just big enough for their head and neck to come through and lay on the butcher block. Then they aren’t doing the “chicken flop” across the barn yard. It also keeps the blood in one area and minimizes the yard looking like a masacre until the next rain or snow storm.

    Congratulations! As hard as it is to kill your birds or animals for meat, there is so much satisfaction in self-sustainability and the taste is just so much better!

  19. I keep telling my hubby that I would love to have chickens for eggs but don’t people usually butcher them after they can’t lay anymore? I’ve lived in the country for almost 4 years and I’m still the biggest city slicker. I don’t think I could do that. Kendra you and Jerry are very brave! I’ll say a prayer for Jerry’s job situation and thank God that you have your food storage. Have you ever been to “The Prudent Homemaker” site? That’s a great site for food storage. well have a great Monday and God Bless your beautiful family.

  20. Congrats Kendra! 🙂 I’m really realy hoping we can get chickens soon, maybe this spring? I would feel so much more secure about our food situation if I knew I was able to go out and butcher a chicken if needed for dinner. I’ve always felt this way, but especially with the way the economy is going who knows how much longer we will be able to “afford” the grocery store. Plus I like knowing where my food comes from! Congratulations on a job well done.

  21. We do our own chickens this way too.My husband does all the hard parts.I get the pots ready etc.You will get alot more meat off the meat birds but we eat plenty of rooster when we have more then we need.:)
    Our most recent was butchering our own pigs.It had been five years since we had done our own.It makes for a couple busy days but once the freezer is full…it is a great feeling.My brother recently got some gray squirrels so he gave those to us(my hubby did the dressing).I have them soaking in the fridge in salt water.I do not remember what the salt does but we usually do it that way.They taste really good fried up so that is on our menu today.If it is squirrel season where you are you might enjoy it too.:)

  22. It is encouraging to see so many folks going back to small farm production of their animals. Although it can be difficult (emotionally) to slaughter your own chickens to provide for your family, it seems preferable to buying chickens that have been raised on corporate farms where there is no consideration for treating the animal humanely while it is alive or while it is being killed. The sadness you feel is appropriate and I’m glad you are teaching that there is a cost to providing for ourselves meat to eat but I am also glad more people are being inspired to homesteading by your good example. Blessings!

  23. Thanks for sharing – I hope to be able to do it myself one of these days. No chickens yet, but plans for them – eventually 😉 I’m just starting out in my homesteading dream, and am really only in the dreaming stage, still. But since I’m a single mom, I know I’ll have to do all the “hard parts” since it’s just me and my son….

    Oh! Would you mind sharing your recipe for chicken roll-ups? That sounds interesting 🙂

    God bless!

  24. I hate to say it, but great photos. I couldn’t muster the courage to photograph and post our chicken processing. It is rewarding though, to eat one’s own, homestead raised meat. We’re hoping to expand to chevon and pork one of these days.

    Your situation is the perfect reason for food storage. So many folks think having a food storage is too doomsdayish. But really, food needs are much more basic than that, and our real problems very mundane. It’s a blessing to plan ahead and be prepared.

  25. Congratulations on your first “HARVEST”. We just “harvested” 29 birds on Saturday. 19 of them were actually meat birds, the rest were birds that I bought this year at Tractor Supply Co. for 25 cents a piece. I was hoping for hens, but they all were roosters. We didn’t let them go to waste. I wish you were closer to us…I would love to gift you some of the meat birds.


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