Ohiofarmgirl's Adventures in The Good Land is largely a fish out of water tale about how I eventually found my footing on a small farm in an Amish town. We are a mostly organic, somewhat self sufficient, sustainable farm in Ohio. There's action and adventure and I'll always tell you the truth about farming.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Top 10 First Time Butcher Day Tips

One of my pals is going to butcher chickens for the first time this weekend. They have done a terrific job of raising those creepy meat chickens, have done all the research, have all the tools..... but I'm sure they are still a little nervous. Everyone is the first time they butcher.

My chicken butchering tools. This is all I need.

So here are my top 10 tips for your first ever butcher day. I hope this helps.

10. Get your tools ready. Before you march boldly out there, get your tools ready. My best tool list is located here at the bottom of the post. I put all my knives on a big baking tray along with my paper towels. If you think you might be grossed out by touching something icky then get some gloves. I use the regular kitchen style gloves.

9. Get your "dispatch" workstation ready. We use an axe for our poultry. We've tried hanging them and cutting the throats, but for us, this takes too long for the bird to expire. We want a clean, fast kill. We have the axe sharpened, the block up on a sturdy worktable, and a bucket with a little straw in it where we let the chicken bleed out into. Then we can easily take the bucket and empty it into one of the compost piles.

8. Get a "guts n feathers" trashcan ready. We have one big trashcan that fits perfectly under the worktable. We put a trash bag into it and this is were we put all the leavin's. We do not compost guts n feathers due to dogs and varmints. Some people compost, we do not. Yes. Our garbage guy hates us. Alternatively you can have a big burnpile.

7. Get a "guts we are keeping" bowl ready - for fat and liver. We also bring a lid that fits over the gut bowl to keep over interested chickens and barncats from running off with my livers.

6. Make sure your work area is ready to go. Does the hose reach? You'll use a lot more water than you think. Will the water drain away from your work area or will you be standing in mud soup all day. We try and do all our rinsing over the little gully by the goat yard. This keeps our work area dry. Do you have a good work table? Do you have enough paper towels? Go and get more just in case. And um.. you might want to choose a spot where horrified neighbors or a bus load of kids won't be seeing you, if you take my meaning.

5. OK... tools? Check. Work station? Check. So how do you decide who is first? You can read more about this here. Basically whoever is largest. We pick out the biggest and work your way down.  Roosters are always first.

4. Stop when you get tired. We only ever butcher 4, 5, or 6 chickens at a time. That's it. We don't do all day butcher marathons. Not only is fresh - not frozen - chicken more delicious... but this allows the rest of the smaller chickens to plump up, saves room in the freezer, and is less exhausting. Plus we don't have room to chill 20 birds in the fridge at one time. Don't just stick them directly into the freezer - let them rest a couple days. So we would rather do 3 or 4 butcher days then try and get them all done in one whack. But won't the meats flop over dead after 7 weeks? Nope. We've butchered as late as 4 months. But do what works for you.

3. Make stupid jokes. Seriously. It breaks the tension and makes the work easier. The best one is, of course, "do you think he's faking it?" We get so much mileage out of that joke..... these words were spoken by my favorite farm kid several years ago as we all stood over a just killed carcass. It wasn't faking it and that joke will never not be funny. Some people think that butcher day should be a somber, reverent, emotionally draining day. For us it's not. We are thrilled that we can raise our own food and feed ourselves. All that work. all that time, and now today - the butcher day - is the big pay off. We couldn't be happier about our harvest. Seek joy and express it - even if it is with dumb jokes.

2. Print out your instructions. Personally I love the method taught by the indomitable Harvey Ussery. No matter how much you read up on it, or how many videos you watch, butchering won't make sense until you are out there in the thick of the action. If you are a little nervous then you might forget the steps or not be sure what to do next.... so print out the instructions so you can read them. Believe it or not, we still do this sometimes. The work is very interesting but it helps to have some guidance. Sometimes I'll pretend I'm the Medical Examiner on an episode of CSI:Barnyard. "I am now making the first incision..... " Or you might just blurt out "what the heck is THAT?" So having the instructions right at your side gives you some confidence if you know what is going to happen next...and what the heck THAT is.   

1. Have good courage. Don't freak yourself out. If you are nervous, scared, or freaked out pray for courage. You can do this. If you don't have any courage then you can borrow some of mine. I know that you can do this. You have worked so hard to get to this point so you might as well see it thru to the end.

At some point everyone who marches out to butcher for the first time thinks... yeah.... maybe not. But here is the thing -  you can either "chicken out" and give up and sell those birds, avoid it all together and watch them flop over dead from the inevitable creepy meat heart attacks, or you can square your shoulders, set your jaw, and march out there boldly. If anything you owe it to yourself to give it a try. There is a difference between not being able to do something and choosing not to. You won't know until you give it a go. I believe in you. You can do this. Yes you can.

Now get out there, tiger, and let me know how it went. If you, or anyone else, need courage on that day then send me an email, get me a pm, or ask for help on the facebook. I'll totally cheer you on. Yay team! Winner, winner you are so close to that chicken dinner!

Happy Thursday everyone! Any last minute tips for a first time butcher day?


carolyn said...

I found a turkey fryer at goodwill and I use that to get and keep the water at the right temp for plucking. It was a great find and a well worthwhile addition to my collection for butchering, even if I only use it a couple times a year and store it the rest of the time.

PJ said...

Do you pluck those chickens? This is something I wondered about.

Ohiofarmgirl said...

nope, PJ, we are without a doubt The Worlds Worst Pluckers. ever. so we just skin them. and to tell the truth, meats are filthy animals. the skin kind of creeps me out so - easy peasy and it works out just perfectly!

PJ said...

That is what my brother did when he raised chickens a few years ago. I am hoping to get him to help me with this project. I went to the farm store but they don't have meat chickens yet. I asked the farm store guy a bunch of questions but he said "don't ask me, I have a cat"

Ohiofarmgirl said...

Yep, PJ, that's how it goes at the big chain farmstore. they notoriously do not hire people who know about farming. :-/ if you are lucky there will be one person who will handle the chicks and they usually know more than the rest of the folks. it's very frustrating for all of us.

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