Sunday, November 22, 2009

From Chicken to Dumplings - My First Time

****Disclaimer: The following post depicts the transition of a live animal to dinner on the table.  Please be forewarned.****

***Note: For the sake of posterity and education, this entry is sort of lengthy.***

At this moment, i am enjoying a hot bowl (my second bowl, actually) of fresh chicken and dumplings. Yum!

From from chicken to dumplings

While i lick my spoon, i will tell you the story of how this chicken came to be cooked in my pot.

My hubby and i have been working up to the prospect of raising chickens for food, for some months. The chickens we are raising right now are chiefly for the eggs, but we have made known to our chicken-owning friends that we will happily rescue them from unwanted roosters, should the need arise, so long as they understand that their unwanted rooster maybe become our dinner. This is the reason our "egg-laying flock" has 6 roosters! We're waiting to find out who might be the nicest guy to keep around for lovin' the hens. Then the other 5 roosters are also destined for dinner.


We've never butchered chickens. We have no personal knowledge of HOW to kill chickens for food. And therein lies my story.

A friend of my husband's received 3 male chicks as "packing peanuts" with an order of ducks about a year ago. In the beginning, his family grew to love the little cockerels and convinced the man to keep them. But now, as full grown, free range roosters, they have become quite the pest and have begun chasing the man's children. So, Thursday evening, hubby came home with 3 very large, somewhat angry, roosters, and i began to consider how i would make them dinner.

Here is a picture i took that evening.
From from chicken to dumplings

I was very excited! I'm not the type of person who just likes to kill things; don't get the wrong idea. But my curiosity about the process has been weighing on me for some time. I had a very hard time going to sleep. My adrenaline was pumping as i thought about how to go about the process and reviewed the tutorials in my head.

Then, at 2:30 a.m. we were awakened to the sound of our dog howling at something, and then we heare it. Mis-calibrated roosters...all three of 2:30 a.m. I got up with my flash light and went to make sure they were safe. They were. But they were still crowing!

As you might imagine, i never got back to sleep after the 2:30 alarm. The mix of the adrenaline and the noise of the roosters who never stopped crowing were too much. At 4:00 a.m. i gave up on sleep and got out of bed.  As quietly as i could, i got dressed and started gathering the equipment to take care of these roosters. I got the camp stove out of the closet, gathered the sharpest kitchen knives, gloves, and twine, and waited for my husband to awake at 5:00.

As soon as i heard the alarm go off, i fixed myself a quick breakfast to help calm my stomach and my nerves. Then i set about getting ready for butchering in the dark.

I fumbled around in the dark, using one hand to hold a flash light.  I eventually took a lamp outside so i could see. Before he left for work, Hubby helped me set up a scalding and plucking station. And i went to work fashioning something by which to hang a chicken from his feet.  I had seen a wire contraption on a video that seemed to do a good job, and i set about to fashion my own wire contraption from a coat hanger. No, sorry, i don't have a picture.

I secured my wire contraption by a nail in a tree, laid out my knives, gloved my hands, and went for a rooster. It didn't take me long to grab one of these noisy boys by the legs and pull him out of the brooder. Sadly, it wasn't the biggest one, i.e., the noisiest one who was still crowing.

Before i began, i prayed. It is important to me to keep these activities in perspective. So i thanked God for His provision, asked Him to help me be quick and efficient, and then i tried to find the jugular.

According to the tutorials, the place to cut is right below the jaw line on one side or the other of the neck. The idea is to cut the jugular, allowing the bird to bleed out and then expire. It's not quite as quick as beheading, but it's close. And it gets more blood out of the meat than a simple beheading.

I knew that my sharpest knife was not very sharp, so i pulled the skin very tight, identified the place to cut, and did my best to make it fast. When the rooster started bleeding i thought i must've hit my mark, and i stopped cutting.

Keep in mind, this chicken is hanging upside down from a twisted coat hanger on a nail on a tree. And chickens naturally flail a bit during and after death.

Then it happened. I was watching and waiting for my rooster to bleed out...when he flailed.

When he flailed, he got out of my wire contraption, dropped on the ground, and started walking around!!!!!

Imagine my surprise! This wasn't expected.

I watched him for a minute, thinking he couldn't possibly get very far after losing all that blood. Pretty quickly, he wasn't really walking anymore - just standing and looking around.

I was very concerned that i didn't really cut far enough to do the job right, so i picked him up again, by his legs, lay his head down on the picnic table's bench, and used my serrated kitchen knife to saw into his neck until i was satisfied that 'it' was done.

Poor chicken.

Then, since i couldn't trust that wire anymore, i had to carry him around while he bled and while i tried to get the scalding water to the right temperature for him to be plucked.

After the getting-up-and-walking-away incident, i was a little paranoid that he was going to suddenly wake up. So i waited longer than is most likely recommended before i dunked him in the water.  I couldn't bear the thought of dunking this poor thing in the scalding water while he was alive.  I had to be sure he was all the way gone.

The recommended temperature for scalding is 145-150 degrees fahrenheit. But i couldn't find my thermometer. So i imagined that boiling the water and then taking the lid off for a bit, might equal 145-ish degrees. Thus i proceeded.

I dunked the bird in the water, and he didn't really fit well in the pot, but i found a wrench of some sort and pushed him down like i saw someone do in a video. I dunked him around in the water until the body feathers came out without resistance.

I was amazed at how very very easily the body feathers came right off the skin without a problem. But when it came to the wing and tail feathers.....i mangled the skin horribly. Those feathers are really large and well attached, and the skin came right off with them. Aargh!

I think at this point, i was coming down off of an adrenaline high, and i got sort of ...unfocused. Or something like that. I got really frustrated with the feathers, and i seriously considered just cutting the wings off all together.

Finally, i rinsed off the bird, made a desperate attempt at a few more feathers, and took him inside to be gutted. Feathers be......i mean to say, i had decided out of desperation to forget about the feathers until a moment of greater sanity.

This picture is actually not of the first mangled bird. I was not in the mood to share my shame at that point. This is the second one, a less traumatic occasion.
From from chicken to dumplings

Now, while i was watching videos and reading tutorials on how to dress a chicken, everything seemed fairly self-explanatory. It just made sense. But when it came down to me and my chicken in my kitchen, the process was suddenly less than obvious. I ran back and forth from the kitchen to the computer in the bedroom between every step. It seemed like i washed my hands a hundred times.

I told you i was a little bit unreasonably concerned in the back of my mind about this chicken who wouldn't die. Well, one thing the tutorials didn't mention is the the matter of the wind pipe.

As i finally neared the end of the dressing process. The carcass was headless, footless, neckless, intestine-less. And as i reached up into the cavity to remove more organs, my hand forced air up the still remaining wind pipe.

Imagine my surprise when my headless chicken squawked!

I didn't drop the bird and run or anything. By this time i had reached a higher state of sanity, and i looked the bird over and realized that there must be some reasonable explanation. Once i figured out what was going on, reproduction of the squawking was good for a good giggle and helped get me through my day. I would never have imagined that the chicken's windpipe, all by itself, would sound so very much like a chicken in the yard bawk bawk bawk-ing.

Pretty soon, i came to some reasonable state of finished and put my bird in the fridge. The time was 9:20 a.m. I started cutting the bird's throat at 6:00. Three hours and 20 minutes, start to finish. One down, two to go.

I definitely need to speed up this process.

Things i changed or learned that helped the next two go more smoothly - even though not really faster. And a few things that will make future events go even more smoothly:

* The temperature of the scalding water really does matter. Once i found my thermometer, i didn't rip anymore skin, and i was able to get all the feathers out.

* In a pinch, some thoroughly knotted twine does a fine job holding a chicken's feet and not allowing him to flail away.

* If you tuck the legs into a traditional bent position BEFORE the body goes into rigor mortis, he will be more easily dressed, prettier to look at, and easier to store.

* "They" tell you that you should be sure to have a really really sharp knife. "They" are wildly correct.

* The green organ (gall bladder) that 'they' warn you not to break is impossible to find and identify until after you have removed it from the bird. Mine didn't break.

* Here's a picture of all three carcasses after they were dressed. The one in the middle is darker because that's the one i scalded at too high a temperature - cooked him a little.
From from chicken to dumplings

* Here's the other thing that happens if you don't bend those legs before rigor sets in.  The bird won't fit in the pot!
From from chicken to dumplings

* It is important to let the bird rest or age before freezing or cooking. Apparently, 24 hours was not long enough. The meat was tough, and so i cut it into little bitty pieces for the soup.
From from chicken to dumplings

* Cooking a long time helped to make the tiny meat pieces a little less tough, as did the addition of salt. The flavor is fairly strong. Thus i will probably brine older birds in the future, before i cook them. All in all a good experience.
From from chicken to dumplings

There you have it. An actual case

From crowing rooster, making it easy for me to send you to the freezer,
From from chicken to dumplings

to dumplings in my bowl.
From from chicken to dumplings



  1. I laughed so hard..... about the rigamortis setting in and making it impossible to shove the bird in the pot,..... the cackling carcus... and the temptation to just cut off the wings.... OMG this is such a funny post.. it was like I was right there with you......

  2. Ha ha ha! this is awesome. the stuff of a horror movie, for chickens.

  3. Thank you! I laughed so hard I almost fell off my stool. Loved the surpirse moments, bok-bok-ing windpipe, the rigor mortis, the anticipation of what the bird did next, okay - actually enjoyed the entire entry.
    So glad you are enjoying country living!

  4. Nice post, PunkinPeep. I just posted about my experience on BYC - a little similar to yours. I was surprised too by how fast rigor set in, and wish I had tucked my legs are little faster....

  5. Hilarious!!! Who said farming was dull?



bok bok bok