Thursday, August 11, 2016

Slaughtering roosters

The contents of this post might be regarded by some as graphic.
It contains details and images of roosters being slaughtered!

Well, our first batch of hens has arrived; 3 2 year old and 2 1 yearlings. It was fun meeting the lady we bought them from and we already arranged for more to come to us, when they have matured more. She had loads och hatchlings!! She also strongly recommended to keep our batch of roosters away from the hens! She predicted a huge brawl in which the hens were very likely to get seriously injured.
So the hens moved into the henhouse, we introduced Sirius to them and the rest of them.... Well, they had to be kept separate. That meant a problem during the night! We had to erect a makeshift shelter, covered it with a tarp and had quite some trouble getting our gang of bachelors to move into the shelter to spend the night there. On top of that it had started to rain and when I went out to prepare them for the night I found them all huddled together and piled upon each other in front of the door into the henhouse. It was a heartbreaking sight. It felt not right to have to accommodate them this way, since it would be their last night alive. We had to slaughter them the next day. It was what we intended in the first place, but now events forced us to rush it forward.
Since we had no one to teach us how to do things, we read on it and checked youtube. One video appealed to us, since the sequence of slaughtering look not as complicated AND the chicken in question seemed to be killed quickly and painlessly. The video also showed how to skip on plucking a bird, which should save us a lot of time as well. So we went for that one. Now mind you that, because it is called a prepping video, we do not consider ourselves to belong to that category. A second thing is that I recommend to turn down the volume, when watching the clip. The music's awful!! Or at least I think it is....

We sure picked our day to do it. After many dry and comfortable days we were left with one day, since we both had to work until the following weekend, and of course that day was rainy, windy and cold. Just our luck. By the way we wore latex gloves. Not just because we are squeamish, but also because I learned during hunting course that touching meat with your bare hands can and most likely will spoil the meat you are handling. The circumstances we worked in were primitive at best, despite the new set of butchering knives we bought the day before. Another tip from hunting course; have one set you solely use for that purpose!
The first rooster we took, was the apparently lowest ranking one. He was the smallest and always last. I followed the video, sat on my knees, rooster between the thighs, heart racing like mad.... and I struck. But the rooster would not be stunned or go unconscious at once. Not even at twice of third.... Of course this would happen to me. My first kill and it would be a struggle! I held the rooster between my thighs and struck again. Now it went down. I reached for the knife and cut its throat. Despite the blows to the head and the cut throat it still flapped and I had to hold it down. A storm of raging emotions tore through my intestines and I felt my stomach  turned into a ball.
It was over and I started to breathe again..... Dear God... I had to calm myself a bit after this. I have to admit I was pretty taken back by this.
And as we hung up the rooster to proceed with the slaughtering, the skies opened up. It started raining...
The slaughtering of the first one went relatively well, given our total inexperience. Nothing got damaged and the meat look good. We did not pluck them, we skinned them. The removal of the skin+feathers was a lot faster (I think) than plucking. A lot less messy as well. However the skin came off a lot harder than the video shows and what I had experienced when doing the hare a while ago. Getting the intestines out was not all that hard, but rummaging around inside a warm carcass with my fingers was not my idea of pleasant.
After we were finished it was lunchtime... and did that feel weird. Unfitting.. Wrong! I didn't think I could eat anything, but yet I did. Talking the dogs for a walk after that helped calming us down, but now the rain really started coming down and our relaxing walk was cut short. Soaked and cold we came home, but by now the rain had stopped. Time for rooster nr.2. And if I had thought the first one was a fight... This one just wouldn't go down! Even after beating him on the head and cutting his throat he would not give in. I almost sat on him, holding him down and in place with both hands on his wings, his blood pumping out, him gurgling as I could feel the life drain away from him, still struggling and flapping. In a feat of desperation I cut his head off and as he lay still I was emotionally drained, badly shaken, wondering what the hell had gone wrong? A few deep breathes and some hard swallows followed. My wife took over most of the slaughtering after this, but even that would not be an easy job. This son of a bitch was a tough one! But eventually he too was cooling down in the fridge, all cleaned out and up.
We sat down for a cup of tea. Holy shit. This was tough! No easy meals served here today! The rain was coming down more incessant now..... Deep breath. Nr.3. We decided to go for the head chopping off-drill. Hatchet and block at the ready... In we went, an easy catch. I carried this one down to the "chopping block", but as I arrived I froze..... I couldn't. I just couldn't bring myself to put him on the block or to kneel down and repeat the process. I had had enough for the day. This was more than I could stomach. Try and push as I might, but this was a no go. I turned around and put him back with the others again. Not this one. Not now. Not this day...... My wife did not fare much (if any) better by the way.
We took a large gamble and opened up the henhouse, so the remaining roosters could go in, warm and dry and meet Sirius and the ladies. Fingers crossed that they would not be at each other's throat. We kept an eye on the lot and by now the rain poured down.... a deluge and it would not stop.

This was our introduction into the slaughtering chapter of homesteading and it was a brutal lesson. We will have to repeat it and we will! To me it is an essential skill we must master, even it it really is an unpleasant one. We want to keep animals, we enjoy their presence and want to take good care of them, we want decent, fair food... so this is a part of the process. The next step or one of the steps.
For now I will refrain from repeating it, though. Keep a close eye on our flock and cull when needed, but no more than 1, max. 2 a day!
Maybe, as we gain more experience, we might push it a little further in the future.

For all you who are new to this too:"DO NOT DO AS WE DID! Get someone to show you, to introduce you to it and to guide you. This experience was so raw that I really can not recommend it.

But at the end of the day all was well again. We got a new kitten.....
Our youngest daughter absolutely wanted to show us that she too can handle the responsibility of taking care of an animal of her own. Meet Pepsi..... (no, we did not name her that. The previous owner did....) and yet another girl to the flock.
And Rex and Lester have a hard time coping with it all; roosters, hens, dead animals and a new and very tiny cat..... that hisses and spits at them!! This was the first time either of them backed down! For Pepsi it is the first time she ever meets dogs and now she's facing two huge ones with one having a strong curiosity and a small brain.
And all the roosters are in the henhouse and there's no sign of a fight what's however.... keeping our fingers crossed.

Is all well that ends well? Mmmm no not really. When walking the dogs my wife broke one of her fingers. It got caught in one of the leashes and when Lester jumped up..... one of the finger bones got split lengthwise and twisted vertically. So now she has her right hand in a spline, next to completely incapacitating her. A small mishap, a lesser injury, but with large consequences on the homestead. The timing could've been better. But it is something to consider. How to spread the risk of a homestead grinding to a halt, when something like this occurs?


  1. I hope that more people read this and understand what it really takes to kill an animal for food. I want to learn to do it myself as well because I feel I have no right to eat meat if I cannot butcher an animal on my own. I intend to take a proper course though to make sure I do it as good as possible from the start. I love that you shared your true feelings around this subject because it isn't as nice and easy as we tend to believe when we're used to picking up meat in the supermarket.

  2. No, it does take away the romantic glazing of trendy homesteading quite a bit!

  3. So we have had luck with the killing "cone". I'm sure you ran across this system in looking around. The chicken is hung upside down in an open "cone" with its head sticking out at the bottom of the narrow end of the cone. This makes the chicken quiet for some reason. I guess it's because they're held on all sides. Then you slit their throat and if you use a really really sharp knife the head almost comes off. Then they're hanging upside down so they bleed out right away.

    My dad used the ax and the chopping block but then the chicken would flop around the yard. That was not a fun sight for the small child.

    1. I took chicken workshop last summer and the farmer who taught it processes some 100 chickens in one day and we practiced with the "cone". They claimed it to be the simplest method for newbies and I found it quite a good system.

  4. Oh the cone is attached solidly to a tree or post so it doesn't wiggle around. It can't be a wimpy cone. It has to be solid material. Metal is good.

  5. You should have seen me the first time I castrated a bull calf with a knife. The hardest part was having it almost strangled because we didn't have a chute and we had to tie it with ropes. It was the old fashioned way and from now on we use a chute. It works so much better for everybody. I know a lot of people use rubber bands to tie off and let the testicles atrophy. But that's the best system when you have many bull calves to castrate and there can be infection. There's no perfect way to get meat. It's just awful anyway you look at it and you just have to get really good at it so you are as humane as you can be.