How to Butcher a Chicken on the Cheap

How to Butcher a Chicken on the Cheap - You don't have to rent or buy expensive equipment to butcher your home-raised chickens! by The Self Sufficient HomeAcre

How to Butcher a Chicken

Do you want to know how to butcher a chicken? I butcher my home-raised chickens so that my family has access to clean meat that was raised and slaughtered humanely.

I’ve been doing this for years because my family is opposed to the inhumane treatment of animals in factory farms. In fact, I first butchered chickens with my Dad when I was a kid! So you could say I know a thing or two about processing home-raised chickens for meat.

This post is intended to show you how to butcher a chicken at home without renting or buying any special equipment. You might be interested in a plucker attachment for a drill to speed up the process of plucking. I haven’t actually tried one because I’m cheap thrifty.

Read my handy instructions on How to Butcher a Turkey and How to Butcher a Duck!

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Here’s What You Need for Butchering a Chicken…

  • Sharp knife – I try to have 2 or 3 sharp knives on hand
  • Axe or Hatchet – I use a hatchet that belonged to my Grandfather
  • Work Table – set up an easy to clean surface at a comfortable height
  • Bucket – to catch the blood, feathers, and innards
  • Container & Ice – for keeping the processed birds clean and chilled

Are You Ready?

Ok…I’ve given you fair warning…there are a lot of photos in this post to show the complete process. Readers should be advised that some of the photos may not be very pleasant to look at. There’s some blood involved in this whole affair. So if you don’t want to look at these images, you may want to reconsider butchering chickens at home.

All of the following images are of me, processing my own chickens at home. I can’t afford a stunt double. Thanks to my family for taking the photos. 🙂

Cornish Cross chickens at 7 weeks old - ready to butcher for meat.
These cornish cross chickens have reached their ideal size for processing.

Getting Ready to Butcher

Withhold feed overnight from the birds that will be butchered. This helps to clean out their digestive tract for cleaner gutting.  Be sure to provide as much fresh clean water as they want.

setting up to butcher chickens
Scalding pot on a burner in the foreground, countertop on sawhorses for a work station. A ‘behind the scenes’ look at my homestead.

Have everything set up ahead of time. Make sure your knife is very sharp. Set up a table for final processing, a bucket of water with a bit of bleach and some rags for cleaning the knife and the table, a container for the feathers and guts, and a burner with a scalding pot (and a kitchen thermometer) all ready to go.

chicken I am about to butcher
I pet the chicken and calm it down to prevent undue stress before they die.

1. Step One – Killing the Chicken

You may use a killing cone to hold the chicken while you nick the arteries in the neck and bleed the birds out. I have tried the killing cone method and I feel that decapitation is faster and more humane…and you don’t need any additional equipment.

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Decapitate the chicken with a hatchet or ax. To hold the bird still, put the chicken into a feed bag with a hole cut in one corner for the head to poke through. This allows you to hold the bird still so you don’t miss the neck with the ax and also prevents the carcass from flopping around and bruising the meat.

I use an old feed bag with one corner cut off to hold the bird. I put the head through the hole and hold the bird in place.

Sever the neck with a sharp ax quickly.

calming the chicken
Once again, I pet the chicken to calm it so that the end of its life isn’t as traumatic.

Allow it to bleed out and wait for the reflexes to stop.

bleeding the chicken out
Allow the chicken to bleed out. Killing is the hardest part of the job for me. But I have made the intentional decision to provide humanely raised meat for my family.

Wash the bird off to remove feces and dirt.

washing off the chicken carcass
Wash off any feces or dirt with a good stream of clean water from the hose.

2. Step Two – Scalding for Easy Plucking

Once it is cleaned off, dunk the carcass into a pot of scalding water (145 to 150 F) for 1 minute. This makes it much easier to pluck the feathers. Be sure your water is up to the right temp before you start chopping heads off. You may want to add a drop of dish soap to make the scalding water penetrate the feathers better.

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Be sure to scald the feet too. This will make it easy to peel off the skin, so you can use the cleaned feet for making broth if you like.

Note: I use an extra electric burner to heat my scalding pot. If you don’t have an electric outlet nearby you could use a propane burner. Exercise caution when working with wet birds and electricity! I use a grounded outlet that is well above and to the side of the water to prevent electrocuting myself.

Scalding the chicken
Scald the chickens at 145 – 150 F…this makes plucking easy even without a plucking machine.

3. Step Three – Plucking the Feathers

Plucking is quick and easy if the bird is scalded properly. If the water is too cool, the feathers don’t come off easily. If the water is too hot, the skin will cook and pull away from the meat as you pluck.

scalded chicken
Scalded and ready to pluck.

If the scalding is done properly, most of the feathers will just rub off as you run your hand over them. The wing and tail feathers require a bit more force.

Pull the skin off of the feet if you are saving them to make gelatin or bone broth.

Peeling the skin off the feet
Scalded feet are easy to peel and are good for making bone broth.
Plucking the chicken
If the bird is properly scalded, the feathers should come off easily.

After plucking, give the carcass another rinse.

Rinsing off the feathers

4. Step Four – Remove the Feet

You may remove the feet now, or after gutting if you prefer.

To remove the feet, locate the joint where the lower leg and drumstick meet.

Removing the feet
I remove the feet at the ‘knee’ joint using a knife my parents have had since I was a kid growing up on the farm.

Cut through the skin and ligaments holding the joint together.

Removing the feet at the knee joint
You don’t want to cut bone or cartilage, that will dull your knife.

You do not want to cut through bone or cartilage, you just want to cut the stringy ligaments. Bend the joint as you work to make it easier.

Both feet have been removed

5. Step Five – Remove the Oil Gland

You may remove the oil gland after evisceration also. Be careful not to squeeze the oil out onto the carcass.

Removing the oil gland from the top of the tail.

The oil gland is located on the top of the tail. It’s the bump that looks kind of like a big pimple. Cut around and under to remove it without getting the oil onto the carcass. (I’ve read that the oil gland will give the cooked bird a gamey flavor if it isn’t removed. I can neither confirm nor deny this, since I have always removed it.)

Removing the oil gland from the tail
Be careful not to get the oil gland contents on the carcass.

6. Step Six – Gutting

Now it is time to remove the innards. Be careful when cutting into the abdomen. You don’t want to puncture the intestines and spill feces into the body cavity. (I keep bleach water on hand in case I do get feces on the meat. I rinse with the bleach water and then with clean water.)

It is easier if you pinch and lift the skin of the abdomen with one hand and use a sharp knife to cut just beneath this pinched spot with the other hand.

Cutting open the body cavity
Cutting open the body cavity to remove the innards.

Once the initial cut is made you will see where the innards are and you can avoid cutting into them. Locate the rectum leading up to the vent.

Cutting around the vent
Cutting around the vent to remove the intestines.

Cut around the vent, being careful not to cut into the intestines. You may use one hand to hold the rectum and intestines out of the way.  The back of the vent will be attached to the inside of the body cavity with some stringy tissue. You’ll need to sever the connective tissue.

Removing the vent
Removing the intestines
The vent has been cut free. There is tissue connecting the rectum to the inside of the spine, cut through this.

After vent is cut free, begin pulling the intestines gently from the body cavity.

Removing the vent and intestines

Once the vent is pulled away from the body, you can increase the size of the incision and insert your hand into the body cavity.

Eviscerating the chicken
Pulling the intestines out. The dark object is the liver.

Use your hand to carefully lift the bulk of the intestines out. The liver and gizzard will be attached to the intestines.

Pulling the gizzard out
Pulling the gizzard out

During this process, you want to pull gently so that the intestines don’t rupture and spill feces into the body cavity.

Loosening the crop from the inside of the skin of the neck
To remove the entire digestive system in one go, you will need to pull the crop away from the inside of the skin of the neck.

The other end of the intestines will be attached to the gizzard. Use your hand to scoop the gizzard out.

You may be able to pull the heart, liver, and crop out all in one piece. You will need to loosen the crop where it is attached to the skin of the neck/chest area to do this.

Cut the intestines away from the gizzard if you wish to save it.

chicken heart

If you are saving the gizzard, you will need to slice it open and clean it. Slice from hole to hole and open it up. Inside will be grit and possibly some food. Dump this out and rinse the gizzard.

Cutting the gizzard open to clean it.

Once you have the gizzard washed off, you will be able to see the tough, yellow lining. This needs to be peeled away. It is a bit tricky to get started, but then it will come off fairly easy.

Peeling the inside of the gizzard
Peeling the tough lining of the gizzard.

The liver has a green bile sac. This needs to be cut away without spilling the green bile on the liver. I try to cut a little bit of the liver away with the bile sac to prevent contaminating the liver with bitter bile.

chicken liver

The lungs are a bit harder to locate. You will find them nestled into the rib cage in the chest cavity. Use your fingers to sweep them from the rib cage. I feed these back to the chickens or cook them for the dog.

chicken lung

After all of the innards have been removed, rinse the carcass thoroughly, inside and out with cold water.

7. Step Seven of How to Butcher a Chicken – Cleaning Up and Chilling

If you wish, you can burn away any pin feathers with a rolled-up piece of newspaper that is lit on fire. I haven’t found many pin feathers on the Cornish x meat birds, but older birds such as roosters and stewing hens do have them.

Dressed chicken

Now that you have finished dressing your chicken, give it another thorough rinse, pick any remaining feathers, and put it in the refrigerator for 24 to 48 hours before cooking. If the meat is not allowed to relax, it will be tough.

If you plan to freeze the chicken, you can leave it in the refrigerator overnight or you can freeze it right away. Just be sure to pull the frozen bird out and let it thaw completely before cooking it. I have had good luck with this method.

To prevent freezer burn from ruining your poultry, use shrink wrap poultry bags or a vacuum sealer system to remove air. I have kept vacuum-sealed chickens in the freezer for up to 4 years without any damage to the meat from freezer burn.

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  • Make sure you have everything you need on hand before you start processing your birds.
  • Be sure to withhold feed overnight before butchering. This will make gutting much easier, especially when you are learning. If you are butchering an injured chicken and didn’t have the option of withholding feed, be especially careful when gutting to keep the carcass clean.
  • If you are butchering large numbers of birds, you may wish to rent or buy a chicken plucker. This helps speed up the process however it is not a necessary piece of equipment and I have never used one.
  • Work quickly and carefully. You want to chill your birds quickly to prevent the growth of nasty bacteria. But don’t sacrifice your own safety…be especially careful when you are using the hatchet or knife. The last thing you want is to end up in the emergency room with an injury.
  • It’s best if you have a helper on hand to share the responsibilities. If you are working alone, keep your cell phone in your pocket in case you get a nasty cut. Safety first!

This tutorial is intended for educational purposes. If you engage in these activities, you do so at your own risk. This is how I process my chickens. You may find other ways that suit you better.

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How to Butcher a Chicken on the Cheap - You don't have to rent or buy expensive equipment to butcher your home-raised chickens! by The Self Sufficient HomeAcre

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