Thelma and Louise, seeking refuge on the top of a plastic 55 gallon barrel. I put them up there with a handful of food so they could eat in peace.

We reached down and grabbed a pair last night, and butchered 13 roosters. I’m actually very proud of this. Taking the step from believing in eating local and raising your own food, to actually dispatching a living animal is a significant one. This was not my first rooster rodeo. We probably butchered our first roosters 7 or 8 years ago. But there is always that moment of pause, as you stand with a living breathing warm-to-the-touch bird in your hands, where you think, “can I really do this”?

What always puts me over the top is the bad behavior of the teenaged roosters. You may remember that one of our Red Star hens hatched out two chicks back on May 14th. Well, Mama finally decided a few weeks ago that she wanted to go back into the coop (after roosting in the blue spruce all winter – go figure). So the two female chicks were left to fend for themselves and were seen fleetingly, scratching around the house yard or roosting in the blue spruce themselves. I named them Thelma and Louise, and left food out for them.

We caught then in a large wire cage a couple of times and put them in the hen house, still in the cage, with food and water, to try to “teach” them that they were chickens and these were there “peeps”. But as soon as we let them out, they would fly over the fence and be back in the yard. So the last time I caught them, I trimmed their flight feathers so they had to stay in the chicken yard. And they were immediately force mated with every rooster in the coop. They are only 11 weeks old. They took up residence in a dark corner under the rabbit hutch and would not come out. And I realized in a visceral way that only a woman can, that it was past time to butcher some roosters. (They were born about April 1st, and so were about 17 weeks old.)

I had tried to find a local processor to come out and butcher for us (at $3 a bird – not a small price when you consider what you already have invested). But the only place I could find within 50 miles did not return my email or phone call (nice business strategy). So we were pressed to do it ourselves.

Years ago, before everyone and their brother wrote a blog, I found a post on how to butcher chickens. The author talked about how scalding, plucking and gutting chickens was a ton of work unless you have a chicken plucker, and there isn’t a whole lot of meat on dual purpose breeds anyway. So what they would do was remove the feet, partially skin the bird, and remove the leg/thigh and breast meat. The rest? Trash or compost. I’ve done the whole scalding/plucking/gutting thing the old-fashioned way. It takes forever. And there is nothing like the smell of wet dirty feathers and chicken guts for hours on end to make you remember “you know, you can buy this stuff at the store”.

RoosterLegsSo we opted for the leg/thigh/breast method and called it good. It took us about 2 hours to kill (no, I’m not going to say harvest – they are dead and we killed them. I take full responsibility for that) and butcher 13 roosters. We kept two. So we now have 30 hens (16 born this year) and two roosters (an “easter egger”, often mistakenly called an Araucana – to keep the blue egg gene going, and what is likely a Red Star/Speckled Sussex cross with beautiful white ruff and tail feathers. Neither was “top bird” in the roost, which should make them a bit more docile when it comes to trying to challenge me). Fancy, my older rooster, went to the great chicken heaven in the sky (he had gone after me when my back was turned one too many times – and his genetics will live on as most of the chicks this year were fathered by him).

I won’t go into all the gory details. There is a lot of great info and video on the net about how to butcher chickens. Google “Joel Salatin Butchering Chickens” for a place to start. Salatin talks about how his animals have a great life, and one bad day (or in the case of our roosters, maybe a bad 10 minutes). I have recently learned that home-grown chicken meat is a lot more tender if you let it “age” in the refrigerator for 24 to 48 hours before you freeze or eat it, so right now my fridge is full of two large metal bowls of chicken parts. I’ll let you know if the technique works. Free range chicken meat, especially rooster meat, can be tough as shoe leather, depending on how you cook it. I often resort to a pressure cooker, and always brine it first in a salt/sugar solution.

Phew. So glad that is over with. And a huge thank you to my husband, who took on the actual dispatching. His pair is well intact.

Miles Away Farm Blog © 2012, where we have a fridge full of free range chicken and peace in the hen house (or at least as peaceful as a hen house ever gets. Now Thelma and Louise are getting picked on by the older hens. Sigh.