Butchering the Backyard Chicken

set-up for butcheringSome time in July, between netting salmon and harvesting cucumbers, the time arrives for the chickens to transition from the yard to the freezer. These little gems are between six and eight weeks old when I butcher. I buy day-old Cornish-Rock cross birds (actually, I get them in the mail – my post office is great about calling me the morning the birds arrive.) I’m not going to go into the details of raising them here. If you are interested, I will create another post on that topic.

Slaughtering a chicken

Insert the tip of the knife to the right of the neck bone with the blade facing out. Slide along the bone toward the front of the bird and pull the blade out to sever the muscle and buried artery.

This is an old traffic cone I nailed to a board. The cone hugs the bird’s limbs so it doesn’t break a leg or wing and it allows me to humanely sever the artery in the neck. The chicken barely makes a sound as the blood drains into a bucket below, and eventually just “goes to sleep,” as the neighborhood kids like to say. (I seem to always have an audience, but then, I am in my front yard, so what do I expect?)

Removing limbs

Once the bird is dead, remove the neck, legs, and wing tips. If you pluck, you may want to keep the wing tips, but I prefer skinless chicken, and there’s not much meat on the tips, anyway.


Carefully slide a thin knife up the breastbone between the meat and the skin, then pull it back to expose the meat.

breast exposed

off like a sweater

Pull the skin down the back and off the “arms” like removing a sweater, then the same with the legs until the skin comes off. Cut off the tail.

body cavity

Now that the skin is removed, it is time to open the body cavity. Be careful not to nick any internal organs as you slice the thin muscle just below the breastbone.


Pull out the innards. Don’t forget to scoop out the lungs, which nestle between the ribs. If you want to save the liver, heart, and gizzard, put them aside.

Then dig your finger on either side of the backbone to remove the kidneys.kidney

Dig your finger on either side of the backbone to remove the kidneys.

hose it out

To really get the last bits of kidney removed, I jet out the inside with the hose.

Check for any bits of stuff you wouldn’t want to eat, paying particular attention to the neck area and the crevasses between the body and thigh.

I don’t recommend eating poultry immediately after butchering because rigor mortis makes the meat tough. I place the birds in a big cooler with ice water (well water here is around 38˚ F. If you need to use ice, do it.) Let them soak 24 hours, which allows the muscles to relax and removes extra blood. Then cut them up and freeze them according to your preferences.

cold waterLet me know what you think of my method! I’m always open to suggestions.

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8 thoughts on “Butchering the Backyard Chicken

  1. marlenedotterer

    I have never killed a chicken, nor seen it done. But this method does seem easier than what people have described to me. How difficult is it to get the chicken into the cone? Surely they aren’t very happy about it.

    1. Tam Linsey Post author

      The chickens aren’t very happy about being caught in the first place 🙂 But they are used to me coming in and touching them to check them over every day by this point, so they don’t put up much of a fight.

      I hold the bird upside down by the feet and with my other hand keep the wings pressed to its back. It goes into the cone very easily from there. I do have to pull its head down and out the bottom sometimes, but that’s not hard.

      I find this system much more humane than chopping its head off and letting it run around and make a bloody mess, plus it can break its legs and wings while running around. And with bears in the neighborhood, I want to make sure I can clean up the yard as best I can after butchering is done.

  2. Morgan

    I’ve always wondered how you did it and the pictures help. Not sure I’ll ever do it myself, but I might use it in a future story! Of course you’ll get to proof it before it gets released. Interesting stuff!

  3. DeNise

    I appreciate you graphic illustrations. This isn’t for the faint of heart-but food in the freezer trumps all.

    1. Tam Linsey Post author

      Plus, it hasn’t been fed hormones or chemicals, or the meat soaked in bleach like commercial chicken! I can’t stomach poultry from the store. Blech.


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