It’s the hardest part of homesteading. We have such conflicting feelings over it. On one hand, we find it empowering to fill our freezer with meat that we’ve raised ourselves from start to finish. To know where our meat comes from, what all it’s been fed and to know that we can do it all ourselves is a really great feeling. On the other hand, it makes us a little sad. Even though we know from the beginning we are raising the animals for meat, we don’t name them, and tell ourselves we can’t get attached, well… we still do. It’s just hard not to get attached when you spend months taking care of them.
It’s tough; the first time was especially tough for us. Turkeys were the very first animals we grew for food and the very first animals we butchered ourselves. I remember we were so nervous and wondered if we’d do everything right. Then we questioned if we’d be able to follow through with it because, well… we got attached. Luckily we have a very nice neighbor that came over and helped us through the process. I have to say, if it wasn’t for his help, we probably wouldn’t have followed through with it. If you’re considering butchering your own animals for the first time, I’d highly recommend finding someone with experience to guide you through it. It sure made it a lot easier for us. Once it was all done, we found it really wasn’t as bad as we thought it would be.
I’ve had several people ask me, “How can you butcher and eat an animal you’ve raised?” Or “Isn’t it sad to butcher an animal after you’ve spent so much time caring for it?” So I’ve come up with several ways that we reconcile the process to make it easier get through.
Home raised animals are usually healthier because they are fed a higher quality diet. In addition to feed, our chickens and turkeys are allowed to free range around our place so they have a more natural diet like they’re intended to. Not only is eating bugs and grazing grass a lot healthier for them, but it also gives them plenty of exercise. The healthier the animals are the higher quality the meat is.
Homestead animals generally have happier lives compared to industrial raised animals. Once our chickens and turkeys are old enough, they spend every day running outside in the sunshine, scratching in the dirt and chasing bugs until their hearts are content. Our pigs have their own small pasture where they can run and play, plus several mud holes where they can have unlimited mud baths. In addition to that, they’re raised with love and treated kindly.
When it comes time to butcher, the whole process is less stressful for homestead animals because they are able to remain in familiar surroundings and have the same routine up until the end. In our opinion, it’s a lot more humane than what animals that are processed in industrial facilities go through.
We grow lots of other things on our homestead, and so why not raise our own meat too? If you would have told me 4 years ago that we’d eventually raise and butcher our own turkeys and chickens, I would have said you were crazy. Back then there was no way and no how would I have wanted to do that! Since then, it just sort of evolved. Once we started growing our own vegetables, got chickens and goats for eggs and milk, it just seemed senseless to buy meat at the store when we have plenty of room on our homestead to raise our own.
If you eat meat, it’s got to come from somewhere, whether you’re the one to cut it up or someone else does. In today’s culture we’ve become so detached from this concept. For most of us, if we want to grill chicken, we just run to the grocery store and pick up a package. We don’t want to give much thought about the living chicken with feathers and a beating heart or even the process it took to get it into the package because well… it just seems gross to think about. Yep… that was my thinking before we started raising our own. Since then, I’ve found that it’s given our whole family a new respect for where our food comes from. Although it’s not one of the most pleasant jobs we do around here, and we do feel a little sad each time we have to do it, it’s a great feeling to know that our family has learned a skill that’s becoming extinct in today’s culture.
If you would like to see what our chicken processing set up is like, you can check out this video…
I’m totally with you, Shelly – if you eat meat it has to come from somewhere and I would much rather eat meat from an animal I know had a happy and healthy life and a swift, stress-free ending. I had similar mixed emotions when I processed my first bird earlier this year, but it was fine in the end. Love your set-up! I’ve only done one so far and it was all manual, but the de-feathering is definitely the most time-consuming part so if I was doing a big batch in one go I would definitely want one of those spinners. It must be wonderful to have a freezer full of your own chicken. Enjoy!
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Thank you! Yes, after doing a bunch of previous batches without a plucker, it’s a definite must have because it makes it so much faster and easier. We put off buying a lot of special equipment because we wanted to make sure that butchering was something we’d want to continue to do. Now we know for sure it is and that it’s a heck of a lot easier with the equipment, so I think we’re going to look into getting our own.
Yes, it is, very nice to have a freezer full of chicken. 🙂
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Interesting post Shelly! You have a great setup. We have egg-laying chickens and have had to butcher some of them. My husband does it but it is tough because we don’t have the equipment. I will admit that I get grossed out by it though I try to get over it. By the way do you have any tips for cooking old hens!?
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Thank you, Dara! Yes, the equipment makes it so much easier! We could have almost doubled the number we did this time and gotten them done in the time it took us to do the same amount with no equipment. I’m with you on getting grossed out! I want to learn so bad but thinking of doing the gutting part makes me want to gag… maybe one of these years I’ll get over it. For right now I’m happy being the plucker. Luckily it doesn’t bother my daughter so she helps.
I don’t have any tips for cooking old hens. I’ve read that it’s best to cook them in a pot of water and make them into stew or soup but I haven’t actually tried it. We’ve butchered standard breed roosters before and they were so tough we couldn’t eat them. I even tried letting them rest several days longer than we normally do the the meat birds and they were still tough. So we’ve pretty much decided to stick to just butchering meat birds. Not only are they more tender and meaty but they are also a whole lot easier to butcher because they have less feathers and their bodies are wider so they’re easier to gut. We usually sell or give away the roosters and old hens we don’t want anymore.
Right there with you sister!!! We’ve only butchered our extra roosters when they have come of age. We just processed 6, with 3 -4 (one is undecided whether he/she will be a he or a she – we just can’t tell yet.) more within the next 3 weeks. We give them a great life, Shelly – as do you, so I just keep in mind that they have a great life….and only one bad day (moment really!!) I heard that from someone….it has become my anthem!!!! Beautiful turkeys on that table!!
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That’s a great way to look at it, I’ll have to remember that! Thank you!