How To Butcher A Chicken (for Homesteaders)

Whether you keep chickens on a traditional homestead or an urban homestead, butchering a chicken is a reality you must occasionally face, especially if you are raising meat chickens. While the prospect may seem unpleasant, the right methods help make the process painless for the chicken and easier on your conscience. What is the right way to butcher a chicken?

Butchering a chicken requires preparation, dispatching the chicken using a humane process, plucking the bird, cleaning, and gutting the carcass. Once the chicken has been properly processed, it is ready for cooking or for long-term storage in a freezer. It takes some getting used to for beginners.

We will cover everything on this topic, from preparing your processing area to storing your butchered chicken. We will also provide tips for those new to this process and those who might not have specialized equipment. The goal is not just to learn how to butcher a chicken but to do it in a way that is respectful to the animal and safe for you.

How To Harvest Meat Chickens

Butchering a chicken might seem daunting, especially if you’ve never done it before. However, with a little knowledge and practice, it’s a skill that anyone can master.

Not only does it provide a sense of self-sufficiency, but it also allows you to have complete control over the final moments of your chickens and the quality and preparation of your poultry.

There are many aspects to butchering a chicken, which involves preparation, despatching the chicken, processing the carcass, and storing the meat.

Despatching the chicken is the part that most people struggle with the first few times, but it does get a little easier with practice and knowing you use a method that does not cause the bird to suffer.

I still struggle with this aspect, even after doing it many times, and it is not a part of the process I relish. However, it gives me perspective on where my food comes from and greater respect and care for the animals I raise.

Preparing The Birds And Processing Area

Before you begin the process of butchering, it’s crucial to prepare both the birds and the processing area properly. This step is essential for maintaining hygiene, ensuring food safety, and making the entire process smoother and more efficient.

Setting Up The Processing Area

Choose a clean, well-lit, and spacious area for processing. This could be an outdoor space like a yard or a large indoor area like a garage. Ensure the area is easy to clean, as this process can get messy.

You’ll need a table or a counter for the actual butchering. Cover the surface with a plastic sheet or use a cutting board for easy cleanup. Have a large trash bin or compost bin nearby for waste disposal.

Gathering Necessary Equipment

The basic equipment you’ll need includes a sharp knife, a pair of kitchen shears, a large pot for scalding, and gloves for protection. If available, a chicken plucker can make the process faster, but it’s not essential.

Make sure all your tools are clean and sharp. Dull tools can make the process more difficult and can be dangerous.

Preparing The Birds

The birds should be withheld from food for 12-24 hours before butchering. This is called fasting or “withholding feed,” and it helps to clear out the bird’s digestive system, making the evisceration process cleaner. However, they should have access to water during this time.

Before you start, calm the bird to reduce stress. This can be done by covering the chicken’s eyes or gently restricting their movement.

Remember, preparation is key to a smooth butchering process. Setting up your processing area and preparing the birds properly will make the entire process more calm, efficient, and safer.

Dispatching Your Chicken

Dispatching, or humanely killing the chicken, is the first step in butchering. It is a critical step that should be done with respect, efficiency, and care to minimize stress and pain for the bird.

There are several methods to dispatch a chicken, but some are more appropriate in a commercial operation rather than a homestead setting.

Cervical Dislocation Method

Cervical dislocation involves breaking the neck of the chicken to cause immediate death. This method is quick and considered humane when done correctly.

  1. Calm the Bird: Start by calming the bird. This can be done by covering its eyes or holding it gently but firmly. The less stressed the bird is; the easier the process will be.
  2. Position the Bird: Hold the bird by its legs, with its head down. Some people find it helpful to use a killing cone—a funnel-shaped tool that holds the chicken in place.
  3. Perform the Dislocation: Place a broomstick or similar rod across the back of the chicken’s neck, close to the head. Step on the ends of the stick to secure it, then pull the chicken’s body upward firmly and swiftly. This should dislocate the neck, causing immediate death.

The Cone Method Of Dispatching The Chicken

Cervical dislocation is only one method of despatching your chicken before processing the bird. The method you choose should be one that you are most comfortable with and performed with care and respect for the animal. The goal is to cause as little stress and pain as possible.

The cone method is another popular method among homesteaders because it is quick and painless for the birds. This method involves placing the chicken upside down in a killing cone, a funnel-shaped tool that holds the chicken in place.

The chicken’s head is pulled through the narrow end of the cone, and a sharp knife is used to make a quick, deep cut across the throat. This method is quick and minimizes stress for the bird.

The Axe And Stump Method Of Despatching Chickens

This traditional method involves placing the chicken’s head on a chopping block and using a sharp axe to decapitate it.

Decapitation with an axe is a quick method for a painless death for the bird, but it requires practice, care, and a steady hand to get the blow right. While this method can be quick, it can be stressful for the bird and the person slaughtering the chicken.

Whichever method you choose, it’s important to prioritize the chicken’s welfare. The method should be quick, cause minimal stress, and result in immediate unconsciousness and death.

If you’re unsure or uncomfortable performing these methods yourself, consider seeking help from a professional or someone with experience.

The goal is to cause as little stress and pain as possible. If you’re uncomfortable with this process, it might be worth seeking help from someone experienced. Always treat the animal with respect and care.

Dispatching is a difficult but necessary part of the butchering process. By doing it humanely and respectfully, you’re ensuring the process is as stress-free as possible for both you and the bird.

Bleed The Chicken Carcass

After dispatching, it’s important to let the chicken bleed out completely. This can be done by cutting the throat just beneath the jaw and allowing the blood to drain.

Obviously, this is only necessary when the method used to despatch the chicken does not involve decapitation or throat-cutting.

This step, known as exsanguination, ensures the removal of most of the blood, which can affect the taste and shelf-life of the meat.

Scalding The Bird

After dispatching and bleeding out the chicken, the next step is scalding. Scalding involves immersing the chicken in hot water to loosen the feathers, making plucking easier.

The following process can be used to scald the bird prior to plucking.

  1. Prepare the scalding water. Fill a large pot with enough water to fully submerge the chicken. Heat the water to a temperature between 145°F and 165°F. Maintaining the correct temperature is crucial. If the water is too hot, it can start to cook the skin and make plucking difficult. If it’s too cool, it won’t effectively loosen the feathers.
  2. Immerse the chicken. Once the water is at the correct temperature, fully immerse the chicken in the water. It’s important to dunk the bird several times to ensure the hot water reaches the skin under the feathers. This process should take about 30 seconds to a minute.
  3. Check the bird. Pull a few feathers to check if the bird is ready for plucking. If they come out easily, the bird is ready. If not, dunk the bird a few more times.

Scalding is a simple but important step in the butchering process. It makes the plucking process easier and results in a cleaner, more presentable bird. Remember, the key to effective scalding is maintaining the correct water temperature and fully immersing the bird.

Plucking The Chicken

Once the bird has been properly scalded, the next step is plucking. This process involves removing all the feathers from the chicken’s body to prepare it for evisceration and cleaning.

The following is an example of the plucking process.

  1. Start plucking with larger feathers. Begin by pulling out the larger feathers from the wings and tail. These are typically the toughest to remove, so it’s best to start with them while the bird is still warm from scalding.
  2. Move to the body. After the larger feathers are removed, move on to the smaller feathers on the body. Use your fingers to pluck the feathers, pulling in the direction of the feather growth to avoid tearing the skin.
  3. Remove pin feathers. Pin feathers are small, new feathers that can be difficult to remove. They appear as small dots on the chicken’s skin. You can use the tip of a knife or a pair of tweezers to pull them out.
  4. Check for remaining feathers. Once you’ve plucked the chicken, check for any remaining feathers. Pay special attention to areas like the armpits and the back of the bird, as feathers can often be missed here.
  5. Rinse the bird. After all the feathers have been removed, rinse the bird thoroughly. This will help remove any remaining feather debris and prepare the bird for the next step.

Plucking can be time-consuming, but it’s essential for preparing the bird for cooking. If you find hand-plucking too labor-intensive, there are mechanical pluckers available that can speed up the process. However, hand-plucking is usually the most practical method for the home butcher.

The goal is to remove all the feathers without damaging the bird’s skin. With a little patience and care, you’ll be left with a clean, feather-free chicken ready for the next steps.

Cleaning The Chicken

After the bird has been plucked, the next step is cleaning. This involves removing the oil gland, which can give the meat a bitter taste if left not removed, and washing the outside of the chicken.

Removing The Oil Gland

The oil gland, also known as the preen gland, is located at the base of the tail. Chickens use the oil from this gland to preen and waterproof their feathers. When butchering, removing this gland is important to prevent any off-flavors in the meat.

  1. Locate the gland. The oil gland is a small, bulb-like structure located at the base of the tail. It’s usually yellowish in color.
  2. Cut around the gland. Using a sharp knife, make cuts around the gland, being careful not to cut into it.
  3. Remove the gland. Once you’ve cut around it, you should be able to lift the gland away from the body. If it doesn’t come away easily, make sure you’ve cut through all the surrounding tissue.

Washing The Chicken

After the oil gland has been removed, it’s time to wash the chicken. This helps to remove any remaining feathers, dirt, or debris from the skin.

  1. Rinse the chicken. Using cold water, rinse the outside of the chicken thoroughly. Make sure to rinse under the wings and around the legs.
  2. Check for remaining feathers. While rinsing the chicken, check for any remaining or pin feathers. If you find any, remove them.

Properly cleaning the chicken is an important step in the butchering process. It not only helps to improve the appearance of the bird, but it also prepares it for the next step, removing the internal organs.

Gutting The Chicken (Evisceration)

Evisceration, or gutting, is the process of removing the chicken’s internal organs. This step is crucial in the butchering process as it prepares the chicken for cooking or freezing.

It’s important to perform this step carefully to avoid puncturing any internal organs, which could contaminate the meat.

The following steps detail the process of removing the chicken’s internal organs.

  1. Make the initial cut. Position the chicken on its back. Locate the vent and make a small cut around it. Be careful not to cut too deep and puncture the intestines.
  2. Enlarge the opening. Once the initial cut is made, carefully enlarge the opening by cutting towards the neck. This should create a large enough opening to remove the internal organs.
  3. Remove the organs. Reach inside the chicken and gently pull out the internal organs. You’ll need to reach quite far to get everything. The organs should come out together, but you may need to cut them free from the front of the bird.
  4. Identify and remove specific organs. There are a few organs you must identify and deal with specifically. The chicken’s crop, located at the base of the neck, should be carefully cut out. The gizzard, a muscular part of the stomach, can be cut open, cleaned, and saved for cooking. The liver should be removed carefully, ensuring not to burst the attached gall bladder, which contains bitter bile.
  5. Remove the lungs. The lungs, located towards the backbone, are often the most difficult organs to remove. You’ll need to scrape them out with your fingers or a special lung scraper.
  6. Rinse the Chicken: Once all the organs have been removed, rinse the inside of the chicken thoroughly with cold water. Make sure to remove any remaining blood or organ debris.

Evisceration can be a bit daunting, especially for beginners, but it’s a crucial part of the butchering process. With some practice, you can learn to quickly and efficiently gut a chicken. The key aspect is to remove all the internal organs without contaminating the meat.

Chilling The Whole Chickens

After the chicken has been eviscerated, the next step is chilling. This step is crucial for slowing the growth of bacteria and preserving the quality of the meat. It also helps to firm up the meat, making it easier to cut and package.

  1. Prepare an ice bath. Fill a large container or sink with a mixture of ice and water. The water should be cold enough to chill the chicken quickly, so don’t skimp on the ice.
  2. Submerge the chicken. Place the chicken in the ice bath, ensuring it’s fully submerged. If you’re chilling multiple chickens, ensure they’re not tightly packed. Each bird should have enough space for the cold water to circulate around it.
  3. Chill the chicken. Let the chicken chill in the ice bath for at least 20 minutes or until the body cavity feels cold to the touch. You may need to chill for up to an hour for larger birds.
  4. Drain and dry. After chilling, remove the chicken from the ice bath. Let it drain, and then pat it dry with clean towels.

Chilling is an important step in the butchering process. It helps to ensure the meat’s safety and quality and prepares the chicken for the final steps of butchering.

Rapid chilling is the goal to chill the chicken quickly and thoroughly to slow the growth of bacteria and preserve the quality of the meat.

Bagging Or Wrapping The Chickens For The Freezer

Once the chicken has been properly chilled, it’s time to prepare it for storage. Proper packaging is crucial for preserving the quality of the meat and preventing freezer burn.

There are several methods for packaging chicken for the freezer, but we’ll focus on two of the most common: bagging and wrapping.

Bagging The Chicken For Freezing

Bagging is a simple and effective method for storing chicken. You’ll need freezer bags that are large enough to hold a whole chicken.

  1. Prepare the chicken. Make sure the chicken is fully drained and patted dry before bagging. Any excess moisture can lead to ice crystals forming inside the bag.
  2. Bag the chicken. Place the chicken in the freezer bag. Arrange it in a way that will take up the least amount of space in your freezer.
  3. Seal the bag. Press out as much air as possible from the bag before sealing it. The less air in the bag, the less chance of freezer burn.

Wrapping The Chicken For Freezing

If you prefer, you can also wrap the chicken in freezer paper. The wrapping method can be a bit more time-consuming, but it’s a good option if you’re short on freezer bags.

  1. Prepare the bird. As with bagging, make sure the chicken is fully drained and patted dry before wrapping.
  2. Wrap the chicken. Place the chicken on a sheet of freezer paper and fold the paper around the chicken, making sure it’s fully covered.
  3. Seal the wrap. Use freezer tape to secure the wrap. Make sure all edges are sealed to prevent air from getting in.

Whether you bag or wrap your chicken, remember to label each package with the date. This will help you track how long the chicken has been in the freezer. Properly stored, a whole chicken can last up to a year in the freezer.

Chicken Butchering Tips For Beginners

Butchering a chicken is not easy, especially the first time you face this challenge. I can offer the following tips, which may help you get through the process easier.

  1. Take your time. Don’t rush the process. Take your time to ensure each step is done correctly and humanely.
  2. Stay calm. Feeling a bit nervous is normal, especially the first few times. Try to stay as calm as possible and remember that the task will get easier with practice.
  3. Learn from others. If possible, try to learn from someone with experience butchering chickens. They can provide valuable tips and guidance.
  4. Practice safety. Always prioritize safety. Use sharp tools carefully and ensure your workspace is clean and secure.
  5. Respect the animal. The chicken is giving its life for your sustenance. Treat it with respect and gratitude.

Butchering a chicken is a valuable skill that can provide you with fresh, high-quality poultry. As a beginner, don’t be discouraged if you initially find the process challenging. You’ll soon become proficient at it with patience, practice, and respect for the animal.

Chicken Butchering FAQs

I had some questions when I first started out butchering chickens, so answering some of these may be helpful to other chicken keepers. These answers should provide additional insights and help clarify any uncertainties about the process.

1. Is It Cheaper To Butcher Your Own Chicken?

Yes, it can be cheaper to butcher your own chicken, especially if you’re raising the chickens yourself. You’ll save on the cost of purchasing chicken from a store and have control over the entire process, ensuring the quality and freshness of the meat.

Some homesteaders cannot come to terms with butchering their chickens and prefer to outsource this task to a slaughterhouse. This option is only cost-effective if you have many birds to slaughter at one time, which often poses a storage problem once you need to freeze all the meat.

2. How Long Should A Chicken Hang Before Butchering?

This depends on the temperature and your personal preference. Some people prefer to let the chicken hang for a few hours to a day to allow the muscles to relax, which can improve the texture of the meat.

However, it’s best to butcher the chicken immediately after dispatching it to prevent bacterial growth in warmer temperatures.

3. Can I Butcher A Chicken At Home?

You can butcher a chicken at home as long as you follow safe and humane procedures. Make sure you have a clean, suitable workspace and the necessary tools. Always prioritize the welfare of the animal and food safety.

As an urban homesteader, you may face local by-law restrictions regarding butchering chickens at home. You should consult your local authorities to establish the legalities of this activity in your area.

4. How Old Should A Chicken Be Before Butchering?

Most meat chickens, or broilers, are butchered between 6 to 7 weeks of age, when they’ve reached the desired weight but before they’ve developed a strong flavor.

For heritage breeds or laying hens, you might wait until they’re several months to a couple of years old.

5. How Long Can You Keep A Butchered Chicken In The Freezer?

A properly stored, whole chicken can last up to a year in the freezer. However, for the best quality, it’s recommended to use frozen chicken within six months.


Butchering a chicken is a hands-on process that requires patience, precision, and respect for the animal. While it may seem daunting at first, especially for beginners, it’s a skill that can be mastered with practice.

The aim is not just to learn how to butcher a chicken but to do so in a humane, safe, and respectful way. By following these steps and tips, you can ensure that you’re getting the highest quality meat while knowing that the animal was treated with care.


Owen Jung

Owen is the co-founder of Our Daily Homestead. Own grew up in his parent's homestead in Illinois and learned all things gardening, sustainability, and off-grid living while he was young. He now shares his knowledge through this website.

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