Real Chicken

Posted · 74 Comments

Vamos a la playa, caliental sol. (The sun is heating, let’s go to the beach)
Shi-bi-di-bi-di, Po-rom-pom-pom.

It was this old Spanish tune that my Abuela Rora would sing as we’d walk in the early, salty, brisk air of Chipiona, Spain.  One hand clutching her wheeled market bag and the other mine, we’d head off to the Plaza to buy our food for the day.  On one particular morning, instead of our normal route we ventured off course. With her market bag thumping behind us, we winded down a small cobblestone street when I began to hear noises.  “What is that?” I asked my Abuela.  “Gallinas,” (Chickens).  I slowly looked up at my Abuela when she said, “we’re here.”

I was 11 years old when my Abuela taught me what to look for in a live chicken.  She told me to look at their feet and bright red tallons.  If they looked tired in the eyes… pass.  It had to be a gallina, an older chicken, which carries the most fat.  As we looked them over one by one, she let me choose which one to bring home.


In today’s society, chickens are no longer bred or raised as they were in days past. Today an average chicken is raised for a mere 5 weeks.  They are bred to be breast heavy weighing anywhere from 6 to 8 pounds.  If one of these chickens lives past 6 weeks, they will die of internal collapse.  We have bred obese chickens void of any fat or flavor.
Being from Iowa, I live within our industrial food system.  It only takes ten minutes driving out of the city to see where most of our processed and fast food industry gets their chicken.
Chicken confinement without any windows stretches over a half mile.
Eating chicken was once a luxury.  The Sunday roast was a special occasion meant to be saved for the finest meat and eaten as a family.  Today, chicken is cheap.  Plastic wrapped in single pieces, tossed with plain veggies and fat free spray oil.  And the nourishment in this chicken?  Well… how healthy would you be if you never saw the day of light and were kept in a tightly squeezed room with thousands of other people?
For me, I decided to take a different route.  The route that my Abuela Rora took me on 20 years ago.  For the past 16 weeks, I have been raising heritage breed Buff Orpington chickens in my backyard for meat.
Heritage breed animals are traditional breeds of animals that were raised in the past.  Due to our industrial food system, their numbers have drastically fallen and in the last 15 years, almost 200 breeds of farm animals have gone extinct worldwide.  Heritage breed animals are better suited to open pastures, to withstand disease and tolerate the open environment.
I now understand why chicken meat was once a luxury.  It takes time and energy to raise these chickens in a sustainable manner.  For 16 weeks, I started every morning by moving my chicken tractor to a different part of my yard.  I fed them a natural feed and towards the final weeks gave them extra weeds from my community garden, whey and clabber from fresh raw milk.  The whey acting as a natural dewormer.  I paid attention to them as they basked in the sunlight with plenty of room to spread their wings.  This is how God intended for animals to be raised.
What will follow are the next steps to raising your own meat.  Field dressing a chicken.  As difficult as this may seem, it’s how I feel I can do my part to ensue sustainability.  By giving these live stock the best conditions in how they are raised and humanely take their life, I feel it’s showing my utmost respect to the animal.  After all, we are all living and breathing.  Remember, in order for one to keep living, one must die (spiritually as well).
Field Dressing a Chicken
There are plenty of websites that can show you the graphic representation of culling a chicken.  My step by step process is not graphic and meant to encourage you to think about raising your own chickens even in an urban backyard.

Step 1: Mise en place. Before starting on the process, make sure to gather all necessary equipment and set up your stations for organization and hygiene. 

What you will need: 

  1. A sharp knife.
  2. A culling station with somewhere to hang the chicken.
  3. A rounded cone and bucket for the cull and to drain the blood.
  4. A large container with water at 180 – 190 degrees fahrenheit.  Just under boiling.
  5. A de-feathering station.
  6. A cleaning station with a water hose or outdoor sink.
  7. A trash can.
  8. A large container or ice chest filled with ice.
  9. 2 1/2 gallon ziplock bags.
  10. A mason jar to save the chicken fat within the cavities.
  11. Small ziplock bags to save the chicken livers and/or gizzards.
Step 2:  The Cull. Catch a chicken and place him into the cone facing head down.  This will allow his wings to be held together and not flap so violently after death.  Bring the chickens head down and with a very sharp knife, slice just below the jaw line and into the jugular, an artery.  This will allow the blood to drain.  As soon as the blood starts draining the chicken immediately passes out and dies.
Allow the chicken to hang for a minute or two and then cut the head off.  Once the head is cut off, let the chicken hang for another minute or two to make sure all of the blood has drained (It’s really not that much blood).
Step 3: Plunge the chicken into the hot water bath for 45 seconds to 1 minute.  This allows some of the fat to melt around the pin feathers making it easier to de-feather. 

Step 4: De-Feather. Quickly tuck the chickens legs under his breast and begin to pull out the pin feathers from around the wings and tails first as these can be difficult to pull out once the bird cools.

Step 5: Cleaning the chicken. Cut the feet off at the joint. 


After you have cut the feet off, starting at the neck, find two tubes that are binded together.  The crop and the esophagus.  Separate them and pull each one down the neck as far down as you can and cut them off.

Next.  Turn your bird around, feet facing up, to begin to cut the bird open. 

  1. Make your first cut right below the chickens vent.
  2. From the tip of the rib cage, in a triangular shape, cut down to where you made your first incision.  Make sure to cut through the fat until you start to see the inside of the cavity.
  3. Grab the open flesh and coming down in a triangular shape on the other side, cut it off.
  4. Stick your hand into the open cavity and with your fingers curled, starting from the back, scoop everything out.  (You may have to tug a little, but that’s it!)  Make sure to scrape the lungs out that are embedded into the back.
Save any internal fat from the cavity and around the organ meats as well as the chicken livers.  Make sure to cut off the bile sac from the liver without puncturing it. (Next year I plan on saving the gizzards, hearts and combs)
Rinse the cavity with a water hose or outdoor sink.

Before moving on, I wanted to focus on this picture.


Look at how much nourishing fat is on this traditional heritage breed chicken.  All poultry fat contains the monounsaturated fatty acid palmitoleic acid, which boosts our immune system.  Chicken fat has more palmitoleic acid than most other types of poultry.  The main monounsaturated fatty acid in poultry fat is oleic acid, well known for its beneficial effects on cholesterol.  To top that off, if your chicken has been pastured on grass and weeds, it’s fat also has a good dose of omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin d.

On a culinary level, chicken fat is low in polyunsaturated fatty acids making it a great fat to cook and fry with as it’s heat stable at high temperatures.  In terms of taste and flavor, wow!  I can’t wait to make traditional chicken confit or chicken rillettes.

Once the bird is rinsed and clean, cut off the tail which holds it’s oil gland and package each chicken into individual 2 1/2 gallon ziplock bags. Immediately place them into a large bucket or ice chest with enough ice to cool.  Once cooled they can be transferred to the freezer.

(* The best thing about blogging is meeting new friends with experience and wisdom.  Diane from Peaceful Acres let me know that you should leave the chickens in the ice for 2 – 3 hours.  After this time they should then be transferred to the refrigerator to cure for 2 days before storing to the deep freeze.  Thank you Diana! )

Save your chicken feet. Scald and clean them for future mineral rich chicken broth.
For nutrition, taste and flavor, save your chicken fat and render it for future culinary uses.
I was a little hesitant to share this post for challenge #4 of Project Food Blog because in our day in age this entire process can seem, well… ghetto.  However, when we start to embrace tradition, visually see how it’s done and understand the environmental and nutritional benefits, we can begin to make change.  We don’t all have to do this in our own backyards but we all can support local family farmers.  Let’s make our chicken a special meat once again and give it the value that it deserves.
I encourage you to not frown at the price difference between a store bought chicken and a locally raised chicken but instead learn to stretch the meat.  Buy your chicken whole, learn to enjoy the dark meat and save your bones for mineral rich bone broth.  Let’s all make that same trip with Abuela Rora and re-learn what we once intuitively knew. Pastured, free range chicken with fat is incomparable in taste and in nutrition.
If you’d like to see me move to challenge #5 of Project Food Blog, please vote for me.  Thank you to everyone that has voted for me so far.

74 Responses to "Real Chicken"
  1. onlinepastrychef says:

    I am impressed. That you could get so up close and personal with your food is a testament to your dedication to sustainability. If folks can't take the "graphic nature" of your post, they should be vegetarians.

    Well done; best of luck in round 4!!

  2. girlichef says:

    No way, that's totally the opposite of ghetto! I'm so glad you shared this post for round 4…it's awesome! 😀

  3. Food, she thought. says:

    Brilliant! Our posts go hand in hand!

  4. Winnie says:

    This is a terrific post, Diana. I am so proud of your for sharing this. Right now I'm raising chickens for eggs. Not meat…I'm too "chicken" to process my own birds…thanks for showing how it's done. Maybe some day I'll be able to do as you are 😉

  5. Krissy says:

    Amazing post and tastefully done (both pictures and wanting to taste a chicken like this!!) I will be back to vote!

  6. sara @ CaffeIna says:

    Really amazing post! I'm terrified at the idea of killing or even just cleaning a chicken. I used to run away disgusted from the kitchen when my mom was doing that. But I did look through all your pictures :)

  7. elaine says:

    A couple of months ago you mentioned you were going to post pictures of the process and I have been eagerly waiting. I am such a city girl but I have been so inspired by you and Wardeh and several others and what you are doing in your own backyards! Thanks so much for taking the time to carefully document what the actual process but to also give us a glimpse into your precious relationship with your Abuela Rora. what a magnificent gift you had!

  8. Molly On Money says:

    A foody friend just sent me a link to your post. I raise chickens for meat (cornish rock) and this past summer attempted to make a small side business out of it. I love all the things you can do with the 'left overs' from a chicken! My husband just finished making chicken sausage last weekend. It's delicious!

  9. sophia says:

    Whoa, this post is intense, and I love it. My mom used to tell me tales about how she had chickens in her backyard, and how fascinated she was watching the cooks kill and cook the chicken. This is SUCH an unusual, yet impressive and well-written post!

  10. Megan says:

    Great photos and a great topic. Well done!

  11. Pamela @ Seeds of Nutrition says:

    Great post and amazing photos, what kind of camera are you using and setting???
    You did great in the butchering. Very healthy looking meat!

  12. Toronto Girl West says:

    I have to confess this post scared a little (I don't like to think of my food as having once been alive) but it is amazing nonetheless.

    Your chicken was beautiful. And I haven't seen chicken like that since some Thanksgiving chickens a local butcher in Paris cooked for me. Beautiful really.

    You have my vote.

  13. Belinda @zomppa says:

    Thank you for sharing this process and for taking the care to raise your animals (especially being so close to those factory farms). I had gone to observe chickens being processed with a local farmer, and was impressed at how much care she takes. Like you.

  14. Sarah Faith says:

    I love this post! Great job. I will definitely refer to it in the future, as we dream of raising chickens one day.

  15. saltyseattle says:

    Hey D- your post rocks, and I guess I have to say great minds think alike:) You'll see what I mean if you go to my post for PFB#4. I think it's fabulous, because we cover the same extremely important issue, yet from slightly different angles. Cheers, Linda

  16. Fresh Local and Best says:

    Diana, I am so proud of you! This is a fabulous post, and I am so glad to see you share with us the differences between how your chickens were raised as compared to mass produced ones. I agree that we can all play a part in revaluing meat in our society.

  17. Chow and Chatter says:

    great post Diana and not so scary after all, its great to be connected to our food, i bet it taste so good, all the best for round four you got my vote girl


  18. Sippity Sup says:

    This is fantastic. I have seen several things online about the subject and I have no problem with it at all. In fact the personal story from Abuela and your childhood just make it all the more authentic. Because this is indeed where food really come from. Great job. GREG

  19. Mara @ What's for Dinner? says:

    I can only imagine how amazingly flavorful that chicken would be in a simple dish… I'm beyond impressed, and I have to say: this is the only entry to which I cannot say "I could do that!" :)
    ¡Buena suerte! ¡Ojalá que te veo en vuelta cinco!

  20. Miriam says:

    Great post, Diana! But indeed our "urban" education leads us to be afraid of slaughtering animals.

  21. Katherine Josh says:

    i’ve been drinking bird nest soup every night (i only get the homemade kind back at home). the only reason why i drink it is because it’s supposed to be good for complexion.

    i’ve been taking the store-bought kind online (e.g. of famous branded only of course) which is directly mailed from Hong Kong. this would be at a more affordable price.

  22. Diane@Peaceful Acres says:

    Good job! If I might add, your chickens will taste so much better if you ice/water chill them for 2-3 hrs and then "cure" them in the frig for 3 days, then freeze. We processed 50 birds this summer and have had nothing that taste anywhere as good!!! Oh, and I always cut up at the vent because I don't want to accidentally cut into the anus or intestines. That would ruin a perfectly good bird.

  23. Brie: Le Grand Fromage says:

    fantastic and beautiful job! this is very important for people to know and understand the correct process in raising and harvesting chickens. both my grandparents did this with chickens and other farm animals, like pigs and cows, so i understood from a young age the sacrifice both the farmer and animal makes when eating meat which allowed me to be respectful and not take it for grated. thank you so much for sharing this with us!

  24. Karen says:

    This is the best tutorial I've ever seen. Great job – you've got m vote :)

  25. Food o' del Mundo says:

    Awesome post! I grew up on a farm, and my nickname was 'the Chicken Sister'. Back then, I cut the heads off with a hatchet, I really like the cone idea MUCH better. I'll be back tomorrow to vote. ~ Mary

  26. Amelia PS says:

    what a great post: instructional and inspirational.

  27. Giovanna says:

    This has awakened many memories for me of my nonna and I when I was little. We processed our chickens very much like you and I am proud that you have encouraged so many to try. I unfortunately have not been allowed to raise chickens in my area but we are gearing up for raising meat rabbits. I wish all people were willing to take charge of their nutrition! Many blessings to you and yours : )

  28. Jenny @ Nourished Kitchen says:

    This is absolutely brilliant! I was secretly hoping that you'd do this for challenge #4 and am SO pleased you did!

  29. Margaret says:

    I'm not even going to lie, the activist in me was quite appalled but the food lover in me is amazed (in the best way possible) and when in doubt, the food lover in me prevails always. I am absolutely awestruck by both the pictures and the process. I too have heard stories of chickens and the process that gets them to my plate and I am quite amazed to have seen this in so many pictures. Furthermore, your in depth directions are quite appreciated. I don't know if I'll ever get to do this, but I feel it would be an awesome, albeit stomach-curdling, experience. Here's a vote, I hope to see more from you! Really really amazing job!

  30. Ruby says:

    Well done! I agree 100% about spending more on the birds which have been raised ethically and making the meat go further. You and Linda both got my vote and I hope your attempts at bringing social responsibility to this competition will fare better than mine!

  31. Gastronomicduo says:

    Very nice. We're all about real food at the Gastronomic Duo as well. Well documented. Good luck in round 4.

  32. Jeanne says:

    Thank you for posting this, Diana. I believe that this is the only way that we should be eating meat, and I hope to be raising my own chickens soon. It is important for all of us to understand this process. I'm definitely casting a vote for you!

  33. mamabug says:

    Bravo! Counting down the days till I can have my own birds!

  34. Queen of Cuisine says:

    This is such an important lesson for everyone- our meats don't come from those little packages in the grocery. The best way to respect what we cook and eat is to take the responsibility to know how it's done, or like you- take the task on ourselves. Brava for a great post. I am sending you a vote.


  35. Jacob's Kitchen says:

    What a great tutorial! Something that most of us are so disconnected from. It is nice to be that in touch with where your food comes from. nicely done. I voted for you!

    Good luck! Hope to see us both in round 5!!! =)

  36. stephchows says:

    Although I totally admit I'm grossed out and could never do this myself, I applaud you for your efforts in sustainability! Amazing work girl and very informative write up. Voted!

  37. Marie (Food Nouveau) says:

    I admit I am one of those people that eats meat but doesn't like too much information about the slaughtering process! I know though that it is such an important part of eating meat, I'd go so far as to say it's a responsibility to know where our food comes from. I've been trying hard to gather the courage to become more informed about this process. While I'm not ready to kill an animal myself (or see one get killed), I'll say that a post like yours helps me towards enlightenment :) Thanks for sharing!

  38. Artistta says:

    Awesome post and great job. Not sure I've got the guts to do it, but can certainly appreciate the fact that you do!

  39. Cristie says:

    I'm never disapointed when I visit your blog. My mother grew up on a farm where she did all the things you went through- I've never done them, but I should. Thanks for the great run through. You are AMAZING.

  40. The Cilantropist says:

    I think this post was fabulous, and I am thrilled that you shared so much information about details of the process with us! Both your photos and your text were informative, and I am also pleased and impressed that you told the story and gave clear directions without showing so much blood and gore, since it is not really needed to get the point across. Great great post, and, as I hope to raise my own chickens in the future, I will refer to it for reference! Definitely got my vote!!!

  41. Christy says:

    No ghetto here! What a great post Diana – we need to process our chickens – I will be showing this to my husband! I so totally voted for you!

  42. Damaris says:

    I totally voted for you. This post is incredible! Good job.

  43. Rhonda says:

    Fabulous post. As a "town clown" (not quite city, not quite country), I really appreciate the demonstration. It's important way of life we shouldn't lose. You got my vote.

  44. riceandwheat says:

    Such a wonderful post! Even though I probably won't be going off to kill a chicken anytime soon, I really enjoyed learning about the process and couldn't agree more that it's important we don't shy away from it. Bravo! Good luck!

  45. Stay-At-Home-Chef says:

    We recently started buying our chickens from a local, organic, free-range butcher. The first time we roasted one of his chickens it was like eating this bird for the first time! It actually tasted like chicken. Well done and hope to join you in the next round.

  46. Lucia from Madison says:

    Excellent post. Very informative and interesting. Yes I found one photo disturbing but you handled it so well. Not at all ghetto. It is how my parents and grandparents lived before the supermarkets took over feeding us. You have my vote!

  47. We Are Not Martha says:

    I'm so impressed!! Awesome post! And DEFINITELY not "ghetto" haha. If anything it's "country," but in a good way. Fabulous job :)


  48. Debbie says:

    You should be on the show – No Reservations – very impressed with your subject choice…

  49. Ela says:

    good of you to share this. reminds me of the time we have to dress 100 chickens one night to be delivered early next morning! you got my vote, girl!

  50. Debi (Table Talk) says:

    Such an important topic—nice job.

  51. Mexico in my kitchen says:

    Great Post, it took me back to my memories with my grandma. Those chickens sure taste different. You are doing a good job and wish you the best in the challenge.


  52. Tiny Urban Kitchen says:

    Diana, I just knew you would do some sort of instructional on farm-to-table type food. Excellent post, as always!

  53. Jason L. says:

    This is an excellent post. I had one Buff Orpington (sp?) that we raised for eggs among our other chickens. I tried to talk my wife into letting us eat her, but, well that didn't go over so well. Anyway, great job. Good luck. I'm voting for you!

  54. Ashley says:

    This was really an amazing post. This brings back memories of my dad talking about my greatgrandma 'making dinner' starting with the chicken running around the back yard. It would be great to see more of this!! Good luck to you,

  55. Diana Bauman says:

    Wow, I am just so incredibly humbled by the response. It's so great to know that so many of us can truly make a difference in how our food is raised.

    It's always encouraging to see the steps the EU takes as they are implementing a ban on factory raised chickens by 2012. I'm hoping and praying that the US can follow suit!

    Diana @ Peaceful Acres, thank you so much for your tips! Next year for sure, I'll give them 2 days to rest in the refrigerator before freezing! Thanks so much as I'm going to add that to my post!

  56. Dee says:

    Well done piece, very sensitive & very well photographed step by step. More over I can see this looks like a wonderful & fresh chicken. Great post.

  57. Daily Spud says:

    It is frightening to think how far removed most of us have become from our food sources in such a relatively short amount of time. My parents (like your abuela) would have been very familiar with raising animals for meat – our generation, by in large, are not. Good on you for re-forging that connection.

  58. themanhattanfoodproject says:

    You have my vote–this is really impressive, but more importantly, you come across as a responsible and thoughtful chicken owner, and for that I thank you.

    It's definitely good to be reminded of where our food comes from, and you've succeeded in presenting it in a really accessible way.

  59. Hot Polka Dot's Mom says:

    Gutsy, thought provoking and real. Both you and Salty Seattle have my votes.

  60. a moderate life says:

    Hi Diana, thank you so much for sharing this real look at owning and raising and processing chicken for meat. It is interesting to talk to folks who have done it and the reverence with which they speak of the animals they have either raised or hunted. I have voted for you and will continue to share your progress on my thoughts on friday at a moderatelife link love. All the best. Alex@amoderatelife

  61. My Little Space says:

    Diana, you're just so COOL! I am really really impressed. I used to watch my mom clean up the chicken when I was little. I hate pulling those feather. A lot of work especially cleaning up duck or goose! haha… But now, we could just get the fresh chicken from the shop. We don't need to eat frozen ones! I have just voted for you , sweetie. Good luck and all the best!
    Blessings, Kristy

  62. Ben says:

    Our family eats a pastured bird weekly, and they are worth every penny. Real chicken indeed! Your post is thought provoking, well-written, and a pleasure to read. Great job!

  63. Fiona at Life on Nanchang LU says:

    Bravo! I totally agree with you. my great-grandmother always had the motto – 'If you coudn't kill it, you shouldn't eat it' and I would help her with the chickens when it was time to eat one. They are a luxury, and now I live somewhere (China) where every bird tastes good because they're mostly free range on small farms, and not considered an everyday meat like pork.
    Voted for you! Hope we both make it through…

  64. Dave says:

    Awesome. You've definitely got my vote for this round.

  65. 5 Star Foodie says:

    A fantastic post for sure! You've got my vote!

  66. Libby says:

    Your Abuela is so proud of you right now. And Joel Salatin (our hometown hero) is too :) :) Kudos girl, you've got my vote! Wish I could vote more than once for this post!

  67. VegSpinz says:

    I could never do this- which is why I don't eat animals! Very shocking post (for me), and a good thing for everyone to see and be reminded about where their chicken in the supermarket comes from. I commend you for raising your own in a more humane and healthy environment- most chickens are raised horrifically (egg laying hens as well), and I would never subject any living thing to those kinds of conditions!

  68. momgateway says:

    Brilliant tutorial–brings back memories of how my mom used to do this herself!

  69. Young Cooker says:

    This was an excellent demonstration. We raised and butchered our own chickens when I was little (about 7-9) with my family. It is just one step in the food process I could not take myself today. I am glad that you were able to do this and I hope your table is full of yummy entrees all winter long.

  70. Molly says:

    I just stumbled across your blog and am really enjoying it. I was wondering if you could clear up some things from this post tho (perhaps in a new post?)… such as, how to render fat, what you plan on doing with gizzards, combs and so forth and the recipes/step-by-steps for those! The chicken feet picture was completely terrifying to me, but I can’t wait to get chickens in the spring and have our hand at raising and eating them! Very informative. (I’m still terrified tho!)

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