Butchering is not for everyone because it brings you closer into the food chain than you may find comfortable. Many people eat meat, but prefer to be removed from the processing of a live animal into food. If you fall into this camp, you may want to skip this section focusing on deciding to butcher and focus on the areas devoted to raising egg layers or even show birds.
There are three primary scenarios where you may find yourself in the position of deciding to butcher chickens, they are:
- Butchering mature hens once their egg laying begins to slow down
- Butchering multi-purpose breed cockerels after purchasing straight run chicks
- Raising meat birds for the sole purpose of butchering
Generally speaking, if your goal is to produce tender and tasty meat, you will want to focus on cockerels or pullets before they grow into roosters and hens. That means you should plan to butcher before they get older than 20 weeks. The younger the bird, the more tender the meat will be. As birds mature, their meat gets tougher and has stronger, but not necessarily desirable, flavors. You can slow-cook or stew the meat from a mature hen, but general guidance is to avoid eating roosters because you are likely to find the flavor of the meat unpleasant.
In our opinion, there are some great reasons to raising chickens for meat, and they are very similar to the reasons that one raises chickens for eggs. For example, by raising chickens for meat you get to:
- Avoid store-purchased chicken potentially mass processed in unsanitary conditions
- Avoid antibiotic or hormone residue that may be present in commercial chicken
- Avoid eating chickens raised in a cage, which may lack muscle tone and nutrients from foraging
- Pack your deep freeze with fresh, organic, healthy chicken for your family
- Save money compared to buying chicken of the same quality from specialty retailers
We break this process into four distinct steps. While you will find general guidelines to help you along the way, there is no substitute for experience. Practice makes perfect, and it is our experience that you will become more comfortable and more skilled at the process the second and third time through.