11.9.12 Pluck U

Ls & bird 790 xxx
photos by gluttonforlife
Attention: This post contains some very graphic photos! If you are not prepared to see the actual process of a chicken being slaughtered and processed, read no further.

For those of you who eat chicken and would like to understand how it goes from being a living being to a nourishing food on your plate, please read on. The photos are not meant to distress or sensationalize, merely to document the steps necessary in a small, hands-on operation. I encourage you to familiarize yourself with this, as I'm hoping it may affect your desire to consume industrially raised and processed animals. I think it's really important to understand how the animals we eat are fed, treated and killed; to make every effort possible to ensure humane treatment; and to refuse to eat anything whose origins are uncertain. For a more thorough explication of my beliefs on this subject, go here.
Chickens 790 xxx
feathered nest
The lovely Jessica Applestone of Fleisher's, a butcher shop specializing in grass-fed and organic meats, with locations in Kingston, NY, and Park Slope, Brooklyn, invited me to attend a butchering workshop that included a visit to Meadow View Farm in New Paltz. There, under the tutelage of master butcher Hans Sebold, we were to learn how chickens are slaughtered and processed by hand, on a small scale. Then we would return to Fleisher's in Kingston for lunch and a butchering demonstration by resident meat guru Joshua Applestone.
Hans 790 xxx
Hans on
Hans Sebold is an old school butcher from Bavaria who has worked with many large-scale meat operations, and was for decades an instructor at the Culinary Institute of America. He is a wealth of knowledge, wisdom and compassion. I was so impressed with his gracious manner and the way he taught us to consider the chickens and the act of killing them. The word "butcher" has such negative connotations, and yet through history it has been a sacred position. G has told me about his experiences photographing the slaughter of hundreds of animals during Eid, and how the butchers would chant prayers and stroke the animal until it was calm and totally relaxed before carefully slitting its throat. Violence does not have to be part of the equation, though Hans did point out that some animals (chickens, rabbits) give up their lives much more easily than others (pigs, cows).
Cone 790 xxx
down the chute
There was a very simple set-up for killing the chickens, and Hans walked us through the steps, one by one. There were about 10 of us, and we each selected a chicken, held it and stroked it until it was calm.

The next step is to lower the chicken head-first down a metal cone; three of these had been nailed to the side of a small barn where we were working. The chicken did not squawk or struggle at all, which would probably have made it much harder than it already was for me. I had never before intentionally killed anything except mosquitoes and that is truly in self defense. Wait, I did pith my own frog in biology class in high school. Anyway, the point is, I was not approaching this blithely.
Cutting 790 xxx
making the cut
Hans was with me every step of the way, as I was very frightened by the idea that I might somehow hurt the chicken. Ridiculous, I know, since I was killing it, but I do believe there is a right way to inflict the least possible suffering.
Kill 790 xxx
graphic detail
It's all done very swiftly. A single sweep of the sharp blade not only kills the bird, but cleanly severs its head from the neck. The upside down position allows the blood to drain out quickly. As you probably know, the body continues to jerk around after the bird is dead ("running around like a chicken without its head") and this is a bit disconcerting. It is what it is. If you want to nourish yourself with its flesh, then honor the animal by understanding what it goes through.
Scalding 790 xxx
water bath
The rest of the process is facilitated by a couple of simple tools. The headless birds are dunked into a pot of hot water, which loosens their feathers.
Denuder 790 xxx
the bird spins for a few moments in this device to remove the feathers
Bird 790 xxx
blessed bird
Once denuded and laid out on a cutting board, the chicken starts to look much more like what we're used to seeing at the market.
Guts 790 xxx
no guts, no glory
The next step is exactly what you might imagine: you simply plunge your hands into the still-warm cavity and scoop out the internal organs in one go. We were all a bit nervous about puncturing the bowel, intenstines or bile duct. As you can see, Hans was a great coach.
Innards 790 xxx
G gets the scoop
Blood 790 xxx
killing field
We killed and cleaned about a dozen birds in a very short time. It was quite a calm and quiet experience, not nearly as heart-wrenching as I had anticipated. My chicken had lived a quality life, 8 weeks of pecking for bugs and eating a mix of greens and grain on a lovely farm. I had a few moments of silence with it, both before and after the killing, trying to be mindful of its sacrifice and to internally express my gratitude.
Heads 790 xxx
uneasy sight
This sight did give me pause. I was sad that the heads were being discarded. I would have liked to take home a whole chicken—head, feet and all—to make the richest, most nutritious soup. I do not take for granted the meat I eat, but I will think about it even more carefully now. I will not waste a scrap. Every bite will count. And I will do everything in my power to know, without doubt, that the hands that bring me my food are as loving and caring as my own. Or I will simply choose to go without.


Thank you for your thoughtful documentation of small-scale, humane butchery. I hope that people can come away from this post realizing it's not about being a carnivore, vegan, vegetarian or something else, but rather the problem is industrial agriculture and livestock. We should all know where our food comes from - animal vegetable or mineral - and only having a factual, grounded 'food chain'/life-to-death cycle to follow will give us the power to understand, speak about and choose our own place in that 'chain.'
Kristina on November 9, 2012 at 8:23 am —
Well put, Kristina. And so true.
laura on November 9, 2012 at 8:58 am —
Thanks for taking responsibility for your protein Laura. As for your quest for a heads on chicken there is no need to sever the head during slaughter. I have heritage birds that I use for meat and eggs and when slaughtering I only cut the carotid artery behind the ear and they bleed out quite peacefully not even really knowing anything is wrong. This is also a great opportunity to collect the blood which is an indispensable thickener for traditional french cooking. A note to backyard chicken owners wanting to try this without the metal "killing cone" pictured in the article, city traffic cones work great. they are the perfect angle, you only need to trim square base, flared head and screw them directly to a vertical surface (dishwasher safe as well).
Jamie on November 9, 2012 at 9:43 am —
Excellent tips, Jamie!
laura on November 9, 2012 at 9:46 am —
Reading this brought back memories of visiting my great-uncle Rumaldo (your great-grandmother's brother) on his small farm in La Puente (early 50's). I always think of him with chickens and goats. He would take the train to San Diego showing up at Grandma's with "fresh" meat. She would would then perform her magic in the kitchen.
Fred on November 9, 2012 at 1:09 pm —
I don't remember eating goat but Aunt Virginia told me about Rumaldo arriving with goat in a suitcase.
Fred on November 9, 2012 at 2:13 pm —
Fred, I love that memory, and the idea of him bringing freshly butchered chicken on the train! What about goat? I don't remember our family ever eating that...
laura on November 9, 2012 at 1:37 pm —
I'm not surprised to find such a thoughtful and thorough post on such a loaded subject, Laura. I still haven't done this, and I do feel I should. I don't take my meat lightly, as you know. On a lighter note, you were in my 'hood! All the people you spent the day with are people I know of and respect. And Meadow View is a wonderful place. I saw your pictures on Instagram and wondered where you were!
Julia on November 9, 2012 at 2:13 pm —
Such a thoughtful post, and you truly made it beautiful. I wish I could have been there that day.
Winnie on November 9, 2012 at 3:46 pm —
I had almost the same experience for the first time this year as you did. My friend's farm was also in NY. The chickens were free to roam and had an awesome chicken life before we killed them. They needed to do this to save on feed this year. Apparently it can get very expensive to feed them over the winter months. I'm a city slicker so this whole process was a bit queeze inducing at first but I was surprised on how quickly i got used to it after that. Great post and terrific photos!
Jim on November 14, 2012 at 10:30 am —
Thanks, Jim, and good for you for powering through the "queeze"!
laura on November 14, 2012 at 4:48 pm —
Laura, I grew up in India going with my mom to the market, and she would select a chicken and it would be slaughtered right on the spot, so I had no illusions about where my food was coming from. I think your post is very necessary in this world of cruel industrial production and euphemisms- my new approach is that if there is a euphemism for what I'm eating, I won't eat it. Please notice that the smaller animals are still called chicken and fish when we eat them- but the larger the animal, the more elaborate the euphemism! Why 'beef' and not cow? Because a cow is a large intelligent animal, and hard to think of killing! My favorite is 'sweetbreads'!!!
amin ahmad on November 15, 2012 at 11:12 am —
Yeah, the first world is all about dissembling. Plus, "thymus gland" really does sound pretty unappealing.
laura on November 15, 2012 at 11:36 am —
Your post made me realized that I grew up with the understanding and acceptance that farm animals are made for human consumption: the rabbit we would choose was killed "quickly" in the back of the farm, plus, my father, being a hunter, I learned early to clean properly pheasants and other birds. However, I agree with you that the industrial way our animals are killed is atrocious. In France, Brigitte Bardot has fought for years against this cruelty and has been made fun of it but now everybody is siding with her! Like many and also thanks to blogs like yours, I am now extremely careful of where my food comes from. Being also upstate, I have discovered a wonderful farm that raises grass-fed animals (beef, pigs, turkeys) and all have to be killed before the winter. I get all my meat from there. It is called Heather Ridge Farm in Preston Hollow. Check it out if you can. Thanks again, Laura, for showing the way.
Josée Reboul on November 18, 2012 at 10:40 am —
Looks like a great farm, Josée. You're lucky to live close by. Things are a bit more challenging in Sullivan County, but it's wonderful to have access to animals that are raised with care and humanely slaughtered.
laura on November 18, 2012 at 11:07 am —