Chicken Harvest

Reflections on my first chicken processing

A couple weeks ago I participated in my first ever processing of chickens. “Processing” in this case is a euphemism; we killed chickens, eviscerated them, and turned them into food for humans. Saying we ‘killed’ the chickens is very harsh and culturally weighted, but semantics aside, we literally ended the chickens’ lives. This was my first direct experience with turning a living creature into food.

The nitty gritty

The chicken processing took place over two days, a little less than a week apart. We harvested 86 chickens total, with 5-6 people working together on the processing each day. The first harvest day was the longest; another of the interns, a WWOOFer, and myself had never eviscerated chickens before and it was a steep learning curve.

We worked outside, with canopies for shade. There was a huge stainless steel table that we used for eviscerating, several tubs for chilling birds, a large scalder to loosen feathers, and a plucker for the initial/bulk feather removal. The birds were killed by slitting their throat while they were restrained upside-down in cones. We slaughtered six birds at a time, then scalded, plucked, eviscerated, and chilled them before doing another batch of six birds. The only people to do the actual killing were individuals with prior experience, or those willing to learn the process well enough that the birds didn’t suffer.

Personal reactions to the harvest

I wasn’t incredibly disturbed by the chicken slaughter, which was a relief. I have mixed feelings though, about the actual method of killing. My understanding is that it’s preferable to slit the throat and have the bird bleed out while the heart is pumping because that results in a better-looking carcass/dressed chicken. I didn’t like the fact that the chickens were still conscious as they bled out though, and I don’t think I would choose this method of slaughter for my own farm. There are ways to stun animals before bleeding them out, and I would like to research this more.

For me, it wasn’t too bad eviscerating chickens… as long as someone else cut the head off. Once the head was off, I was completely okay cutting off legs and removing intestines/hearts/etc. When the head was still on the chicken though, it was an animal in my mind. Once the head was cut off, it became food. I really don’t have any logical or rational explanation for this distinction, but in my mind it just came down to chicken heads.

As a result of my first experience turning animals into meat, I am now eating less meat. Don’t get me wrong, I have no intention of becoming a vegetarian, but I don’t feel as comfortable eating animals that weren’t harvested in a humane way (which pretty much encompasses most meat eaten in restaurants or packaged in a grocery store). I am also more conscious of wasted food/meat that isn’t eaten, because I have a more personal understanding that an animal’s life was ended to create that food. I feel like I learned a lot from this experience overall, and am grateful that I got to participate in a chicken harvest.