The Cottage Smallholder


stumbling self sufficiency in a small space

R.I.P. Alfonso and Massimo. Could you eat your own chickens?

Photo: Superb Leghorn bantam cockerels

Photo: Superb Leghorn bantam cockerels and wife

Since we got the letter from our neighbour we have been dithering about how to deal with our cockerels. As in all small communities, other neighbours have come forward to say that they liked the sound of the cockerels. We considered rehousing them but they would have to stay together as they were such close chums, looking out for each other and chatting in a cockerelish sort of way when they found something tasty to eat.

No rehousing project coud promise this as most peoplewho welcome a cockerel just want the one stud. We tried, but nobody wanted them.

They were the leaders of the flock. Alberto being Prime Minister and the gentler Massimo was Deputy P.M.

Beautiful birds but if someone is losing sleep (as every torturer knows), the culprits need to be silenced.

Danny was also woken regularly at 4.30 and was not over keen on the raucous brothers.
“We have to do something about them quickly. It’s been weeks since we got that letter.”

We eventually decided that killing and eating them was probably the best answer. Finally we would taste meat that we (and Caroline and Kevin) had raised. In our journey to self sufficiency this had to be the answer. But both of us were worried about killing them.
What if they didn’t die immediately?
Would the rest of the flock be upset?

These were just excuses. To be quite honest we just didn’t have the guts to do it. My Aunt Pickles would have ben laughing from heaven. She kept a flock of at least a hundred on a meadow outside her back door. All except for the special named ones were earmarked for possible slaughter in the future. Unfortunately I never saw her kill or prepare a chicken for table. But I did enjoy many a delicious chicken based meal at her house.

Finally S generously offered to kill them on the understanding that we would definitely eat them. I agreed at once.
“Wait until they have settled properly for the night and then put them in a box and bring them up to me. They’ll be sleepy and then it’s easy to catch then.”
And they were. Popped into a hamper within seconds.

They spent the night in the barn and, for the first time ever, I woke at dawn to muffled crows. They were quickly dispatched by S later that morning.

I must admit that I wasn’t looking forward to preparing them for the table. I even gardened in the rain to avoid the task. I was fond of Massimo – how could I eat him? But when I gingerly opened the hamper, the birds, like all creatures that have died, had lost their sparkle. By the time they were gutted and skinned they had switched from being our cockerels to food.

Now I have to take the final step and learn how to kill my chickens in the future.

If push came to shove I would now be happy to raise chickens for meat. Well husbanded chickens must taste better than those that have taken several days to reach the shelves of butcher or supermarket.


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27 Comments

  1. Well done you. I have hens and sometimes they do need to be dispatched but as mine are layers the meat is no good except for stock/soup as there is little meat on them. Once you have learned how to dispatch them quickly it will become easier…..

  2. Joanna

    Well we will be raising some chickens next year for meat but we may get ours butchered mainly because we are thinking of raising them to sell as well as for ourselves. The thought of some good chicken of a decent size spurs me on.

    Our friend has got rabbits and they will be dispatching theirs much to their daughters displeasure

  3. Stephanie in AR

    Yes, with help from my teen-aged son. The first rooster had become aggressive & extra space made his temper even worse. After he tried to attack our toddler he became dinner. About a week later three other roosters became dinner just to give our poor hens a rest.

    For us a killing cone is the most humane method. We borrowed a turkey deep fryer (an outdoor deep cooking pot that uses propane for fuel) to heat the water & keep it at the proper temperature. I was very worried about messiness but after the cone there is very little to no blood. Water at the proper temperature & the feathers remove very easy. Innards are not gross or bloody. We found our directions at a blog called “The Deliberate Agrarian” in the sidebar. I printed them off for easier reference. On advice from my dad we did wait 24 hrs for more tender chicken. The biggest surprise is that dark meat is really very dark not just a shade paler than white meat and the taste is so much better. You have learned so many different skills that this will not be a difficult as you fear.

  4. Can, have, and do.

    It wasn’t too hard to do the first few mean roosters. But i’ve gotten more and more comfortable with it. Not to the point that it’s a casual thing. I don’t ever want the taking of life to become casual. But comfortable – to the point that burying an injured hen (as long as she’s not sick with something) instead of butchering her for the table (if she has to be put down, of course) seems disrespectful. It seems like preventing her from fulfilling her destiny.

    Waytogo in giving your boys a respectful, beneficial, end.

  5. That’s a huge step you’ve taken, and one I don’t envy, but I do admire:) I don’t even know what cockerel tastes like. At least they lived a wonderful life – better than the commercial male birds who are dispatched on their birth day, and still better than any battery hens.

  6. Charlotte

    Oh I’m in the same boat — I’ve been meaning to cull 3 older hens, and now one has come up limpy (she also looks like the others ahve been picking on her). I’ve got calls into some more experienced friends since I don’t know how to do the deed, and don’t think I could the first time without at least some hand-holding. Sigh. I even thought of calling my vet and seeing if he’d teach me how to dispatch her (we’re pretty rural here, I’m sure it’ s in his repertoire)

  7. We did exactly the same thing last year. Got our hens at 11 weeks, one of them, Grace, started looking a little different from the others. She soon became Gary.
    The guy that gave us the hens saw that ‘she’ had become a ‘he’ and offered to take him away and replace him. I knew what ‘take him away meant’ no, he was pet by this stage. Until 6 months down the line he turned proper nasty. Again, not keen on the dispatch process we got a well versed friend in,
    So anyway following day Gary was served up, and yes there was an odd feeling for a couple of minutes, but he tasted great and there was satisfaction in the knowledge he’d had a happy life.

  8. Joanne

    I had a similar problem – I had 1 Barnvelder & 2 Welsummer cockerels to deal with after raising some chicks – I left them as long as I possibly could mainly because I wanted them to get as large as possible but the crowing was getting ridiculous so when I had a couple of friends coming to visit who had experience of culling their own birds – I asked them to help

    I did the deed but it was very re-assuring to know that they were there to help if something went wrong – nothing did & we had 3 of the best tasting meat birds ever – they were awesome

    I won’t do it again in my current house – mainly cos I don’t really have the room but if I did I would have no qualms at all about doing it

  9. Good for you! The plan is to be able to dispatch and eat our laying hens, once they go off. And if we can manage that, then meat rabbits are in the plans as well. However, we’d have to do it on the sly because the local chicken ordinance says for pets only. Hmmm.

    We don’t even have them yet- that plan is for next year!

    But to answer your question: I’m not sure if I could or not. We decided that naming them is probably not a good idea. Or at minimum, call them Breakfast, Lunch or Dinner. Or Fricasee, or Cacciatore, or Roast…

  10. freerangegirl

    Well done – it cant have been easy. We plan to raise some of our chucks for meat but however much I know its the right thing to do, i’m not looking forward to the task ahead – I need to draw inspiration from your Aunt Pickles I think!

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