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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  1. Tamar@StarvingofftheLand

    My Great Aunt Dag is with your Aunt Pickles, laughing at the likes of us who can’t take killing a chicken in stride. They grew up at a time when the cycle of life hit closer to home, and I think they were better for it. If you’re going to eat an animal, there’s a lot to be said for knowing what it’s like to kill an animal.

    Our turkeys will be our first, this November. I’m dreading it, but committed to it.

  2. bobquail

    It took us a while to pluck up the courage the first time we killed our own birds for meat. To be honest if it’s a cock which has been crowing loudly, it is somewhat easier because if you are annoyed with the noise, you have the double bonus of meat to eat, and a bit more quiet in the future. The last bird we ate was a particularly noisy quail cock who’s crow was so loud and piercing, it would go straight to the middle of your skull.

  3. Joanne

    ‘Fraid that’s where I draw the line – I just can’t bring myself to cull non-laying girls – they just go into happy retirement – I feel it’s the least I can do for the eggs they’ve given me over the years

    However I’m not trying to make my living out of it – it’s a hobby so I don’t have to balance the books

  4. danast

    I know how difficult that must have been for you Fiona, But I am glad you are eating your birds. If you are going to try to be self sufficient it is important to be able to do these tasks. I always eat the birds if they have to be dispatched although I admit I have never done the deed myself. My friend always does it for me. But you are quite right. It is amazing how quickly they turn from your creatures into food!!!!!
    Having said all that I have two old ladies who will die a natural death, even though I know they should really be culled.

  5. Thanks for updating us on the cockerel situ, I know lots of people gleefully suggested the pot as the solution!
    As a child, often the first I knew of an up-coming chicken dish was meeting the dead chicken, hanging quietly by the foot, in the larder! But our chickens never had names, which helped.
    For those with ex-layers, I’d like to mention a family recipe called “Fallen Fowl” (named after something from a Lukin & Branwell children’s book)
    The idea is to seal the meat (joined of portioned) in a frying pan with a fair bit of cinnamon, then casserole it with lots of sliced onion, some tinned tomatoes, sultanas and some chicken stock. Cook in the oven at a hot enough heat for the juices to caramelise slightly where they splash up the sides of the pot, and cook ’til the meat wants to come off the bone. I use bought thighs, so it doesn’t take long, but the recipe was originally for boiling fowls i.e. ex-layers. Serve with rice and toasted flaked almonds – Yum!

  6. Toffeeapple

    Well done, how brave of you. I know how hard it must have been.


  7. louisa @ TheReallyGoodLife

    I found that ‘switch from pet to dinner’ thing happened too as soon as I started gutting them – without their feathers, they looked more like something from the supermarket than from the hen run.

    I imagine it’ll be harder to despatch the girls once they’re done laying though – not only because we’ll know them better but also because it’ll feel less purposeful, given they’ve got so little meat on them. We’ll see, I guess 😉

  8. moonroot

    I’ve never had to do the deed myself as we’ve always had POL hens so no cockerels! We did however eat one of our hens who was despatched by a fox. That has to be the coward’s way out!

    I have thought that if I had specifically raised chickens with the intention of ultimately eating them and was careful not to get attached to them I could maybe do it. Whether or not I could kill them quickly efficiently would be my major worry. However, as IB is a vegetarian I’m eating almost no meat at all of late, so home-raised chicken is unlikely to be on the menu any time soon.

    Well done for having the courage of your convictions!

  9. Veronica

    Must have been hard, especially as you’d never planned to eat them and had given them names — well done! This is something that I admit has put me off keeping chickens, even though it obviously makes complete sense.

  10. Magic Cochin

    Good for you! That was a sensible way to go.

    You said “skinned”, so I assume you chose not to pluck them – I’m wondering why?

    I’m looking forward to hearing how you’ll cook them.


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