Killing a Chicken, Plucking, Gutting & Boning

It may seem a strange birthday present, but a course on killing and preparing a chicken was what my daughter Cara wanted for her birthday. She’s converted most of her back garden to keeping hens and wanted to be able to cope with dispatching an injured bird.

Neither of us have any plans to raise birds for meat but she recently acquired some chicks hatched at a local school and some of these are, of course, cockerels. Now it’s a sad fact that far fewer cockerels are required than nature provides. Not only do they not lay eggs, they can be very aggressive to their owner as well as each other. They also make a lot of noise in comparison to laying hens and really aren’t suitable for keeping in the average suburban garden.

So, it was off to Sheffield and the Kill, Pluck, Gut and Bone Course at Whirlow Hall Farm Trust run by Alison Wilson. Our course was due to start at 3.00pm so we left in good time to get there but didn’t reckon on Mr Google’s directions including roundabouts that no longer exist so arrived half an hour late, embarrassed and rather wound up!

Luckily they hadn’t quite got to the heart of the matter and our apologies again to everyone for delaying things.

Killing a Chicken

The course is split into 2 parts, the actual killing a chicken and then the pluck, gut and bone. The first part was taken by Alison’s colleague Paul who was brilliant. He radiated an atmosphere of calm, which was as much for our benefit as for the chickens who were about to die.

Our small group gathered together in the courtyard and he demonstrated on a large and pretty aggressive cockerel. They don’t have too many on a course so everybody gets individual attention.

Now if you follow my diary, you may recall that I attracted some derision on the allotment because I couldn’t kill a pigeon that was caught under the netting on a fruit bush.

Watching this cockerel flapping and squawking really brought home what we were about to do. The actual killing bit is remarkably quick and effective. The trainer said, with great honesty, he couldn’t say it was painless – after all, those who know can’t say! Certainly it was over and done in a second.

Once the deed was done, the bird reacts by flapping and contorting wildly. This is pretty disconcerting to say the least. We rarely, thank goodness, see death and it’s hard to accept that this is purely nerves.

Everyone got to kill a bird in turn, except for me. I’d booked Cara on the course and was basically accompanying her rather than a participant. I must admit to being quite relieved by this.

However, they had a spare chicken over and Paul said I could kill it so whilst the others were plucking I went out and dispatched the spare hen. It’s difficult to explain, I feel that if you eat meat, in fact if you are anything but a vegan, you should  have the moral courage to at least know where it comes from.

Let’s be honest here, being a vegetarian who eats eggs and drinks milk you are still responsible for the unwanted cockerels and male animals. Face up to it.

After the killing the next part of the course was plucking. I’m not very good at this, but in fairness, I was rushing to catch up with the rest of the class who had now moved onto gutting.

Gutting & Boning the Chicken

This part of the course was taken by Alison Wilson herself. She’s an excellent tutor as well. We gutted the chicken keeping the useful parts and discarding the rest. Some years ago I visited a chicken processing factory where a conveyor system brought the chickens down a row of women who spent all day removing the innards. Today I realised how underpaid they were! It’s not a pleasant task by any means but relatively straightforward.

The next thing she showed us was how to completely bone a chicken. Having years ago worked in a shop where I boned gammon and sides of bacon, I can tell you I’ve lost the knack! Still, avoided removing my fingers or severing any major arteries.

I’d commented on what nice knives we were using and she kindly gave one to my daughter as a birthday present. I can’t say I was too surprised, Alison is  a lovely person.


Posted in Allotment Garden Diary
9 comments on “Killing a Chicken, Plucking, Gutting & Boning
  1. BenF says:

    I remember being ‘inducted’ into the cycle of life and death as a 10 year old taken by my father to watch the dispatch of some our broods more ‘mature’ chickens.

    I was always told that they go on our dinner plates but had never given any thought until that day.

    I remember watching as they were dispatched not horrified but certainly uncomfortable only to be told i would be doing the next one.

    I remember doing the deed, I realised after that i was much happier doing the plucking and boning etc than i was actually killing them.

    Even now when buying meat, i always remember that day and give a little thanks to the person who dispatched the animal and the actual animal itself that i will be eating.

  2. Swing Swang says:

    What a great way to learn how to do the job properly. When I was 11 and Dad was away at college Mum brought home an ex-layer/battery hen (dispatched) that she’d been given,

    “You’ve seen your father do it, that chicken is for supper,and I don’t know what to do”

    We ate and we ate well, but I’d not reccommend my way to anyone. It was also the foulest smelling animal that I’ve ever had to gut and I can still taste the ‘vomworthy’ stench to this day.


  3. frieda burns says:

    Feel a bit your article skirted round what actually happened. Is the chicken’s neck broken or is a knife involved. I am about to embark on keeping chooks and would like to be able to put an animal out of its misery should the need arise but living in ne Scotland – long way to go to learn how to do the job!!

  4. John says:

    I was trying to avoid giving ‘instruction’ as I think this is something you need to be shown in the flesh rather than read up on. In effect you dislocate the neck. The men tended to be too forceful hence the bleeding whereas the women did it right.
    In an emergency I would suggest a sharp axe or knife to decapitate or a plastic bag over the head sealed around the neck if you don’t know what you’re doing.
    Usually you can find a local poultry keeper who will show you what to do.

  5. It’s great there’s a course like this. My neighbor taught my partner and I how to kill a chicken recently. It’s pretty horrific, but since we both eat chicken we felt like we should do it. Well, actually, at the last minute I chickened out!

  6. John says:

    I nearly chickened out too – it’s not an easy thing to do emotionally if you’ve not been exposed to it before.

  7. Ray williamson says:

    Hey thanks for this its been waying on my mind

  8. Maureen says:

    I am going to have to learn to dispatch. I hate the word kill. I don’t eat red meat, although eat eggs, cheese and milk. Also food with eggs and milk in them. My husband is against me killing any of them. So Iam going on a course. What can he do once they have gone. But I won’t beable to eat them, so how do I dispose of them please?

  9. Tony metcalfe says:

    I invested £25 a while back in something called a :dispatcher; hand held device and the birds do t even get to flap there wings, I must say you are correct regarding men, my first time the head simply came off in my hand. Nothing I ever wish to repeat, hence the dispatcher

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