Backyard Chickens 101: Thinning the Flock

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Backyard Chickens 101: Thinning the Flock

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If you are new to our Backyard Chickens don’t miss watching the chickens grow week by week, our coup, and other tidbits. Today I am going to give homeschooling families a family friendly overview of Chicken Butchering. This makes one neat homeschool science class!
Backyard Chickens 101: Thinning the FLock and Chicken Butchering  (family friendly overview) #science #backyardchickens

Whether you are thinning the flock because you have to many chickens, your chickens are no longer laying well (after 2 years of age), or something else here are the basics. I am not going to go into the nitty gritty because honestly I don’t think most of you want to hear it. This is mainly just to help you see what having a Backyard Chicken is like full cycle – here you go.

Note: If your chicken dies suddenly do not eat it.  The USDA also has a free disease-testing service. To find out more, call 1-866-536-7593, or visit their website at

Preparing your Chicken Butchering Space

preparing our space Because we live in a small residential street with lots of children roaming around we felt we needed to take care of things in our garage. We feel each parent should be able to discuss life and death in the time and way that works best for their family and individual child.

We laid out plastic table cloths we had leftover from a birthday party. My husband put some nails in a piece of wood and sharpened the axe. We lined a bin with a heavy duty garbage bag for the leftover pieces. We also got a table lined with plastic for cutting up the chicken, a boning knife, and a candle for removing any loose hairs.

How to Slaughter a Chicken

Slaughtering is the technical term for killing a chicken. You aren’t going to want to slaughter a chicken that is too small or it just isn’t worth it. Birds should be 3-6 lb.
Chickens have poor circulatory systemsNow my husband & I took a class at our local farm because both of us were city raised. We learned that chickens have very poor circulation and if you hold them upside down they will eventually pass out and pass less painfully. Once they have been upside down a while you swing them around in large circles until they pass out. Then you place their head between 2 nails on a board to hold it in place and chop it off.  You can also poke an ice pick through the beak to the brain.

Hang the body upside down to drain the blood out. Surprisingly, there is very little blood – just a couple TAB.

How to Butcher a Chicken

Butchering a chicken means to cut it up to prepare to eat it.
plucking the chicken
Bring a pot of water to a boil. Dip the chicken in and swish it around for about 10-15 seconds. In a downward motion pull out the feathers – they should come out easily.

Although Goofy (8 years old) wanted to help with the slaughtering we weren’t comfortable with that yet. But we did let him help with the butchering.
everythign but the wings and tail

You will be removing the tail feathers (and oil gland), feet, and wings so no need to get them perfectly pulled off.  Use the candle to singe the remaining few hairs. It’s starting to look more like chicken dinner, isn’t it?

Homeschool Science - Disecting a Chicken

If you are doing this your self you should go to a class or watch a You Tube video (there are some excellent ones out there) before attempting it. It goes quickly (less than 10 minutes) once you know what you are doing, but if you cut open the intestines or bowels you will spoil the meat.

Homeschool Science - What's inside a chicken's stomach

I did all the cutting with the sharp knife, but Goofy thought it was fascinating to see the intestines, heart, lung, and inside the croup (pictured above).  It was actually a neat homeschool science lesson!

lots of eggs inside a chicken Although our hens aren’t laying yet, the ones we butchered at the farm were. In a laying hen you will see the progression of eggs in the tract. Chickens lay about every 25 hours so there are several eggs in smaller and smaller sizes the farther up you go. Did you know the shell is actually one of the last steps?

Eating your Backyard Chicken

Chickens should be washed thoroughly and stored in the fridge 3 days before eating. At that point you can eat them or freeze them. Remember that the chicken sold in the store is only 45 days old and is therefore very tender. Chickens that have lived a little longer have more flavor, but need to be cooked with more moisture. The older the hen, the slower/moister you should cook them. Here are great tips for cooking chickens like Grandma use to on the farm! Here is a great resource for how to cook birds at any stage and what they are called – fryer, roaster, etc.

NOTE: The Barred Plymouth Rock, Buff Orpington, Golden Laced Wyndotte, and New Hampshire Red all are great dual purpose chickens (great for laying while still being a good size to eat). We found ours reached a good size just before 20 weeks.

So did I totally gross you out?

Additional Resources


Next up ……. Backyard Chickens 101: We’ve Got EGGS!



  1. Yes, you totally grossed me out. But, it was very informative.

    1. LOL Keitha! I would have never dreamed this city girl who had never touched a chicken would be doing this! But it was very interesting.

    2. My grandparents raised lots of chickens when I was growing up. We used to have to help pluck the feathers and then we would watch grandpa butcher them. We also used to play with the hooves on the deer while grandpa finished "cleaning" them. So, it is not totally foreign to me but it is not something I would want to do now. :-)

  2. Yes, it grossed me out, and I did grow up on a farm. My family slaughtered a pig and tons and tons of chickens. It didn't gross me out as a child, and my job was gizzard cleaner extraordinaire. I guess I've just been away from it all. Interesting fact about the passing out thing. I knew they "went to sleep," but I didn't know why.

  3. Can you explain me why I have to keep the chicken in the fridge for 3 days, I use to cook them usually the same day.

    1. By what I understand Elvira - it helps the meat relax so will be more tender and soak up flavors better.

  4. Question, if you do the passing out thing (which sounds much more humane and probably prevents release of some of the stress hormones i would imagine) do they still do the flopping around thing after the deed is done?

    1. Unfortunately, Marie the flopping around after they die is a reflex and will happen no matter what.