I don’t usually spend much time sharing the experience of processing chickens because usually people don’t think they want to hear it. But in the interest of sharing our observations, here goes! This post will not contain any photos of actual processing.
Our process has been practiced and refined to the point where I feel very good about how we go from live chicken to nutritious food in our freezer. It’s all very smooth because Amy and I know our strengths and divide the work up in a way that prevents us from getting overworked or making mistakes. I handle the kills and plucking. Amy eviscerates and cleans.
After having already processed 40 cornish cross this year, I was very curious about how different a heritage breed would be. I will break it down into the following categories: Catching, Killing, Plucking, Eviscerating, and Packaging.
Heritage Breeds vs. Cornish Cross Chickens: Processing Differences
As you might guess, heritage breeds tend to be quicker and generally more intensely active when you pursue them. However, I wouldn’t say the cornish cross all just lay around as many people might think. Our cornish cross chickens were also quite active and made me give chase. But generally speaking, there’s no question that heritage breeds would be considered more difficult to catch.
I was concerned that the heritage chickens would be much more difficult to kill, however, once they were in the restraint cone they were really no different than cornish. They relaxed and were just as peaceful through the process.
This is probably where I noticed the biggest differences in the process. Why would plucking a heritage chicken be any different than a cornish cross? It’s very obvious when you think about it, actually! The cornish cross breed is bred for processing at around 7 or 8 weeks of age, while heritage breeds are usually processed much later, around 16-20 weeks. Thus, their feathers are more developed. And it turns out that birds with more developed feathers are easier to pluck, because there are far, far fewer of those obnoxious needle feathers that you can’t get a good grip on. It is worth noting that we used a drill plucker combined with manual plucking, and do not have a barrel plucker that would likely eliminate any differences. But not everyone wants to spend the money on the big pluckers, so I figured it is worth sharing this significant difference!
Amy noted that the heritage chickens were indeed smaller, but otherwise the differences were minimal. The size could make evisceration more difficult for someone with large hands (like me), but generally the process is identical.
Surprisingly, we ran into a small hiccup with packaging the heritage roosters. While they were much smaller than the cornish cross on average, they were actually taller and thus had longer legs. Think of the cornish cross breed as closer to a bowling ball and the heritage breed as more like a tennis racket. OK, maybe that’s a ridiculous exaggeration. But seriously, this made the heritage chickens difficult to squeeze into the gallon-sized freezer bags we were using. It was kind of insane how much longer their legs were! But we made it work, and next time we process heritage breeds we’ll go straight to the bags we use for customers that are designed for packaging chickens.
Want to know what it was like for us to eat the heritage chicken meat? Click here for part 3 of this series!
And don’t forget, in November we’ll be processing some Freedom Rangers so I’ll try to make sure to come back and update this post if I notice any significant differences.