Marks Daily Apple
Serving up health and fitness insights (daily, of course) with a side of irreverence.
15 Jul

Next Level Primal: I Killed a Chicken and Ate It

chickens31This is a guest post from Bethany McDaniel of Primal Pastures. Learn more about Bethany and Primal Pastures at the end of this article. Enter Bethany…

I still remember the first time I killed a chicken. I had watched it happen hundreds of times (my family runs a small pastured livestock farm in So-Cal called Primal Pastures). I’d even helped out with all of the other steps involved in chicken processing (scalding, plucking, eviscerating, and packaging), but I couldn’t quite bring myself to take a knife to a chicken’s throat and end its life.

But why?

I had no problem eating chickens that someone else killed. I’m not terribly freaked out by blood. And I had already gone through the gutting process more times than I could count (which is way gross-er than killing).

After about a year of helping out with processing days, I decided that it was time for me to kill a chicken.

So I finally did it — I cut into it’s throat so hard with a knife that the whole head fell right off. And much to my surprise, I suffered no emotional scarring, haunting chicken nightmares, or anything of the sort. It was merely another step in the process — a necessary part of producing food for my family and our customers to enjoy. And personally going through all of the steps involved in taking a chicken from pasture to plate in the most humane and safe way possible gave me a new sense of confidence and pride in my ability to provide food for myself — something I never knew I was capable of doing.

But not everyone sees it this way. I can’t tell you how many friends have asked me (with a horrified expression of disgust), “Wait – you actually kill the chickens?” As if this were some sort of barbaric act that any “normal” person would never take part in.

You can’t really blame them. Because of the horrific slaughter conditions of factory farmed animals, people often think that chicken processing is gross, mean, cruel, and inhumane. But in reality, animal slaughtering can be done in a way that is extremely quick and humane. And although it’s (sadly) not even close to being a common practice, it certainly is (and has always been) an extremely normal part of the circle of life.

This Used to Be Common Knowledge

In the early 1900s, chicken keeping was extremely common. Processing the birds was simply a part of life — and most people not only knew how to do it, but also processed chickens themselves on a regular basis. It was even normal for young children to help out with the chore under mom or grandma’s supervision.

But today, the thought of killing anything has become so taboo that many would rather believe their meat was grown in a plastic package at the grocery store than associate it with a once living, breathing animal.

Liz Wolfe sums it up beautifully in her book, Eat The Yolks:

Unfortunately, many of us are educated about animals by the entertainment industry. And through that lens, we acquire an image of nature that is wildly and tragically inaccurate. It’s an image with a rosy filter, one that ignores the fact that nature itself is, and always has been engaged in a cycle of life and death. A cycle that seems cruel and violent, rather than innate and natural when we’re raised on Disney instead of Discovery.

The outlook described above is convenient, but couldn’t be more distorted. And it’s left us lacking in our knowledge of meat and where it comes from — which is terribly unfortunate. Everyone has the right to learn and understand the work that goes into taking meat from its natural habitat to our plate. Without this understanding, we’re robbed of the appreciation and wisdom that comes from knowing how it all works.

Processing a Primal Chicken

After experiencing the life-changing effects of killing and processing chickens ourselves, we decided to start offering processing workshops to give others the opportunity to see and experience it for themselves as well. During these workshops, we provide participants with instruction and supervision as they go through all of the steps involved in taking a chicken from pasture to package, ready for the freezer or dinner table.

The workshops focus on the 5 stages of poultry processing: killing, scalding, plucking, eviscerating, and packaging. Each workshop guest has the opportunity to get hands-on experience with each station if so desired. They also have the option to slaughter their very own heritage breed, pasture-raised, soy-free, beyond organic meat bird, package it, and bring it home for their freezer.

We don’t require attendees to get hands-on with the processing and guests are always welcome to simply watch and learn. Either way, attendees end up walking away from the experience with a new outlook on food. Roberto (who attended our last workshop) said, “I grew-up hearing stories of my grandmother’s chickens and how she would make fresh chicken meals at a moment’s notice. After attending this workshop, I feel that I’ve matured in way that is analogous to a toddler learning to feed himself. This workshop helped me take another step towards becoming a fully matured meat consumer.”

His wife Dawn had a similar perspective. “I think everyone should be conscientious about where they get their food. People are afraid to know where their food comes from because of the horrors they hear about and see on television/the internet about factory farming. Taking the workshop from Primal Pastures gave me a sense of pride in being a meat eater.”

We realize that attending one of these workshops isn’t possible for everyone. But just knowing the process is a huge step in the right direction. So here it is – primal chicken processing in 5 steps (complete with photos from our most recent workshop):

Killing

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To start the killing process, birds are transferred from the pasture to a “kill cone” (pictured) and placed upside down, head out. Chickens enter into a natural trance state in this inverted position, which makes for excellent meat quality — the less stressed out an animal is prior to slaughter, the less adrenaline is released into the meat (adrenaline is what causes meat to become tough and chewy). Many CAFO (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation) birds miss this step entirely and end up meeting their demise during the scalding step — a terribly inhumane way to die.

Scalding

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Birds are already dead before moving on to this step in the process. Scalding involves dipping the birds in hot water in order to loosen up the feathers. There’s a very fine temperature range that works in conjunction with the next step, plucking.

Plucking

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When the feathers are fully loosened up from scalding, the plucking machine takes them out for good. The chickens are spun around and sprayed with water to remove the feathers during this step. Many who see our plucking device de-feather four birds in 10 seconds are amazed, as this process would have taken your great-grandmother 5-10 minutes for just one bird. Want to see the contrast for yourself? Check out this video of hand plucking and this one of a plucking machine.

Eviscerating

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During the eviscerating step, we gut the birds and take out their insides. Almost every part of the chicken is saved and sold to customers. We sell the livers, hearts, gizzards, feet, and heads. Other parts (like the oil sack and intestines) are fed to our guard dogs. This is one part of the process that you just can’t learn without going through it a couple of times.

Packaging

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During this step, the whole carcass is placed inside of a bag, zip tied, and dunked into boiling water. Heat-shrink packaging gives the finished products a professional look and an air-tight seal that makes long-term freezing easy. The air leaves the package through a small hole which we cover up with a Primal Pastures sticker.

BethanyMcDanielWe truly believe that if more people had the personal experience of processing at least one animal in their lifetime, it would change our entire country’s food system for the better. If you’re interested in joining us in Southern California for a processing workshop, farm tour, or potluck, check out all of these events on our website by clicking here. If you can’t get to Southern California, Eatwild.com has a great list of pastured livestock farms throughout the United States that may offer similar events.

This was a guest post from Bethany McDaniel of Primal Pastures — a small, beyond organic farm in Southern California that raises pastured chicken, lamb, turkey, and more. Bethany works on the farm with her family and runs the Primal Pastures blog, From the Pasture. Follow her blog or keep up with her on Instagram for useful and entertaining information about farm life, real food, wellness, and everything else that makes up her primal lifestyle.

You want comments? We got comments:

Imagine you’re George Clooney. Take a moment to admire your grooming and wit. Okay, now imagine someone walks up to you and asks, “What’s your name?” You say, “I’m George Clooney.” Or maybe you say, “I’m the Clooninator!” You don’t say “I’m George of George Clooney Sells Movies Blog” and you certainly don’t say, “I’m Clooney Weight Loss Plan”. So while spam is technically meat, it ain’t anywhere near Primal. Please nickname yourself something your friends would call you.

  1. Why do it? Really? Everyday there are millions of animals killed for consumption, why kill more just so you can be in touch with nature? I live in a suburb, I work in an office and I go to the butcher or to the local grocer for animal consumption requirements. Why do I have to kill the animal just to be in touch with what I eat. I respect the animals and I wish I didn’t have to eat them. But to go to the ‘next level of primal’ and kill the chickens, the cow, the pig or whatever is unethical if it’s just to satisfy an illusionary need.

    Humans, biologically need animal protein and animal fat to survive, that is a most unfortunate circumstance we have as a species, but it’s a fact, scientifically proven. We cannot thrive without animal consumption. We cannot thrive by reverting to our ancestor states either.

    Incidentally, why does everything have to be primal? Why not accept having to eat another species as a deficiency of the human genome and get on with growth, finding technologies that will someday support the planet and the animals?

    Zeta wrote on July 15th, 2014
    • If the animal is then eaten, either by the person at the workshop or a customer of the farm, I don’t see how killing it is unethical.

      Personally I don’t feel any particular desire to participate in this sort of activity. Based on the comments of others here, though, for many this experience seems to have a benefit of making the human participants more aware, at an emotional/spiritual level, of the desirability of small-scale, more humane agricutural practices, in a way that seeing a plastic wrapped pack of meat with the word “pastured” on it, does not.

      neanderwoman wrote on July 16th, 2014
    • Zeta, there’s a lot more to this experience than just “getting in touch with nature” and “satisfying an illusionary need.” I am certainly not advocating for the killing of animals just for the sake of killing animals. Every chicken I have killed has been used to feed our family or customers.

      I also don’t consider our basic need for animal protein to be a deficiency. It’s a part of who we are. So instead of ignoring/feeling guilty about/being grossed out by nature’s cycle of life and death, why not embrace it and become more in touch with it?

      I do not have any ill feelings towards those who don’t have the desire to participate in the experience of killing or processing an animal. I am only suggesting that the experience can be extremely beneficial for meat eaters, resulting in an increased understanding for and appreciation of meat and animals in general!

      Bethany McDaniel wrote on July 17th, 2014
  2. Damn! I wish I had that plucking machine when I went duck hunting! So much faster and easier than hand plucking.

    Nick S. wrote on July 15th, 2014
  3. Wow, I never thought I would ever read an article on how to kill a chicken, much less one that makes it seem so humane and “primal.” Thank you, and thank you for helping to promote the the animals’ right to a dignified death. After all, they do deserve it as they are helping to promote optimal health for us.

    IslandSeeker wrote on July 15th, 2014
    • Haha yes, pretty unorthodox post. Glad you enjoyed it though!

      Bethany McDaniel wrote on July 17th, 2014
  4. So interesting, everyones reactions that is. I guess growing up in the wild west (Oregon) taught me early on about the reality of providing meat for your family. I grew up in a family that hunted every fall, deer and elk, and fished the ocean & rivers. The work of processing the bounty was shared by all. I learned to butcher, can, freeze, and jerk many types of animals. My husband is now teaching our son to hunt as well, this is the child that took a bite out of a raw deer heart at 4 yrs old before I could stop him! I can honestly say that store bought beef doesn’t hold a candle to a good elk steak, and I’m sure the health benefits are much greater too.

    Rema wrote on July 15th, 2014
    • I agree about the elk…… Oh my, one of our hunter friends gave us some elk years ago and I have not tasted better meat since then. Oregon has some good tasting animals.

      2Rae wrote on July 16th, 2014
    • Just had wild elk (hunted by my uncle) for the first time last week, and WOW – best meat I’ve ever had (probably not the best thing to say coming from someone who sells delicious pastured meat, but it’s the truth)! Can’t believe your son bit into a raw deer! I think he’s already out-primaled me by a longshot! ;)

      Bethany McDaniel wrote on July 17th, 2014
  5. The kill cone sounds really humane. Just cut it’s throat while it’s still alive! I like baked chicken as much as the next person, but I think I would rather get my calories from my home grown potatoes and chicken eggs.

    Jame wrote on July 16th, 2014
    • Jame, just a question…. how would you recommend they kill their chickens? Of course it’s still alive, they haven’t killed it yet.

      K wrote on July 16th, 2014
    • Sorry Jame, but I’m going to have to agree with K on this one…don’t think it’s quite possible to kill something unless it’s alive to begin with!

      Bethany McDaniel wrote on July 17th, 2014
  6. Hi All,

    Glad to see real food being locally prepared.

    Now I just gotta find where I can buy live chickens.

    John

    John wrote on July 16th, 2014
  7. As part of the respect and gratitude for the food we eat, animal and plant, and to help us stay conscious and connected to where it came from, we say this prayer before meals:
    “Thank you God (or Source, Great Spirit, etc) for this food and drink. Bless the hands that made it. We thank the animals and plants for their giveaway. May this food and drink raise the vibration of our bodies so that we can bring more love, joy and peace to the world. “

    kay wrote on July 16th, 2014
    • Love it, Kay! Praying before meals is an excellent way to maintain an attitude of gratitude :)

      Bethany McDaniel wrote on July 17th, 2014
  8. I enjoyed your article and I applaud your approach. Personally, I feel better eating a vegetarian diet and I get plenty of protein from a variety of plant sources. My question to you is, do you feel that the process you work with can supplant the massive factory machine(s) pumping toxic food out into the world? Thanks

    Karl wrote on July 16th, 2014
  9. I helped “process” about 50 chickens last year with 6 other people. I wound up being the least squeamish about catching them and cutting their throats. The evisceration was my least favorite part: warm and gooey are the two words that come to mind.

    It was a moving experience, and I ended up having a lot more respect for any food that I’m eating, whether animal or vegetable. I also feel like I’ve earned the right to eat meat, now that I know I can take personal responsibility for the killing.

    I have yet to kill one of my own backyard chickens, but it’s happening soon, and I’m sure it will be a bit harder than what I did before.

    Here is the best video I’ve found online:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5_S3P0eU0lE&list=PL8AF8A5E7A7482289&feature=mh_lolz

    dragonmamma wrote on July 16th, 2014
    • So neat – thanks for sharing your experience! And you’re right about the eviscerating – noting quite like reaching your hand into a pit of warm & gooey chicken insides! ;)

      Bethany McDaniel wrote on July 17th, 2014
  10. I’ve been following along on the Primal Pastures journey through facebook and find it really fascinating. If I were in CA I’d definitely come watch the processing. I can’t say I’d participate so these pictures really help me grasp the steps.

    My husband went deer hunting for the first time this winter and bagged a doe and we had delicious meat and at first I was really really upset that he was going, but he went with an experienced huntsman who was humane and conscious of what they were doing and used the parts of the animal that he did not want to bring home. That made me feel better, along with knowing exactly where that food came from. It was a small epiphany, and I am looking forward to him going in the future.

    The issue I have with hunting comes from people going just to get trophies, and taking photos of them. Hunting should not be a sport, but a way of life that connects a person to their ancestry and back to nature.

    I’m taking baby steps, I’ve been cooking whole chickens but recently watched some vids and broke down my chicken into separate parts. That was a big deal to me, to crack bones and sever joints. It makes you want to not waste ANY part because you know the sacrifice the animal made to nourish you.

    K wrote on July 16th, 2014
  11. Hey Bethany!!! Before reading this I didn’t think I could go through with it…but now I WANT TO! lol I think Kim and I need to come up and try this out. Wonder if she would be up for it…

    Great post!

    Amanda *Paleoschmaleo

    Amanda Burchard wrote on July 16th, 2014
    • Amanda! You should totally come out for a workshop. Hopefully Kim will be up for it too. Even if you guys aren’t ready to kill one yet, it’s still a good experience to go through all of the other steps. And if we do some wine tasting beforehand, I’m SURE you will have enough courage to go through the entire process. Haha ;)

      Bethany McDaniel wrote on July 16th, 2014
  12. @k as I have stated before I am a hunter and can tell you that trophy hunting as it is called mostly by non hunters is not different from the so called meat hunting.Care is taken to make sure that the animal is harvested in the most humane way possible and that proper respect is shown to the animal.The meat is always eaten even if the hunt happens in Africa where the U.S. government does not allow the hunter to bring back the meat, the meat is given to local villagers to help them with their sustenance.As far as the pictures, they are taken as a way to save the memories of the hunt and to share the hunt with family and friends that were not able to go on the hunt.I would also like to say that the people who really help animals and their habitats are the hunters ,farmers ,ranchers and timber companies.These groups of people that often times get blamed for habitat loss and declines in animal numbers are the people that pay for and do most of the critical habitat work that ensures optimal habitat and animal health and sustainability.

    thinker wrote on July 16th, 2014
  13. Bethany,
    What I have long admired about Primal Pastures is your transparency. While processing isn’t for everyone, you guys make it available as a learning and a teaching experience to close the circle from Farm to Table. I don’t see Tyson Chicken opening their doors! Thanks for the honesty that happens on your farm.

    Madeline wrote on July 16th, 2014
    • Haha! Your comment about Tyson Chicken made me giggle – so true!! Thanks for the words of encouragement, Madeline! LOVE what you’re doing with nutpods as well!

      Bethany McDaniel wrote on July 17th, 2014
  14. I’ve gone fishing and eat insects, but hunting and livestock are still a dream for me. I must say though, it did not take me long after finding this site to want to eat entire animals on a regular basis. The hunting and livestock goals followed.

    Without infrastructure (by event or location), most Americans would starve. I would be one of the few to know that I was surrounded by food, yet I would still starve for lack of knowledge.

    BillC wrote on July 17th, 2014
  15. Lovely, informative post. I look forward to the day when I am able to get myself to be a part of this cycle. I eat meat but still feel a little squeamish about it. I’m even a little hesitant to keep hens for eggs because of the logical outcome of a hens laying years. So, I salute you.

    pamela wrote on July 17th, 2014
    • Thanks so much, Pamela! I bet you’re not too far off from becoming “a part of the cycle!” And if you need a kickstart, you’re always welcome at a processing workshop! ;)

      Bethany McDaniel wrote on July 17th, 2014
  16. While I haven’t raised chickens or any sort of domestic animals for eating I do hunt small game and large game on occasion with some success. I’ve often told people that object to hunting that there is a profound difference in observing nature and participating in nature. When you hunt you are participating or taking part in nature. When you become a part of nature then nature will become a part of you. The observer of nature always remains outside of nature. It remains an external experience.

    I would think that it is much the same in raising animals for consumption.

    haroldcrews wrote on July 17th, 2014
    • Harold, love your explanation of participating in vs. observing nature – I’d much rather participate!

      Bethany McDaniel wrote on July 17th, 2014
  17. Love this article! It is so important (perhaps even crucial) for everyone, and especially kids, to understand the whole process of where their food comes from. It leads to a greater appreciation and respect for what you eat.

    I was really lucky as a kid because there was a place near where I grew up that had events throughout the year where small groups would come to the farm and participate in the entire process of taking a chicken from the pasture to the table. We watched while the bird was killed, plucked and eviscerated, and then we all helped to make chicken and dumplings and enjoyed the meal together. It is one of my favorite memories as a kid and it has stayed with me.

    Understanding how different this process is from factory farming is crucial in trying to encourage people to “vote with their money” and buy from small, local, producers like this!

    Caitlin wrote on July 18th, 2014
    • Absolutely agree, Caitlin! So awesome that you were able to experience all of this as a kid!

      Bethany McDaniel wrote on July 20th, 2014
  18. I’m a pescetarian/vegetarian, but I have killed animals humanely on an “as needed” basis. I’ve also killed and processed a chicken or two in my lifetime, along with rabbits and squirrels I’ve hunted in my misspent youth, though I no longer eat them.

    The most recent animal I killed was a very young rabbit that an “outside domestic cat” was toying with. The rabbit had half it’s skin flayed off on one side, and was still trying to get away from the cat. Since the cat wouldn’t make the kill, I did so the rabbit would have no need for more suffering before its death. In the wild, the kill would have been quicker and a domestic cat is not a natural predator of rabbits. Let them eat mice! That was the basis for my decision. I fed the rabbit to the neighbor’s hunting dogs who expressed their appreciation resoundingly.

    Sandy wrote on July 19th, 2014
  19. @BillC if you want to get into hunting you should take a hunter education course from your state.These courses have a lot of great info not just on hunting but also on wildlife and habitat conservation.It would also be a good opportunity to get in contact with local hunters who could help you with mentoring.If you decide to get into hunting , a really cost effective way to get a great rifle and scope is to wait for the fall classic hunting sale at the Bass pro shops and buy one of their Savage Arms rifle and scope combo packages chambered in 30-06 caliber.My brothers have them and spent only about 350.00 dollars and they perform better than my rifle and scope that I spent 2800.00 dollars to buy.Savage Arms and Remington also have some great 12 gauge semi auto shotguns that are great for bird/duck/small game hunting that are also at a great price.Once you get into hunting and see how amazing nature really is you will wonder why you didn’t do it sooner.

    thinker wrote on July 19th, 2014
  20. This is fantastic. I love the posts that give us a glimpse of where our commercial meat comes from. My husband and I are hunters and live on about 2 deer and as many ducks, pheasant, and fish as we can get our hands on every year. We don’t get too many pheasant or turkeys so we do rely on grocery store chicken. I think it’s great that your farm offers such an enlightening workshop. I will never forget my first time to kill, clean, and cook my own meat.

    Christine wrote on July 19th, 2014
  21. Kudo!

    you’re right that most civilised people are too detached from our food. not good,

    i saw my grandma kill & scald chicken, by hand. also gut a fish too. her generation grew up in wars & did everything by hand & never wasted anything. i also made a compost pile w/ chicken manure when i was a kid; oh, the squat toilet. what fun.

    cheers

    pam wrote on July 20th, 2014

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