Next Level Primal: I Killed a Chicken and Ate It

ChickensThis 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):



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.



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.



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.



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.


Group photo

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.

Bethany McDanielWe 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, 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.

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145 thoughts on “Next Level Primal: I Killed a Chicken and Ate It”

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  1. I’ve been a vegetarian for over 7 years but I loved reading this. Part of the reason I gave up meat was because I knew I could never kill it myself, so I felt like I didn’t have a right to eat it. I don’t care at all if other’s decide to eat meat, but I wish people had more of a connection to the food they eat.

    1. I completely understand and respect your reasoning for being a vegetarian, Erica! Believe it or not, I gave up meat for about 6 months awhile back for similar reasons. I feel good about eating properly sourced and raised meat now that I understand it better!

      1. I’ve hand plucked chickens when I was a child back in the 50’s. But I also became a vegetarian in the mid-80’s for the reason that I didn’t want to kill an animal, therefore I shouldn’t eat meat, and that killing them was somehow cruel. Then I saw two documentaries in close succession.

        The first one showed a pride of lions taking down a zebra. One lion had a choke hold on the throat, a common way that they kill. Others began eating the animal before it was dead. That’s much more cruel (to human thinking) than even commercially killed animals. The second one was the first video showing chimpanzees hunting. (Yes, they hunt for meat.) They caught a monkey and began pulling it apart without killing it first. After that, I rethought my vegetarian ways and went back to eating meat.

        Great post, Bethany.

        1. David – I love that watching real-life carnivorous behavior in the animal kingdom influenced your decision to start eating meat again. After all, we’re all animals (in some sense of the word). And we (human animals) clearly have the basic instinct to eat other animals. So why should we deprive ourselves of that? As long as we’re going about it in the smartest & most humane way possible, I see nothing but benefits to eating meat!

    2. Erica, I had the same reasoning at one time. However, that logic would mean that I can’t wear the clothes I don’t make. Eat the zucchini I don’t grow…and on and on. You get the picture. We as a human race have all sorts of jobs to supply the rest of us with what we need for our lives. We don’t all have to kill our own food or make our own shoes or …….

      1. Sharon, you bring up some very valid points. I don’t think that simply not knowing how to or being able to do something means that one shouldn’t partake in any certain behavior or act. But I DO feel that understanding the process behind any given thing (processing meat, growing vegetables, etc.) will enrich that experience tenfold! But you’re right – we certainly don’t “have” to learn these things in order to enjoy them!

        1. I agree. The more things I experience, the more things I appreciate. I have participated in and know a bit to alot about dance, most sports, gardening, building, tiling, designing, art, photography, sewing, felting, quiltmaking, cooking, cleaning, painting and that’s all I can think of at the moment.

          I try to avoid killing things other than carrots and such but if push came to shove, I would be there I am sure. I like what you are doing at Primal Pastures and do agree we all need to understand where our food comes from. I am eternally grateful for farms like yours.

      2. These examples are also not entirely analogous because unlike manufacturing one’s own clothes or cultivating one’s own zucchinis, killing a chicken may prevent obstacles relating to empathy and morality. Feeling unable/unwilling to kill a chicken typically has more to do with the feelings around taking a life than the additional time and energy expenditure the act would require.

        1. You should read it, or if you don’t feel like it, listen to podcast interviews with Lierre (the author). She makes a very compelling argument. She goes into some things which are maybe a little out there, but her arguments against vegetarianism are rock solid.

  2. I am working my way towards this. I have hens for eggs, and have killed one (hatchet, stump) to put her out of misery; did not eat her. Its the eviscerating bit that is holding me back, the basic how-to. I need to find a local person to guide me through that step. I know my chickens lead a very good life (for a chicken). One nasty second at the end has got to be better than what commercial chickens go through.

    1. Hi Una! YouTube actually has some pretty detailed videos on the eviscerating process that could help you figure it out – it’s by far the most complex part of the process!

  3. I recall memories of my grandmother telling stories of how my great-grandmother would just grab one of their chickens up off the ground and pull its head off in preparation for dinner. Stories like that were funny to me, because my great-grandmother was the most kind-hearted person and had the best sense of humor.

      1. There’s a scene in “The Grapes of Wrath” where Tom recalls Ma going after a traveling salesman with a live chicken, for annoying her: “She had the chicken in one han’, an’ the ax in the other, about to cut its head off. She aimed to go for that peddler with the ax, but she forgot which han’ was which, an’ she takes after him with the chicken. Couldn’ even eat that chicken when she got done. They wasn’t nothing but a pair a legs in her han’. Grampa throwed his hip outa joint laughin’.”

  4. I guarantee that your grandmother did not spend 5-10 minutes plucking each bird. A properly scalded bird can be mostly plucked with a few swipes; the @#$ pin feathers might take half a minute if you’re thorough, and then a quick swipe over an alcohol flame to singe off any hairs.

  5. We slaughtered our own chickens for the first time last year. My 4 year old and one year old insisted on watching. I was a little concerned for them, but they were not fazed in the least, even when one jumped out of the cone post-decapitation and started running around (yes, it does happen). The best part was when, after seeing 50 birds killed, my 4 y-o asked if we could have chicken for supper. Absolutely! What a great life lesson.

    1. Wow! How incredible that you have provided your kids with that experience at such young ages…and that they reacted so maturely to it! We always have a few feisty ones that jump out of the cones as well – it’s pretty much inevitable! 😉

  6. Thank you for the eye-opening look at what farm to table really means. I definitely want to take this workshop. My appreciation for knowing where my food comes from has grown and grown since starting to eat whole foods, and while I’ve always had an appreciation for growing my own vegetables, I’ve never killed my own food outside of fish. I’m looking forward to the experience!

  7. I have always maintained that if you’re going to eat animals you should have to kill some of them – like maybe you could kill a steer once a year. This would probably reduce the amount of meat eaten overall, as there are a lot of people who want to eat meat but stay in denial about how it gets on their table, and such folk often tell me that if that were the case then they wouldn’t eat meat. Hunters (people who eat what they kill, which to me are the only ones to respect) get this but we have become so divorced from the origins of meat that most of us live in a completely artificial world, where “meat” comes either on plastic wrapped styrofoam trays or in the form of anonymous nuggets at McD’s. So yes, I have killed animals and I’m glad to have done so – not because I think it’s great to kill, but because I think it’s necessary to understand what the animal gives up so I can eat. I respect that.

  8. “birds are transferred from the pasture to a “kill cone” (pictured) and placed upside down, head out.”

    That sounds so easy but I’m guessing that’s actually the hardest part of the whole process.

  9. After taking the tour at Primal Pastures and seeing fat happy chickens scratching in weeds, fully expressing their chickeness, I have a whole new appreciation for pasture raised animals.It was a pleasure to meet Bethany and the rest of the family. I look forward to a time when more local family operated farms like Primal Pastures are supplying us with clean, healthy,humanely processed,and delicious meats. Can’t wait to take the processing workshop too.

  10. My daughter first insisted on watching this process when she was 3. She was a little concerned at the killing, but said “That’s meat! Can we eat it?” as soon as it came out of the plucker!

  11. Great post! I took part in killing turkeys (didn’t do the kill blow myself, but watched, and did everything else) while I was at a farm in New Zealand, and I was amazed at how comfortable I was with it. It felt really natural, and like I was meant to do it.

    I’d love to have some chickens some day. Not going to happen while I’m living in an apartment, but hey, if I make it a long-term goal, there’s no reason why I can’t.

  12. I just grab them by the head and crack ’em like a whip. Then I stand on their wings, grab their legs, and pull the body right out of the skin. Gut it, chop it, and it’s ready for the oven! You don’t get to eat the skin though, I admit.

      1. With a quick, humane kill the chicken has only time to think, “bawk!”, but with a slower, crueler method the chicken has time to suffer, thinking, “bawk! bawk!”.:D But seriously, I learned the method as a young man hunting grouse. It’s called “field dressing”.

  13. I grew up in a small town and almost everyone kept chickens in the backyard, both for the eggs and the meat. Neither one of my parents had the emotional fortitude to kill the birds so my grandma did it using a hatchet and stump. I was small and my mom didn’t want me to watch. I did anyway, but only once. I still remember the incident as an appalling affair with the terrified chicken squawking and flapping, then running around the yard minus its head, squirting blood until it dropped to the ground dead. To each his own, I guess, but to this day I’d rather not focus on the fact that the meat I eat was once a living creature.

    1. Thanks for sharing your experience, Shary! I wonder if your negative emotions from the experience could have had something to do with the fact that neither of your parents wanted anything to do with it, perhaps ingraining the idea in your mind that killing a chicken was somehow cruel or gross. Maybe not – just a thought!

      1. I doubt that my parents had anything to do with the way I feel. I’ve always felt that killing animals, even food animals, is definitely cruel and gross. I also find it a bit callous to feel otherwise. I would be a vegetarian if it weren’t for the fact that I feel and function so much better with animal protein in my diet.

        1. That’s one way to look at it – a perspective that many others undoubtably share. I don’t take it lightly that a living creature has to die in order for me to eat meat. That’s why I believe in going about the entire process in the most humane and respectful way possible. I don’t find this way of thinking to be cruel, gross, or callus in any way. It’s a simple fact of life. And those who DO choose to partake in meat eating can all benefit from knowing more about where their meat comes from and making informed choices!

        2. Hi Bethany. I see your point. I just don’t entirely share your perspective. A few people have commented here about the “disconnect” people have regarding where their meat actually comes from. I’m well aware of where it comes from, but I’m one of many who prefers not to have my nose rubbed in it (so to speak). I eat animal protein because I need to for optimal health, and I’m very grateful that others are willing to do the dirty work. I gladly spend the extra money for chickens that are humanely slaughtered and thank my lucky stars that I can afford to do so.

        3. Shary, I completely respect your opinion. Do I think processing meat is an enriching experience? Absolutely. But of course, not everyone HAS to experience killing their own food in order to enjoy it and benefit from it. Best wishes!

  14. While I have not yet killed my own chicken to eat, I kill tomatoes, jalapenos, squash and many other living things from my garden daily.

    1. I like your post Nocona. This is a good thing we all need to remember. The food we eat obviously had a life, and in order to eat it, that life needs to end, even plants. I just plucked a squash off the vine and brought it in to cook today….

  15. This is amazing. So many people are disconnected to where their food comes from. This demonizes hunting, farming, among other forms of sourcing animal products. Animal products come from animals, not from colorful frozen packages and warehouses.

  16. I think if more people went through this process or even just observed the process would waste far less food. I know I feel terrible when I forget about something in the fridge knowing that animal gave its life to nourish me and I wasted it!

  17. We raise pastured chickens for eggs and meat as well. We have a 3 year old and a 1 year old, the 3 year old helps with the plucking and the baby rides in the backpack. My husband does the catching and the scalding, I do the killing, plucking and eviscerating. Its a real family affair. In a few more months our 3 pigs will be ready to butcher as well. We get all the food for the pigs for free, spent beer grain, unsaleable produce from the farmers market, scraps from ours and our neighbors kitchens, and spoiled goat milk from a friend. The best part of it is all of the interesting people you meet along the way. We have made a lot of likeminded friends and have become closer with our neighbors. I finally feel a real sense of community. Mind you, both of us grew up in the suburbs. We learned everything on good ol’ youtube, not even joking! It is a ton of work… lots of moving slow all day and lifting heavy things 😉

    1. I really hope I can live like this in the coming years. I just don’t have the space where I’m renting now.

      Funny, when I was growing up I looked down on family friends that raised their own animals for food as “hicks” or “weirdos,” but now I wish I could do the same.
      I know I would be far less stressed out knowing what went into the animals, and maybe more importantly what didn’t go into them, that I eat. Instead I stress over every word on the packaging at the store and pay a premium.

      1. You should look into raising quail. They are like miniature chickens. Smaller eggs and less meat but they are so much easier to process and they dont need a lot of space. Might tide you over until you can get a bigger place.

        Haha, and we are definitely seen as weirdos by A LOT of people. I’ve gotten some pretty nasty comments from the “Mommy crowd” when they find out we have a farm and *O.M.G* we eat what we raise. Amazing, the disconnect. I always ask if they are vegetarian, 90% say no and that alone is usually enough to end the conversation.

  18. I have to admit, I’d probably be pretty squeamish through every point in this process. Lol. Mainly because I have no exposure to this. Thanks for the insight!

  19. Great post. I think a lot of people are intimidated by the thought of killing an animal for consumption and then knowing what to do with it to prepare it for the table. I’m lucky, in my hunting family we’ve butchered our wild deer, elk, antelope, turkeys, fish, etc ourselves for as long as I can remember. My grandparents and my parents taught me at a young age that you shouldn’t HAVE to go to the store to get quality meats…and I’ve passed that onto my son.

    It’s not always the most enjoyable part of the hunt, but knowing the animal has been butchered and processed clean is probably the most important.

    Great post.

    1. So awesome, Bryan! I just spent a week in Montana with my aunt and uncle who is a big hunter. I got to try wild elk for the first time while I was there – SO GOOD!!! I think it’s great that you learned hunting and butchering at an early age and are passing those skills along to your son as well – such valuable things to know!

  20. Great post! I’m blessed with the experience of catching and processing wild fish as a youngster. Later on field dressing wild game birds, cervines and boar. I think it is best to start with wild animals(or someone else’s like Primal Pastures). Hobby farmers seem to get attached to the critters they raise and live with on a daily basis. If one is planning on raising animals for food, my advice would be to not give them names. I’d much rather quarter a tuna than dispatch a lamb that I saw taking its first steps.

    1. On the other hand, I knew a calf-then-cow named Roastie — and man-oh-man was she delicious after she grew up!!

  21. If times get really tough, I’m betting most folks would not even blink at killing a chicken if hungry enough.

  22. I buy all my eggs from a lady whom we affectionately call “Chicken Lady.” When they stop laying and become clucks, she can’t keep them, yet doesn’t have the heart to personally kill them. So she holds them while I do the killing blow – stump and a cleaver.

    It’s still kind of difficult, but I can do it knowing they will be food. For me, it’s humbling and it was transformative.

    It made a VERY convincing argument to my vegan sister – she admitted that if everyone killed their own food, then she would feel a lot better about meat.

    1. Awesome, Tom! Cool system that you have worked out with the “chicken lady”!

      I think it’s nearly impossible to argue a case of vegetarianism/veganism over eating properly raised and processed animals. But I also understand why the factory farming alternative would be reason enough for people to give up meat.

    1. Ya, I think if people are trying to desensitize themselves to the killing/eviscerating, fish is a pretty good place to start. Eviscerating fish is really easy.

  23. I used to be one of those people who felt strongly about killing animals of any kind for food, and swore on a stack of Bibles that I would never take part in something like that nor eat the food that someone else killed…. But one day I was looking at my hound mix and thought to myself, ” If she were starving and had no food, and the only thing that would save her is for me to kill an animal so she could live,”……. I realized right then and there that I was a hypocrite. I would rip off the head of a chicken with my bare teeth if I had to in order to keep my dog alive. So there it was. Sacredness of life an illusion… I did have an exception…

  24. “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.”

    So very sad.

    Out here, in what is affectionately known as “fly-over country” by folks from So-Cal, people still hunt to fill their freezers with wild venison and fowl, and fish to fill them with wild filets. This actually provides my family with about half our meat for the year. It isn’t a whole lot cheaper than good stuff from the grocery store, but it’s a much more personal connection to the animal on your table.

    And as a bird hunter, I would really like to get my hands on a plucker like the one above. The feathers from wild ducks and upland game birds are on pretty tight.

    1. What an awesome way to provide food for your family. Even though it might not be a whole lot cheaper, I would imagine the difference in quality is HUGE!

  25. 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.
    That is like a total COW. You Killed a Cow!”

  26. While I have done my share of fish, I have never butchered poultry or pork or beef. My mom was a farm kid and I watched her butcher chickens when I was around 5. I remember it being rather interesting. My take on it is that you kill the animal as quickly and humanely as possible and use everything that is usable. ‘The Art of Cookery’ by Hannah Glass is a revolutionary era cookbook(it is available free I think on Google books) that has recipes for all kinds of odds and ends. One that comes to mind was a recipe for cows udder which got treated like tongue. The language needs a bit of translation because terms have changed but it is a very interesting read.

  27. A great post. My experience was the opposite. I had two small batches of Freedom Rangers (hybrid meat/egg chickens), and after the first ones, I couldn’t do it anymore. I have no problem plucking, eviscerating, butchering, scalding and peeling the feet. Once they were dead, nothing about the process bothered me.

    I just couldn’t kill them. I should say, I did kill some, and hated it. And when I couldn’t do it anymore (and had dispatched all the roosters), I stopped. The leftovers lay eggs for me, and I won’t be doing that again. I thank all the people who can:)

    The experience clued me in that pastured beef might be a more humane choice–one life, many meals.

  28. I raise my own chickens, and have taught classes (in the Seattle area) of how to kill/process your own chicken. It’s a great experience, and something all chicken keepers should know how to do. And all people should do as well.

  29. I’ve processed chickens with a local farmer who studied under Joel Salatin. It was an experience!!! Let’s just say I appreciate my pastured $20 chickens much more now. My 4 year old watched and it didn’t phase her a bit. She got to see where our food comes from. So grateful to this farmer and to this way of life. Americans are SO desensitized to the way they get their food. Everyone should do this!!!

  30. What a great article! Thank you! Being a former anti-hunting-it-grosses-me-out-California-city-girl, turned northwest Washingtonian-where-hunting is done in your backyard-and lovin’ it here-resident, I had the opportunity to help a good friend skin a beautiful deer his 11!! year old daughter shot. I have to say it really was one of the most life changing experiences I’ve ever had. I was nervous and it was hard at first to get past the doe’s lifeless, yes, but never-the-less, innocently beautiful eyes. But after a few slices between the skin and the membrane surrounding the meat and then helping to separate the different parts into roasts etc, I began to feel honored, to be able to care for this beautiful creature in an honest and respectfully careful way, knowing she was providing sustenance for my friend’s family.

    And just this last hunting season, a friend spotted a buck in our back yard and asked if he could “take it” (he did have a tag). It was hard to say yes but I did. Then I stood over my friend as he cleaned it properly, fascinated by every move. I certainly didn’t expect to feel such a profoundly deep appreciation for life on this earth after being partner to it’s death. But both experiences caused me to be extremely thankful for provision and sustenance brought forth from the earth by the Creator of both.

    I think everybody should know how their food came to be and what it took to get it to their fork. Maybe it would help to change how we grow/raise it. Thanks again!

    1. Candi – thank you for sharing these beautiful experiences! Must have been fascinating to see/experience both of them! Can’t believe that your friend’s 11 year-old daughter shot that deer – very impressive!

  31. Thank you for sharing this, Bethany. I know more than one friend interested in raising chickens here in AZ. Some who want to go even further and raise ducks or even goats, but local statutes can be quite restrictive. One friend even grew up on a farm in Indiana and one of the things he cannot help but talk about is Continuing slowly to build the aquaponics setup in his backyard and have the space beneath the growing beds as a chicken run!

    In any case, I have never killed a chicken, but it sounds like the workshops are an excellent idea. I’d certainly go watch and probably even participate. Perhaps Primal Pastures can reach out to some of the farmers in this area (if you know them) and suggest something similar! Thanks again for sharing your experience in this regard!

    1. Hi Kevin! I feel ya’ on dealing with local statutes – we’ve struggled with that a bit as well. I don’t think any of us know of any sustainable poultry farms in AZ yet, but if we ever do, we’ll definitely pass along our processing workshop idea! Hope you can come join us for a processing workshop sometime – we’re only a short 5-7ish hour (depending on where you are in the state) drive away!

      1. Indeed you are! I’m just outside of Phoenix (Tempe, AZ). If I can arrange that some time, I would be happy to do so! Meanwhile, keep spreading the education and the experience! I love education myself and am very appreciative of those who do what they can to speak useful knowledge (like Mark Sisson, too!). I wish the best for your blog and for the Primal Pastures business!

  32. This is a truly great post. I am into hunting and fishing, although most of my fishing is of the catch and release variety I will keep a couple of fish below the limit, for example if the limit is 6 I will keep 2. I am always amazed at the disconnect people have today with how nature actually works and where food comes from.Sometimes when people find out that I hunt they go insane and call me a monster or a murderer, especially if they are into the whole animal rights thing.Even when I tell them that it is thanks to hunters,fisherman, and ranchers that wild animal numbers are at historic highs they still go nuts.I was reading an animal rights blog and someone wrote that if hunters wanted meat they should get it from the supermarket that way we could have out meat and no animals would have to die.

  33. Another example of the disconnect people have with nature is the recent news story surrounding movie director Steven Spielberg. It seems he took a picture next to a fake dinosaur from his next movie and posted it on the internet and the animal rights crowd went nuts over it thinking he had killed it in a hunt, mined you dinosaurs have been extinct for millions of years,but these people are so out of touch with the animals and nature that they claim to love that they didn’t even notice this small fact.

  34. I remember my first chicken. One of the big advantages of Peace Corps service is that the opportunity to slaughter your own food is just so available. The moral justification you get as a meat eater is totally worth the malaria.

  35. Next level primally sourced meat – go fishing and hunting. Start with fishing if youre new to it all; its easier to kill and gut a fish than a bird or mammal. Best meat Ive ever eaten is wild fish birds and rabbit that I have hunted and processed on my own.

  36. Might be worthwhile for some people to take a look at this:

    It’s a set of three short films made in partnership by a filmmaker and a man who raises/butchers animals up in Washington. The films are really beautifully made and demonstrate what, in my opinion, is the ideal way to go about the ethical raising and consumption of meat – all with the utmost respect and attention given to the humane death and economical use of the animal.

    There’s a part in one of the films where the narrator/filmmaker does a short story about a (fictional) man whose only experience with animals is his relationship with his pet cat and how he can think of nothing more barbaric than eating this cat that he loves and therefore decides that you cannot both love animals and eat them.

    It’s a very poignant piece that goes on to explain how a farmer can respect and care for his animals and yet also bear in mind that they are raised with the intention of one day being killed to provide food for the community and it really helped me come to terms with wanting to eat meat for my health but feeling guilty about taking the life of a living creature for my own nourishment.

    I used to get so much flak from my vegan friends about how my diet choices were vicious, inhumane, cruel, barbaric and so forth and I had a hard time putting into words why I thought there was something inconsistent in the logic behind those arguments until I realized that the only reason we’re able to even entertain those notions (the ones that say that eating meat is cruel and unethical and that we shouldn’t do it) is because we’ve removed ourselves from one of the fundamental facts of life which is that there cannot be life with death and without death there can be no life.

    Certainly no one out there can honestly recommend our current system of CAFO’s and slaughterhouses and while I’m definitely not advocating the neighbors Persian named Snowball as a viable option for dinner, I think there’s a serious disconnect from our origins as a species if we can convince ourselves that we can somehow be removed from the cycle of life and death that is a natural and inevitable part of existing on this planet.

    Just my two cents. Hope others like the videos as much as I did.

    1. Hi Marie! Loved reading through your comment – you’ve definitely convinced me to check out those videos! Looking forward to watching them.

  37. Congratulations to those who participated. As a producer of grass-fed livestock and as a hunter, I believe it is beneficial for all of us to know the origins and implications of what we eat…. if for no other reason than that we have people voting on food and environmental issues who believe that food is made on factories.

    All of us need to face the facts, and that includes our vegetarians. Please consider that habitat destruction is on of the major drivers of species extinction, yet the majority of plant-food production takes place under what are effectively monoculture systems. High production requires the exclusion – or at least the reduction – of competitive species, yet without that same level of production, we cannot feed the world. On m grazing country, I have far higher levels of biodiversity and a significant number of rare species living alongside my livestock. Please consider that when discussing the “ethics” of meat eating.

  38. 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?

    1. 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.

    2. 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!

  39. Damn! I wish I had that plucking machine when I went duck hunting! So much faster and easier than hand plucking.

  40. 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.

  41. 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.

    1. 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.

    2. 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! 😉

  42. 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.

    1. Jame, just a question…. how would you recommend they kill their chickens? Of course it’s still alive, they haven’t killed it yet.

    2. 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!

  43. Hi All,

    Glad to see real food being locally prepared.

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


  44. 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. “

  45. 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

    1. Great question Karl! We’re actually working on a system that will do exactly what you’ve just described. The way most small farms are currently raising pastured poultry would be extremely difficult to implement on a large scale. But with our idea, it would be possible! We also just won an agricultural innovation prize to begin the development process. There’s more info about it on our fb page if you’re interested:

  46. 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:

    1. 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! 😉

  47. 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.

  48. 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

    1. 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 😉

  49. @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.

  50. 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.

    1. 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!

  51. 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.

  52. 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.

    1. 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! 😉

  53. 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.

  54. 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!

  55. 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.

  56. @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.

  57. 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.

  58. 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.