Butchering day on the homestead brings about a range of emotions regardless of how long you may have been raising your own meat animals. It can be quite intimidating for the first-time home meat processor. I reassure you, that processing your own poultry at home, really is something that you can do! It requires minimal equipment and can even be done discreetly in a suburban neighborhood. This list of practical home butchering supplies has two sections, basic butchering supplies which include the absolute basic butchering supplies to get the job done safely and humanely. Also included is an optional equipment list that will make your butchering experience a lot easier for yourself and your animals when your budget allows.
I think what makes processing poultry at home so easy is that most of us are familiar with the anatomy of a whole chicken or possibly a turkey. When processing larger animals, specialized equipment and a good knowledge of muscle groups is a part of the process. However, most of us at minimum have cooked a whole turkey and are familiar with the birds.
Basic Butchering Supplies Checklist
While every home processor is going to have a preferred setup and process that works for them, the basic equipment needs should be very similar. We consider the following items the minimal practical butchering supplies needed to process poultry at home.
At a very minimum, a good quality knife with a sharp blade is needed when butchering poultry at home. While a sharp knife makes your job much easier, it’s also more humane when dispatching poultry. We use a good-quality boning knife and use a knife sharpener to keep it at its best. While we have a fancy sharper, Philip likes to keep a simple sharpening rod nearby when he is processing meat. They are easy to clean and easy to use to quickly touch up your blade.
Cleanliness is Essential
Every home processing setup needs a table or work surface that can be cleaned well. We use plastic folding tables that we top with a plastic cutting board (optional). They are easily portable and easy to clean. When processing meat at home it’s very important to maintain a clean work environment. Prior to starting, I clean all the tables and coolers and wipe them down with a bleach solution. The recommended mixture is 1/3 cup of bleach to one gallon of water. Proper sanitization is a two-step process, cleaning of the surface is done with soap and water, and sanitizing is done with a bleach-water solution.
We keep a bucket close by, to clean as we go.. I actually clean my work station between every bird. I also will stop and clean when necessary if the area is contaminated in any way. it’s very helpful to have running water nearby as well in case you want to rinse off your chicken for any reason.
Work Area Set Up
We use two to three tables for our setup and operation when working with a work crew. One table is in the dispatch area to keep a container of bleach solution nearby to clean the knives. It is also a clean space to place any other needed equipment. A second table is used to eviscerate or gut the animals. We use a third table for any other processing needs. In the case of the broilers, we weighed each bird and logged the weight. We also removed the wings to package separately. If there are fewer people, one table may suffice.
We like to use PVC pipe that is larger in diameter than the table legs to bring the folding tables to counter height. This will totally save your back. We have a stainless steel table that will become a part of our permanent processing room at Kowalski Mountain, but it’s not a required piece of equipment.
Cord or Rope
One of the most practical butchering supplies is some type of rope is needed to hang the birds upside down. Philip uses 550 cord when dispatching the chickens. This flat cord is easy to loop and put around the chicken’s feet to hang them upside down. Birds automatically relax when being held upside down. They usually won’t flap their wings, or struggle to get upright. Chickens that you are not processing can choke on the liquid in their crop, so it is not recommended to hold poultry upside down that you are not processing.
If you are hand plucking you will need a suitable place to hang the poultry high enough that you can use both hands for this job. You can use cording or rope. We use a skinning gambrel that trappers use. It’s something we already have on hand and works nicely for the job.
Scalding Pot and Thermometer
A pot large enough to submerge the chicken once dispatched is used to scald the chicken. A turkey deep fryer is excellent for this, as it’s designed to submerge a full-size turkey. I’ve included it in the necessary equipment section of this post. You can pluck chickens without scalding, but the feathers will be much harder to pluck and you may damage or tear the skin. The large tail and wing feathers will be extremely difficult to remove as well. For these reasons, I have included a scalding pot in the minimal equipment needed section. A large thermometer that hangs on the side of the pot is necessary to monitor the temperature of the water. Philip likes to keep the temperature right at 154 degrees. He submerges them for 15 to 20 seconds, depending on the size of the bird. Water that is too hot will damage the skin and water that is too cold will not produce the desired results.
Any large pot will do, maybe you have a water bath canner already. You may also find one in a thrift store that meets your needs. I prefer not to use my nice pots for this but a good scrubbing makes it good as new.
Another very practical item to add to your butchering supplies list is buckets. They are needed for waste. If possible, you could dig a hole before starting and put any waste directly into the hole. However, the best processing location may not be the best place to bury any waste. A bucket makes it possible to transport easily. We use several, one for blood, one for feathers, and one or two for innards depending on the number of people helping and the number of birds we are processing. Philip likes to line the bucket used for blood with a bag because it coagulates. I don’t line the buckets I use with bags, since I don’t want to bury plastic bags. Buckets are easy to wash.
Coolers are a necessity. Once processed, you will need sufficient cooler space to submerge your processed chickens into ice water to cool the meat as quickly as possible. Be sure to clean and sanitize the coolers prior to use. We put a little salt in the water to intensify the coldness of the ice. When packaging the meat, rinse off prior to bagging. Some people use large (clean) garbage cans for this process; however, they aren’t insulated. In Florida, the insulation makes a big difference.
Poultry Shrink Wrap Bags
Over the years we have packed chicken in a variety of ways. I have added this item to the basic supplies section because you will have to wrap your chicken in something to preserve it. The poultry bags may be considered a luxury item, you could certainly wrap your chickens in freezer paper instead which is a cheaper option. In the past, we have used vacuum sealers and we have used large 2-gallon sized ziplock bags. These big chickens don’t fit well in vacuum seal bags. We even purchased the expandable kind but they are difficult to work with.
Poultry shrink wrap bags are perfect for this job making them an important addition to the practical butchering supplies list. We were very happy with the quality of the bags. As a second layer of protection, we do put each chicken into a small 25# short paper bag. That prevents damaging the plastic bags in the freezer if I am digging around to find something. It’s also an extra layer of protection against freezer burn.
Optional Equipment: Practical Butchering Supplies
While there are serval items that will make processing poultry at home easier, they are not required. Some items may cross over importance to each home processor. An item that I might consider optional, another home processor would not. Here are some additional items to consider adding to your practical butchering supplies list.
A kill cone is a very useful piece of equipment that I am putting in the optional section. While I think it makes the process a bit easier on the birds, dispatching can be done without. Our kill cones are something that Philip made when we were butchering turkeys and it’s much too long for the broilers. He still uses them, once he makes his initial cut to dispatch the bird, he lowers the bird into the cone so it will hold them snuggly. I did not show in the video the dispatch process. Philip has two screws above the kill cone The first is where he hangs the chicken to dispatch it. Once dispatched, he lowers the chicken into the kill cone to hang on the second screw. Kill cones come in a various sizes to ensure the perfect fit for the type of birds you are processing.
Portable Propane Burner
A portable propane burner makes it a lot easier to keep the scald water at a constant temperature. If you use a turkey fryer, a lot of them are sold as a kit and include the burner. In the past, we have used the burner on our grill. While that works, it’s a lot higher than most portable burners. That requires lifting the bird to chest height. It’s not so bad going into the pot but coming out you risk dripping hot water all over yourself. The portable propane burner is usually at a more manageable height and makes it possible to easily handle your birds. This is an item that possibly could be moved to the essential list of practical butchering supplies, however, I am mindful of the fact that it may be an expensive addition to the list. There are certainly many ways to heat the scald water for the budget-conscious home processor.
It is very possible to hand pluck chickens at home. In fact, Philip and I have done many that way. In some cases, we also opt to skin the birds to make it easier to process a lot of birds prior to owning a plucking machine. I grew up on a hobby farm and we always hand-plucked our poultry. I recently asked my dad if plucking machines were even available for home use when I was a kid, but he did not know if they were.
The plucking machine is a game-changer! It is an investment in your homestead that will last years to come. It’s an excellent example of how the right tools make the job so much easier! While it’s very much an optional piece of equipment, processing chickens at this level, I consider it necessary. I’m very experienced at processing chickens and can easily pluck an entire chicken in about 15 minutes. Now multiply that by 49. To hand pluck 49 chickens, we’re looking at over 12 hours of hand plucking. Even if you have a team to help you, it will still add hours to your processing time.
The plucking machine will do the job in seconds. It looks like a washing machine base that is covered with hundreds of rubber fingers. The bottom plate spins and tosses the bird around. The rubber fingers grab the feathers and remove them. He purchased a plucker that has the water sprayer at the top of the tub which helps with managing the feathers. We usually have to do some touch up after the plucking machine, but it’s quick and easy to do. When doing the touch-up, we hang the birds using the skinning gambrel. Be sure to watch the video to see exactly how the plucking machine works!
This is certainly not a required piece of equipment at all, but it is useful. A trapper’s gambrel is used to hold the legs of the poultry to hang them to pluck or skin the birds. Philip actually made the ones that we use and they could be easily made at home. The loops slide to easily put around the legs of the animal and easily remove. I’m including a link for a reference.
Poultry Drying Rack
A poultry drying rack makes wrapping poultry so much easier. The first week we processed chickens we used a baking rack and a couple of paper towel holders. They actually work pretty well and I was in a thrift shop recently and they had several. The paper towel holder needs a good knob on the top to hold the chicken so it does not go straight through.
During the second week of processing my dad presented Philip and I with a custom PVC poultry drying rack that he built. It was fitted to a metal tray to catch any liquids. It comes apart for storage and is easily cleaned. He even made a custom box for us to store it in. It worked beautifully and allowed us to be working 5 chickens at a time to expedite the bagging process. I was fortunate to grow up with a MacGyver in my life as a child as well! I’m so thankful for our families supporting our homesteading dream!
We use several meat tubs to sort out any of the pieces that we are processing separately. We like to piece out the chicken wings at the time of processing. A large tub with a lid makes it much easier to keep those separately. We also save the livers and hearts for the dogs as well. Sometimes we keep the feet and or necks for broth making. Having a place to separate their cuts makes the process a lot easier. We use these practical butchering supplies when doing all of our meat processing.
Heat Resistant Gloves
The heat resistant gloves make poultry processing so much easier. Rather than gingerly dunking the chicken into the scald water, and being careful not to burn your fingers, you can hold on to the legs of the chicken and submerge them properly. You can also test the scald, by pulling a feather or two to see how well they pull out. The gloves are useful when using shrink wrap bags as well. Since there will be air in the body cavity of the chicken, you can grab ahold of the whole chicken and properly submerge it to get a good shrink on the bags.
We have a large scale that we use to weigh all of our meat and I use it for weighing animals as well. This scale weighs up to 660 pounds and has a detachable monitor so that you can see it if the animal is large and covers the platform. We like to note the weight of each chicken on the bag. It makes it easier when selecting a chicken for a gathering or just for dinner for the two of us.
Processing Ground Meat
If you like ground meat, meat grinders are affordable for the home butcher. I especially like processing turkey as ground turkey for use in a variety of meals.
Join Us As We Process and Preserve Our Cornish Cross Broilers
We processed the Cornish Cross broilers over two weekends. While we could cram it into one day, it’s a lot easier to break it up. We also like to give the smaller birds an extra week to grow. We are blessed with a work crew that helped us process our poultry. Special thanks to my parents Tom and Betty-Lou Seager, our dear friends Stephen Soroka and Kaley Delosa-Riker, and Danny Murphy, my father-in-law for volunteering on processing day. While we could do it on our own, I’m so glad we don’t have to! Very special thanks to Joy Murphy, my mother-in-law who partnered with us through this project and was my right-hand gal through the entire process.
Join us as we process the broilers and see our setup in action! Several of our assistants were first-time poultry processors and everyone got to try their hand to see how easy it really is!
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About the Author: Barbra-Sue Kowalski grew up on a small hobby farm. She was always drawn to farm life, however, she was stuck in an urban life far from her roots. Barbra-Sue was a single mom for 13 years, raising her 3 children on her own. She met Philip in 2018 and they married in 2021. Between the two of them, they have 5 grown children and 4 grandchildren. These empty nesters are following their dreams! As they both turn 50, they are building their off-grid homestead to live the life that they dream about. Learn more about Philip and Barbra-Sue here. Contact them here. To leave a comment on this post, please scroll down.