Butchering A Chicken For Christmas Dinner

Free Ranging and Training Chickens...

“With the holidays coming, we were considering butchering a chicken for our Christmas meal. We’ve never done this before but I think you have to butcher before a certain age. Could you clarify this for me? Thank you for your informative newsletter” ~ Pat Rowland

Hi Pat, this is a timely question that I would be happy to answer for you.

It is true that the older the bird, the more tough the meat, so to get a tender bird you do have to butcher early.

Here are some guidelines:

Cornish crosses are broilers that are raised specifically for meat. They lay only about 80 eggs per year.

Most whole chickens purchased from the grocer are Cornish crosses.

If you are raising Cornish crosses, you can butcher between 6 and 12 weeks. By this time they will have put on enough weight to make a good meal, beyond 12 weeks they will probably just be adding unnecessary fat. Some fat is a good thing though because it adds flavor.

Dual purpose birds, those that are heavy breeds and lay a decent number of eggs, take longer to put on the desired weight to make them worthy of the supper table.

However, the longer you wait, the tougher the meat so you’ll have to cook them in different ways depending on their age.

Butcher between 8 and 12 weeks to be cooked as a broiler or fryer.

From 12 weeks to 6 months, cook as a roaster.

After 6 months the meat will be awfully tough, these birds are best use a stew birds.

Lighter breeds will never make a meal, a snack maybe but not a meal. A breed like a Leghorn is best left to its prolific egg laying. Butcher when their egg production really slows and use the meat to make a wonderful soup that cooks slowly on low heat.

Most people raise broilers with the intention of butchering early and are usually aware of what age they plan to start dressing the birds so I’m going to assume that you are not raising broilers Pat.

If you are raising dual purpose birds, here’s some tips for the next few weeks to get them ready for your Christmas dinner;

Keep them confined in an enclosed run and make sure they are getting a lot of protein in the coming weeks. The last couple of weeks, add some cracked corn to put on some fat which will add to their flavor.

Plan to use at least one more bird than you think you’ll need. Feathers are deceptive and make a chicken look much bigger than it really is. So if you think you’ll need 2, be prepared to butcher 3 – trust me on this.

Once the birds are cleaned, store them in the refrigerator for 2 days before cooking. If this is not possible, then let them rest in the refrigerator for at least 4-6 hours but longer is definitely preferable.

Thanks so much for the question Pat, I hope I have answered to your satisfaction.

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