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Home processing of poultry

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Quick facts

  • Always wash your hands, equipment and work space after coming in contact with raw poultry.

  • Top quality poultry carcasses come from healthy, well-finished and well-fleshed birds.

  • Don’t feed poultry 6 to 8 hours before slaughter.

  • At the time of slaughter you must kill, dress, chill and pack the birds.

  • You can split or cut up the carcasses based on your cooking intentions.

Food handling safety

Bacteria that cause foodborne illness reside on raw poultry carcasses. Always wash your hands, equipment and working surfaces after coming in contact with raw carcasses. This is especially important before handling or preparing other foods.

Meat and poultry product inspection

Federal and state laws regulate meat and poultry product inspections. Producers can process the following without inspection.

  • Birds for the producer’s own household consumption

  • Up to 1,000 chickens, turkeys or geese for sale to other consumers within the state

Uninspected poultry can’t be sold or exchanged across states. If you have any questions about the small sale exemption under the provisions of the Poultry Products Inspection Act, reach out to:

  • Your poultry extension specialist

  • State meat and poultry regulatory agency

  • Office of the Meat and Poultry Inspection Program, U.S. Department of Agriculture

Selecting birds for slaughter

High quality poultry carcasses come from live birds with the following traits at slaughter time.

  • Good health

  • Well-finished

  • Well-fleshed

Thus, good care during the growing phase is key to producing poultry meat. Different strains and breeds of poultry vary in growing time to reach the best size and health for slaughter.

You will normally process all the healthy birds from a flock. Don’t use birds that have any of the following when processed:

  • Lumps or spots of any size on the surface of the liver.

  • Any measurable amount of fluid in the body cavity.

  • Orange fat in a poorly fleshed birds rather than yellow or white fat.

  • Any single internal organ that’s two or more times the normal size (compare with similar sized bird). Ignore gallbladder size.

  • Breast meat the same color as the thigh and leg meat.

  • Meat with white streaks or an area that is larger compared to the same area on the other side of the bird.

Select your best birds for marketing. When showing, youth will want to pick healthy, well-fleshed, well-finished birds that are free from defects such as:

  • Breast blisters

  • Bruises

  • Skin tears

  • Other similar defects

You can process birds with defects by trimming damaged tissue and still have a good carcass for meat. Don’t attempt to dress pin-feathery birds. Wait a week or two until these feathers grow out and are easier to see and remove during processing.

Preparing for processing

Don’t feed poultry 6 to 8 hours before slaughter but allow access to water. Fasting reduces the feed content in the digestive tract. This helps prevent contamination during processing.

Have a wire-bottom holding cage or crate to help keep birds clean during fasting. Dirty birds contaminate the scald water, and thus contaminate poultry meat during processing.

Processing facilities and equipment

Processing poultry at home requires little or no special equipment. If you have a small flock you can easily work with the facilities you have. But if you have large flocks, you may need more adequate facilities or have the birds custom processed.

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Killing and dressing birds

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Eviscerating

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Chilling and packing

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Splitting broilers or fryers

If you are cutting or halving birds, you can eviscerate them more simply. The fastest way to do this is the back splitting method. You can follow the same killing and feather removing procedures. Then remove the head, shanks, and the oil gland. You can split the birds in a few different ways. Try this method and determine which is the best cut to satisfy your processing needs.

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Cutting up whole carcasses

  1. Lay the carcass on its back on a cutting board.

  2. Cut the skin between the thighs and body of the bird with a sharp knife.

  3. Holding a leg in each hand, lift the carcass from the board.

  4. Bend the legs back until the hip joints snap free.

  5. Cut each leg from the body.

    • Cut from the back to the front close to the backbone.

    • Cut through the knee joint to separate the thigh from the drumstick.

    • Squeeze the thigh and drumstick together to help find the knee joint.

  6. Remove the wings.

    • Cut the inside of the wing just over the joint.

    • Cut down and around the joint to completely remove each wing.

    • You can cut off the wing tip or fold it back under the wing.

  7. Separate the breast from the back.

    • Place the carcass on the neck end.

    • Cut from the tail along each side of the backbone through the rib joints to the neck.

    • Cut the back in two pieces by bending it to find the joint, and then cutting through the meat and skin.

  8. Split the breast lengthwise.

    • Place it skin side down on the cutting board.

    • Cut through the white cartilage at the "V" of the neck.

    • Holding the breast firmly in both hands, bend each side back and push up on the breast from the underside to snap the breastbone free.

    • Remove the breastbone and cut the breast in half lengthwise.

Melvin Hamre, former Extension animal scientist

Reviewed in 2018

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