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Friday, June 27, 2008

Daddy, where does meat come from?

Sitting at the dinner table with my small children, I discovered that they thought that meat came from animals in much the same way as milk, cheese or eggs come from animals! One son was dismayed to hear that we had to kill animals for meat. A while later, he found a booklet I have on butchering hogs. He said “Look Dad, this book shows how to make meat out of pigs!” I believe omnivores have an obligation to teach their children about slaughtering animals for meat. My children now understand it from our experience in having our turkeys and broilers dressed out by a Mennonite family. Here is a short description of the process. If you are a little squeamish, consider that this is nothing compared to the blood and gore involving humans that you have seen in the movies!

We arrive at the Mennonite farm with our pickup load of broilers (see my earlier article). Each chicken is put into a killing cone. The head pokes through the small hole in the bottom of the cone. The jugular vein in the neck is cut and the chicken quickly bleeds to death (there is no running around with the head cut off). It is fairly painless and humane. When the chicken is dead, the head is removed and the body is dunked in a scalder - a cauldron of water heated to 140 degrees. The hot water loosens up the feathers so that they will come out easily. The chicken is then put into a picker. It is kind of like a washing machine with rubber fingers around the sides. As the chicken bounces around, the rubber fingers knock the feathers off. With the feathers off, the chicken is hung by its feet. A slit is made in the body and entrails are removed. The heart, liver, and gizzard are saved (we chop and add them to gravy). The feet are removed and the carcass is put into ice water to cool it down. The heart, liver, and gizzard are put back into the carcass and the carcass is packaged in a plastic bag. The bagged chickens go into Coleman coolers in the back of the pickup where the broilers were cackling just a few minutes before. The whole process takes less than 5 minutes per chicken. Industrial processors use similar methods, just more efficiently.

If you choose to be a vegetarian for whatever reason, I certainly am not going to argue about it. I was a vegetarian for one year because I wanted to have that experience. I am glad I did it and I think there are many merits to a vegetarian diet. If your family eats meat, I think there is value in understanding and accepting the slaughtering process. Note that I still have a Mennonite family dress my chickens and turkeys for me.

~Dale Maurice Johnson


Tea Rose said...

Dale - another great article in this series about the broilers. Very informative. I find comfort in knowing every single detail, even the not so pleasant ones. At least now I know what to expect if we decide to raise meat birds this fall. Thanks!

Emily Cole said...

Thanks for sharing those photos! I love seeing how the chickens are 'processed' for meat, and I'll share this post with my daughter who also recently realized that the chicken we eat is the same as chickens that lay eggs.

Holly said...

Fascinating. I don't think I could 'dress' them myself - wonder if we have a service like that around here.

Dale Johnson said...


Contact your county Extension office to see if they know of a slaughering service. If you live in Salt Lake City you can find out about your Extension office at: