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31 responses to “First, Catch Your Rooster”

  1. JA

    Great post, Hank. I like it so much when you, Garrett, or Elise make appearances in one of the other’s blogs. It adds some more life and color to the already rich world you three portray. It sometimes makes me wish that I lived in Sacramento.

  2. Amy

    Great post! You’re not kidding about the spurs. Being attacked by a rooster is no joke. I grew up with chickens in the backyard and when we had roosters that got aggressive they suffered the same fate.

  3. Murasaki Shikibu

    I had a pet rooster once that was a lot more efficient as a ‘guard dog’ than our wimpy Cocker spaniel. As a chick he was this cute yellow fluffy thing that used to follow me around and all I had to do was tap the ground with the palms of my hands for him to come running to me. As an adult he was fearless of human beings (because his imprinting told him he was human) – and when I gave him a brood of native hens to breed with his testosterone really kicked into action and he became the baddest rooster in the whole damn town. When he did get sick – which was often because he was a broiler – he’d let humans take care of him and nurse him back to health, then he’d be back to his bad old self again when he was feeling dapper again.

    By the way – do you listen to Meatloaf? 😉

  4. Larbo

    Making sausage is a great use for an older hen or rooster, but you’re right Hank, the older the bird, the more carefully you want to remove the sinews and silverskin and the more times you want to grind it.

    At the farm where I get most of our meat, she sells her older laying hens for a fraction of what the tender young broilers go for, even though they have a much richer flavor.

  5. Tina

    Wow, this story brought back some memories. Two things come to mind immediately. First, we had neighbors who had a farm when I was a kid, and of course they had chickens.Occasionally, they’d let us go into the hen house and collect eggs. They would always make sure the roosters were out of there before any of us went in. We never quite understood why until my neighbor showed us an ugly scar on his arm where a rooster spur caught him.

    The second memory concerns old chickens. We moved from North Jersey to Pennsylvania when I was a kid. My parents became friends with a couple who had been raised on farms. Dad decided that he wanted fresh chickens, so He and his friend went to the local livestock auction to buy some live chickens to butcher. Dad was no expert on chickens, but really didn’t think that mattered. After all, one chicken should be just like another, right? And of course, the larger the chicken, the more meat. His friend tried to tell him that those really large hens were old, tough laying hens, but Dad wasn’t listening. Well, after the butchering was done, and all the feathers were plucked (you’re right, plucking chickens is a smelly job), Mom tried cooking one of the chickens. By frying it. Chewing on rubber would have been less work. They wouldn’t even tenderize after stewing for hours. Great stock, but no meat. Dad never lived down the rubber chicken incident.

  6. ntsc

    This what the dish Coq au Vin was invented for, hours of slow braise.

    Never did like being around roosters, hen and hen turkeys were much tamer, but the roosters and toms are very protective of their harem.

    Sausage sounds good though, and the stock must be something else.

    BTW you need to update the copyright date on the blog

  7. Chef KPH

    Interesting post. I’m considering raising hens for eggs, and eating. Any suggestions where I can learn more about it?


  8. Garrett

    Thanks for the lesson, Hank. It was nice to get a refresher on all this after such a long time. Still cannot believe the spurs on those fuckers. Jesus… I guess we’re lucky no one was injured.

    Looking forward to making the rooster stock!

    (By the way, that goose liver and kumquat snackybit was by and far one of the best things I have EVER eaten.)

  9. Andrea

    Dammit who do I have to sleep with to get invited to shindigs like this!?

    Or something like that. 🙂

  10. Kent

    Enjoy your blog.

    We used a chicken hook to nab our fowl. Follow the URL below for a picture of an example. We made our own. I think the birds would be easier to control with the hook than a net. Once you grab a leg you can hoist them in the air at arms length and grab the other leg. My favorite method of dispatching them was to hang them by the feet on the clothes line, via some twine, and cut their heads off with a knife.

  11. Carrie Oliver

    Fascinating, this is a great post, I learned a lot. I’m old enough to remember having to cut my chicken with a knife. We’ve pretty much stopped eating it altogether now that the standard texture is best described as fork ready (spongy, and flavorless, too). Would it have been possible to braise the meat?

  12. hank

    Murasaki: Meatloaf? Uh, I haven’t listened to that band since the 1980s. Why do you ask?

    KPH: There is a ton of info out there on raising egg hens. I don’t do it so I can’t really recommend anything specific — anyone else out there want to help out?

    NTSC: Coq au vin? Ha! These roosters laugh at that recipe. Seriously, I tried to make it with one of these bad boys last year and braised it for EIGHT HOURS and it was still tough as nails. Will I try an overnight braise someday? Maybe. But not when it is 95 degrees outside…

    If anyone is wondering what Garrett was referring to, it is my snow goose rillettes.

    Kent: Thanks a heap! Since I broke Dominic’s net, I may buy him this hook as a replacement…

    Carrie: I mentioned the problem with braising in my answer to ntsc. Short answer is yes, you could braise it into submission, but it could literally take 12 hours or more.

  13. adele

    Nice. I would love to see a butchering demonstration – your friends are lucky!

  14. Elise

    Just finished the sausage link you gave me Hank. So flavorful! Makes me want to track down that third rooster. Happy to come help you and Holly pluck sometime when you have a big job. That was messy, but fun. And a big thanks for showing us how to do it.

  15. Murasaki Shikibu

    “Two out of three ain’t bad.”

    I thought this was a pun. Clearly I read too much into what you wrote. After all it’s a pretty common phrase. :p

  16. Sporting Days

    Wonderful post, Hank.

    This is particularly timely since we brought home three Barred Rock chicks from the feed store about a month ago and one has grown noticeably larger than the others — a rooster in the making, perhaps? If we do indeed have a rooster on our hands, I’m hoping to be able to keep him around and fatten him up just long enough until he starts crowing and bothering the neighbors.

    I’ve never actually cleaned a chicken — interesting that they stink worse than a pheasant or a duck — and I’ve cleaned some stinky wild pheasants in my day ….

  17. sportingdays girl

    Chef KPH and any others so inclined: This is our best-go-to site.
    And this is a recent Sacramento Bee article about the growing popularity of raising chickens. Apparently, we’re on to something.

  18. Biggie

    Thanks for a great afternoon and butchery lesson, Hank! What a rare opportunity — and I learned a lot in fun company to boot. Second Garrett’s comment on your rillettes; they were outstanding (fat-free and vegan, right? ;-).

    If folks want to see more photos, I put some up on Flickr:

  19. Gary In Massena

    Great post.

    I raise chickens for eggs (about a dozen and a half a day right now) and pigs for meat.

    I’ve only raised meat birds once, about two years ago. The guy I learned to process them from was a proponent of hanging them upside down and slitting thier throats letting them bleed out. A bit messy until I had the setup right with the trash can below but I found that I did get ‘white meat’ chicken, even from the older roosters in the lot.

  20. ntsc

    My wife and I are both certain one of the major French authors has dealt with old rooster as coq au vin, but it isn’t in Mastering the Art or the Time Life Poultry.

  21. Katie

    EAT Sacramento (a newish community group focusing on food security) is working on legalizing chickens in Sacramento. If you (or your chicken harboring neighbors) are interested in helping out with that, we’d love for people to write letters to the mayor’s office.

  22. hank

    Gary: If I raised chickens, I would do the same thing. This rooster killing happens so infrequently it is not worth it to set up a “kill cone.”

    NTSC: You are very correct that coq au vin is made with a rooster, but trust me when I say that if you made it with these birds you would need to simmer it for 8-10 hours. It would prolly still be good, but just very time-consuming.

  23. Sporting Days

    Does anybody else find the city of Sacramento’s aversion to its agricultural heritage and Central Valley roots so tiring? I mean, c’mon … Embrace your inner ‘Cow Town.’ The city should celebrate its rich cultural heritage and agricultural past and allow a few backyard hens. Sophisticated cities such as New York have no problem with this and no inferiority complex, certainly. Good luck with the campaign, Katie.

  24. Kelly

    I raise 300 to 400 meat birds a year, Gary is right about bleeding them out. It makes a big difference. Also, catch them the night before and put them in small cages and withold food from them, it’s much easier and cleaner processing them when their crops and intestines are empty.

    You also want to keep everything as calm as possible, chasing them around will only cause bruises, broken legs and wings, and tough birds. We live about 30 miles outside Detroit, anyone is welcome to visit our disassembly line and watch or participate. We process 3-4 times each summer, doing 100 birds each time, it takes 4-5 people about 5 hours including cleanup.

    I also have a really neat little design for a small backyard layer pen that moves around the yard (to give the birds access to fresh pasture and spread the manure around). It’s perfect for 3-5 hens, easy to build, easy to move and access, and attractive. I can try to explain it or send a sketch if anyone is interested.

    Our spent hens we roast in big batches, cut up the breast meat and freeze for quick additions to winter recipes, then blacken the rest of the carcass in the broiler with carrots, onions, and celery. We then make huge batches of roasted chicken stock which we freeze in one cup freezer bags. We also freeze a bunch in the ice cube trays, then transfer the cubes to bags for using smaller amounts in recipes.

  25. Lang

    Wonderful story, Hank! Your comment about the normal age of roosters makes me think about one particular guy we have running around our neighborhood. It’s an escapee obviously and has been haunting the lower reaches of a city park near or home for a few years at least. His stomping ground is in view of Lake Washington and takes in a rather pastoral setting despite the urbanity all around. He must be one tough sumbeech to weather the coyotes, stray dogs, great horned owls, and other potential foes, not to mention bored teenagers. Probably has spurs of steel!

  26. Annie

    Great post!!! We killed, plucked, butchered and cooked & ate our first home-grown rooster back in November. We have hens for eggs, but due to rules where we live, roosters are forbidden– more due to the potential for feral chicken populations than the noise of crowing, since we’re very rural. We too had help: our friend & neighbor did the killing as this was a first for me & my family, but we all helped with the capturing and witnessed the act, so to speak. My * year old and I did the plucking, and our experienced hunter friend helped with the butchering.

    Like you said, we were all “glad” to have been a part of it. Not happy, but grateful for the experience and understanding. And grateful for that wonderful tasting, healthy bird! He was about 12 weeks old and already getting tough, so I can only imagine how tough your roosters were!

  27. bbum

    Nice post and weblog. Our farmer’s market has an egg vendor that has started selling slaughtered laying hens. Cook ’em long enough and they are just ridiculously yummy and tender. Don’t cook ’em long enough and they are chicken bubblegum!

    A couple of years ago, a friend of mine and I took it upon ourselves to go harvest a turkey for Thanksgiving.

  28. Cate

    Love your blog! Another cooking option may be the pressure cooker – no long simmer/braise. We just dispatched a who-knows-how-old rooster for our Easter dinner. My husband wanted me to try frying it instead of the chicken-N-dumplins I usually do and boy was that a mistake. As you said, the meat looks beautiful going into the pan but it comes out like rubber. Ive never thought about chicken/rooster sausage before. I’ll have to try that. Thanks for the idea and the recipe.

  29. Karl O'Melay

    nice blog, i found you once removed from an award my wife won. sadly our roosters are usually wasted. this summer will be the first time we have our automatic chicken plucker. we hope to not waste the roosters anymore.


  30. AZ-Nuts

    Buy sexed eggs and chicks. Unsexed are nearly all roosters. Don’t buy Leghorns for free ranging – they’re STUPID and eat nails and get run over by plows and…. Don’t buy Banties for free ranging – they’re SMART and will roost in trees and bushes where you can’t catch them. They will also take over the entire neighbourhood because they will mate with anything including cats. If you want eggs, buy geese. Geese and ducks are tons cheaper to feed.

    Been there, done that, burned the T-shirt.

  31. Stafford Flood

    We kill our free range rooster’s just on a month when they have started to crow. They are still tender, tasty, dark meat and easy to deal with. I use the skin the bird and remove just the legs, breast, lungs and heart. The carcass is buried in the vegy garden for the blood and bone.

    I normally boil the meat in a cast iron pot with onions and bay leaves for 45 minutes and leave to cool down gradually. Then we recook the meat into other dishes. A cassole with coconut cream and other chopped veges makes for a yummy dish.

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