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how should farm-fresh chicken smell?

Today I bought a chicken from a farmstall I often buy vegetables at. It's gigantic - 2.5kg (9 pounds) and according to the farmer's wife, the bird was clucking around the farmyard as recently as yesterday morning.

The problem is, when I opened it up at home, the smell was overpowering. It didn't smell rotten, exactly, but very aggressively like animal, with a sweet note to it. Visually and texturally, the chicken seemed superb - firm, plump, not at all sticky. When I spatchcocked it, I did see the stomach was still attached (I removed it, and washed the whole bird thoroughly, and dried it) - perhaps this is the cause of the stench? I salted the bird, and now it is in my fridge, covered, to be barbequed tomorrow.

But the mere memory of the smell makes me blench. Is this smell normal for farm fresh chickens? I usually buy mine frozen from a butcher or fresh from a supermarket, and it never seems to smell of much. Could it be the age of the bird (2.5kg is more of a stewing size than a 2-month old young chick), or the fact that it is free range in every sense of the word (the birds eat what they can find, and some veg scraps)? Could it be the fact it was double-bagged in plastic? I trust my farmer, and have bought lovely other meats - pork, lamb - from him before. He doesn't slaughter the birds himself, a professional abattoir does it.

Has anyone else experienced this with farm chickens? I'm usually not at all alarmist, and really don't want to throw away such a magnificent bird...

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  1. Can you call the farmer or the person who does the slaughtering and ask them? I noticed that the chickens we purchased in France and Switzerland had a smell very much like you describe. And they turned out to be delicious.

    1. Fresh from the yard and never frozen definitely has a stronger smell than store bought. The stomach attached probably increased the smell somewhat.

      1. Springhaze2's right, of course I should call the person I bought it from and ask. Only, I'm a little embarrassed; I'm not sure how to politely phrase, "Is it normal for your chickens to smell weird in gross sort of way?". I figured out over a dinner of omelette what the smell reminds me of - old eggs, which haven't gone off yet, but aren't totally fresh either. Which sort of makes sense, considering where eggs come from, but still... strange.

        2 Replies
        1. re: Gooseberry

          Gooseberry, That is why I also suggested calling the slaughterhouse. I can understand your embarressment or the fact that you do not want to insult your local farmer. Does the farmer sell lots of chickens? If so, there is also a certain autonomy in calling rather than just stopping by to discuss.

          1. re: Gooseberry

            I have purchased a fresh farm raised chicken that had the same "funky sulpher" smell. After a thorough rinse, I cooked as usual without any ill effects. In my opinion it was a very different smell than rotted meat, but did give me pause because you sure don't get that smell with grocery store chicken!

          2. FWIW, the one time my mother did her own slaughter of a batch of chickens, she said she couldn't get the smell out of her head for the next 3 months, so I think there is an odor, especially if the viscera are still attached--I would suspect that that is the smell of "unfresh" as innards go off very quickly.

            1 Reply
            1. re: dct

              After wrestling with the chicken for a mere twenty minutes (birds that size are a bugger to spatchcock!), I have total sympathy for your mother. One whiff of the omelette I was meant to eat for supper brought the smell back to me, and I was totally unable to eat the omelette!

            2. BTW - your math is off on the metric conversion. 2.5 kg = 5.51 pounds, not 9 pounds.
              Still a pretty good sized chicken but not abnormal for a 2-month old, depending on the breed.

              5 Replies
              1. re: MakingSense

                Sorry, yes - you are correct: 2.5 divided by .4536 = 5.51 pounds. Serves me right for doing it quickly in my head, rather than using a calculator. Regardless, the bird looks like a small turkey; apparently one of its brethren that was sold before I arrived was exactly double that weight, which means it was larger than the Xmas turkey my mother buys annually. Can't imagine the sheer size of the thing! I'm more of a 1.3 kg chicken type of gal, since that's a good size for a Zuni roast chick.

                1. re: Gooseberry

                  This is a bit off-topic, but the organic and "free-range" chickens (Rosie's and Rocky's) I've bought in the past several years have gotten larger and larger. It's weird. Rocky's started looking like small turkeys and Rosie's are getting there. I bought a kosher chicken at TJ's last week after my husband's nephew visited from Israel. He knew all about TJ's having kosher chickens.

                  It was quite good...and cheaper than Rosie organics or Hoffman's from Cafe Rouge Meat Market. I think it was $1.59/lb.

                  1. re: oakjoan

                    The breeds of chickens being raised for sale now are usually larger at the age when they're ready for market. Simple economics since chicken parts yield greater profit than whole chickens.
                    Do the math. Add up the prices for breasts, boneless breasts, cutlets, nuggets, tenders, thighs, legs, wings, livers, even backs, feet, etc. and you get many times more per pound than the price of a whole chicken.
                    If you cut up that nice little 2 1/2 pound chicken that we love to roast, those chicken parts look tiny. If you cut up that 5 pound super-chicken, those parts look like the sizes that people expect.

                    1. re: MakingSense

                      Very true. In this case, though, I think my chicken was large because it was an older chicken - my butcher confirmed that chickens which smell of eggs are often egg-laying chickens which are past their prime and have therefore been slaughtered. Gotta love how nothing goes to waste in a farmyard. Which means that I really should stew the bird, rather than barbeque it, since it will probably be very tough, albeit particularly flavourful. Decisions, decisions. I think the chicken might be smelling less - or pergaps I'm just getting used to the smell.

                      1. re: Gooseberry

                        Dear Gooseberry, we cityfolk are going through a period of adjustment. Most of us have been buying our food in nice plastic wrappers from sanitary groceries our entire lives. Our knowledge of farms is from our nice clean schoolbooks which did not prepare us for smells nor natural variations.
                        To us a chicken was a chicken. Flour was flour. Eggs were eggs. Butter, cream, milk, sugar, beef, pork, produce, everything - we took it all for granted. Now we have to learn an entire new world of information and some of it shatters our old assumptions. This stuff is often very, very different from the old supermarket stuff.

                        There's not an easy way of telling about the age of your chicken from looking at it's corpse. You are not an expert yet. Sometimes, you really can't "tell by the smell" since you just aren't used to buying chickens like this. And the size is not an indicator since you don't know the breed.
                        The problem is that if you stew a young bird, the meat may be dry. If you grill an old bird, the meat may be tough. Flip a coin?

                        My best advice is to follow your original plan this time.
                        Next time, ASK more questions of the farmer. He can teach you a lot. He will know exactly how you should cook THAT particular bird. Then ask EVERY time. The next bird he brings to market won't be the same bird. Remember that!!!
                        You are buying from a FARM not an assembly line. Ain't no two alike.