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Oct 12, 2009 11:03 PM

How to select and ... um ... deal with a live chicken from the farmers market?

This post on the SF board is perhaps not getting the answers the poster wants.

There you aou are at the farmers market and there are cages of chickens ... all types and colors. Which one do you choose?

Other than the fresh factor, what makes one want to buy a live chicken? Is it just price and size? Does it need to look feisty like a live crab in a fishmongers tank?

Are they handled any differently than the supermarket chicken. For all I know, they have spent their lives in cages eating the cheapest chicken feed loaded with junk. How do you know that is not the case?

So you select your chicken and the vendor puts it as is, breathing, in a paper bag.

Without being overly graphic, you bring your chicken home and what next?

After ... next ... what is involved? What do you do with all those feathers. My grandparents had chickens and besides hearing some horrible what went wrong with the dispatching stories, I seem to reacall that you have a limited time to remove the feathers. The longer you wait the more difficult to deal with the feathers.

Ive been considering the selection process lately. The caged chickens seem rather large, but I don't know if once defeathered, how large they are. IIRC, the price of a live chicken is about $6, so it may or may not be a deal depending on weight.

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  1. The OP was from the San Francisco Board and from my understanding you can raise up to four chickens in your home in most areas of the city. So you could raise your own chickens to your specs...not sure they'd be free range.

    I suppose for some people taking home a live chicken and cleaning it would be like a fisherman cleaning a fish they'd just caught. I can clean a live fish, but a live chicken wouldn't be something I could handle.

    Interesting at farmers markets in the Los Angeles area I've never seen live chickens for sale. Maybe theres not a market for it because there are several live poultry markets.

    1. You'll want to select a healthy, energetic chicken with bright feathers. You can ask the supplier to help you choose a fat, healthy bird. Usually he will also take care of the dispatch and defeathering for you, but if you bring it home live, be forewarned that this is a two-man job unless you have a traffic cone lying around to contain the bird, particularly if you choose use to sever the trachea and carotid with a very sharp knife. If you choose decapitation, your aim must be true, otherwise be prepared to wring the bird's neck. After draining post-slaughter, dip the chicken in scalding water, no more than a minute. Then quickly begin the process of plucking the feathers while they are still loose. You may need pliers to remove any stubborn pinfeathers at the end. The process will be quicker than you think, though the smell is admittedly unpleasant.

      To eviscerate, cut around the back of the neck to remove the had and the thoracic organs. Cut carefully around the vent to create the cavity by removing the bird's digestive tract being careful not to puncture the intestines. Thoroughly wash the bird and store in ice water until ready to store or cook.

      4 Replies
      1. re: JungMann

        Getting back to selection, are there certain breeds that are desirable?

        Also, any insight on how these chickens are raised ... what they eat ... living conditions.

        My understanding is that the Chinatown chickens ... at least in SF ... are free range. I wonder if this is true of the chickens off a truck at the market.

        1. re: rworange

          I don't live in SF so I can't get into the particulars of how your particular farmer is raising his animals. It all depends on what his priorities are. Based on his stock, he should also be able to tell you which of his chickens are more desirable for meat versus laying.

          1. re: JungMann

            According to some of those people in San Francisco against their cruel treatment many of the chickens sound like they're old hens that can no longer lay eggs.

        2. re: JungMann

          Also check the color of the beak, earlobes and comb. As a chicken gets older, especially with layers, the color of these parts fade. They should be bright in a young chicken.

        3. My mother-in-law said she'd just twist and break the neck .

          Shang Lee Poultry in LA Chinatown sells live chickens for $1.60/pound. They kill and clean it same price.
          Freshly killed chickens:
          whole old white chickens $3.25 each
          whole old brown chickens $3.99 each
          Colored chickens $8.50 each
          duck $2.45/pound

          1 Reply
          1. re: monku

            Agreed. A 'chinese burn' to the neck. For some it is a bit disconcerting, especially as the bird flaps after it is technically dead. However, it does make you realise what a chicken really is.

            After you have seen a few you can tell the difference between a chick and an old hen.

            In terms of cleaning them you can see various videos on YouTube. For example:


          2. If you live in a city with a large Jewish or Muslim population, you can take your live chicken to a kosherer and they'll dispatch it in appropriate fashion for you... there was an article in the NYT a few years ago about the popularity of local slaughterhouses.

            1. If you want to kill a chicken in your home, wringing it's neck is probably the best bet. Decapitation and throat cutting can both be pretty messy. We kill ours at the farm where they're raised - hang them upside down by the feet, and slice the jugulars. They flap like made for a little while, but that's just reflexes -- if you get the throat properly cut, the chicken is unconcious in seconds.

              Plucking is messy. The chicken needs to be dipped in water that is at least 140 degrees F, but no more then 170 degrees F. Too cool, the feathers won't loosen, too hot and you can accidentally cook the skin, which makes it rip when you try to clean it. A little bit of dish soap in the water helps, as does a little bit of washing soda. You have to swish it around really well to make sure the water gets to the skin all the way.

              I pluck on a table covered with newspaper, and roll up the feathers in the paper and pitch them when I am done. If you want to save the feathers to use for anything you need to dry pluck the chicken, which is harder to do.

              You also have to work quickly, or rigor mortis will set in, making the chicken harder to work with.

              Your naked bird will be much smaller then the feathered bird -- expect about 1.5 to 2 lb difference between live weight and dressed weight.

              After plucking and cleaning, it's best to allow the chicken to rest in the fridge over night before cooking -- this allows rigor to fully pass, and helps ensure you get tender meat.

              Breed does effect taste a bit -- check out the Ark of Taste breeds at the Slow Food website to get an idea for good breeds to look for -- we have Buckeye's.

              Skin - if you buy a bird in an ethnic market, don't be surprised if the skin is black or red -- Asian and Hispanic cultures prefer colored skin chickens.

              Expect less breast meat, and an all around "skinnier" looking bird if you buy anything but a Cornish X (pronounced cross). Cornish X are the standard grocery store chicken.