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Chickens ... what happens to their heads?

Having recently slaughtered my very own chicken, and beheaded it to make roast chicken, I got to thinking.

What happens to chicken heads?

The body we know.

The feet, necks, wings, etc. are usually sold as is (esp. in ethnic markets).

But what of the heads?

I have never seen a bag of heads for sale the way I have seen bags of chicken feet for sale.

So does anyone know what happens to their heads?

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  1. In the absence of knowledge to the contrary, I'd guess our dogs and cats eat them.

    6 Replies
    1. re: amyzan

      In the absence of an active industry in Chicken Headcheese, I'd guess you're right. The only human-centered culinary uses I've seen for any part of the chicken head have to do with the comb, and even I can't work up much enthusiasm for that.

      1. re: Will Owen

        Well, the first injectable fluid for increasing the synovia of the knees to help relieve osteo-arthritis is/was made from rooster combs, so I guess a whole lot of chicken heads go for that. The product is still on the market (prescription only) and is called Synvisc, but I don't know if it's still the same original formula as when first introduced a decade or so ago.

        Also, I've never seen a label on chicken bullion that specifies what part of the chicken is used... '-)

        1. re: Caroline1

          Yes, this is still true about Synvisc, "Synvisc® (hylan G-F 20) is an elastoviscous fluid containing hylan polymers produced from chicken combs."

          Let's not let anything go to waste.

          1. re: bushwickgirl

            The first time I had Synvisc injections waaaaay back when, I SWEAR I was at least an inch taller when I stood up! Amazing stuff.

            1. re: Caroline1

              Yes, it worked very well for me, too. Those magic chicken combs...

        2. re: Will Owen

          Hyaluronic acid is extracted from the combs also...with medical uses; topically it can reduce old scars and also wrinkles. As noted above it is used to cushion joints.

      2. no clue, but congratulations on seeing a chicken through from death to dinner! i'm sure i couldn't do that.

        1. The heads, along with other chicken parts deemed not fit for human consumption for various reasons, are processed into pet food, labeled as chicken by-products or by-product meal.

          11 Replies
          1. re: bushwickgirl

            The question seems to be are chicken heads deemed not fit for human consumption?
            Can you say "hot dog"?

            1. re: porker

              I buy chickens with the head and feet. They go into the stock with the carcass. My neighbour was somewhat grossed out by the head. To her the word 'chicken' means white meat on a bed of Styrofoam in plastic film. It has totally dissociated itself from any living creature and that's the way she wants it to stay.

              1. re: Paulustrious

                I have to admit that I've been grossed out by the heads for the longest time. I buy Buddhist style chickens from Chinese markets that have the feet and head attached. I really had no issues with the feet. Guess I've seen them enough at dim sum restaurants to be desensitized to it. But cutting the head off when I made roast chicken took some getting used to. Originally I made DH do it. Then I graduated to wearing rubber gloves. Somehow not physically having skin to skin contact with it made it easier. Now I'm able to do it bare-handed. Still not my favorite task to do. But doesn't bother me anymore.

              2. re: porker

                Oh, porker, hot dog, does it matter...but the heads are considered to be not fit for human consumption and are not commercially (as far as I know) processed into our diet. My cats love 'em, though.

                Paul, good call, use it all up.

                1. re: bushwickgirl

                  Not quite all. I've never seen chicken tripe. Does such a thing exist?

                  1. re: Paulustrious

                    No, highly doubtful. Never seen it either.;-)

                    1. re: Paulustrious

                      Okay, this is weird. Just last night, my husband (after 10 years together) was telling me that when he was young and his family fell on hard times, he remembers eating chicken tripe on a few occasions (though I never clarified if he meant stomach or intestines [which I think isn't technically tripe, no?]). He grew up in Mexico, so I don't know if it ever makes it to market in the U.S. So apparently, it is possible to eat chicken tripe, though, according to my husband, highly undesirable.

                      1. re: Cachetes

                        Well, chickens don't have tripe, as you would think of in a cow, the honeycomb or flat or leaf tripe lining of the stomach; chickens have two stomachs, the glandular (the true stomach) and the gizzard, plus the crop for food storage. The gizzard in a chicken has a lot of fat stored around it. People do consume trimmed chicken gizzards at a regular rate, along with heart and liver. The crop is not really something you'd want to eat, so maybe that, or the true stomach, is what your husband was eating. Yes, it doesn't sound so desirable.

                        1. re: bushwickgirl

                          Your description just made me go 'blech'. I'll ask him tonight and see if he remembers enough to clarify. Thanks for the chicken anatomy lesson!

                        2. re: Cachetes

                          It may be a linguistic thing - in Mexico, intestines are called "tripas." Speaking of which, chicken intestines are traditional in yakitori.

                          1. re: alanbarnes

                            Yes, entrails, guts, innards, that sort of thing. My Spanish speaking DH confirmed it.

                2. Funny -- this thread has me thinking that there MUST be some punk band that is buying up all the chicken heads they can find.

                  1. I'm almost positive that the heads come off when slaughtered. Read that in Omnivore's Dilemma. But I don't believe they mentioned what was done with them. I've had a helluva time up here in NE CA even finding chicken feet. When I finally did, my joy was disproportionate (in some people's minds) to the event.

                    3 Replies
                    1. re: c oliver

                      At Polyface Farm the heads (and guts, blood and feathers) gets composted and spread on the fields.
                      At the industrial slaughterhouse the heads get sent out (along with the guts, blood and feathers) to be ground into feed along with corn, molasses, chopped silage, antibiotics, hormones, other discarded parts of cattle and pigs, and fed again to chickens, cattle, and pigs at CAFOS.

                      1. re: morwen

                        Reminds me of an old redneck song, "I'm my own grandpa".

                        1. re: morwen

                          Thanks for refreshing my memory.

                      2. It goes into chicken feed. The next food scare? Mad Chicken disease.

                        1. I just listened to a Good Food podcast out of LA's KCRW with one of the subjects being the rendering industry (pork, beef, poultry, etc..) We process 6 billion chickens (or pounds of chicken?) a year in the US, unless I'm recalling that wrongly. (I want to say it was 59 billion pounds including all animals.) In addition to going to pet food, rendered product goes to livestock feed., and renderings from product graded human food go to the pharmaceutical and cosmetic industries, as well. Some of it goes to fertilizer, as well.

                          1. They get fried up, of course. At least in Thailand: http://www.flickr.com/photos/11037087...

                            : )