What to do With an Old Hen or Rooster

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Image result for stewing chicken

Chickens are almost synonymous with homesteading. For most people they are an integral part of food production because they supply eggs, chicks, fertilizer, rototilling and eventually meat.

Now, some may be horrified at the thought of using one of their beloved “girls” or “boys” for food, but life on a farm runs in cycles, for good or bad. Animals, like crops, have a period of productivity and then they phase into not being very productive at all.

When food production is the primary focus of the farm, like mine is, nothing goes to waste. I can’t afford to let non-laying hens or old roosters stick around gobbling down expensive grains when they can be put to another use—in the house. And I don’t agree with the new trend of letting farm animals live out a life of idleness in a shelter or sanctuary. Farm animals are not “pets” they are partners in our quest to be more self-reliant and produce as much of our own food as possible—that is their purpose.

That sounds harsh, I know. I don’t take pleasure in dispatching an animal that I have enjoyed watching scratch around the garden or raise chicks, but it’s part of the farm cycle, and one I accept living this life.

So…the question becomes what to do with old unproductive chickens?

Old chickens are fairly tough, as far as meat goes, eating them roasted or grilled is not a very appealing option, but aged and slow simmered with vegetables and aromatic spices and herbs makes the most wonderfully flavorful broth and base for soups, pot pies and casseroles.

Once you have processed your bird, rinse thoroughly. Don’t trim the fat, it will help flavor the broth.

Place the whole carcass in a large pot or container, deep enough so it can be covered with water.


Herbs of your choice, like sage, thyme, marjoram, parsley and rosemary, plus a few bay leaves.

Sprinkle in 1 teaspoon of salt and ½ teaspoon of whole peppercorns.

Add an assortment of root veggies like onions, carrots, garlic cloves, and celery. These can be rough chopped into chunks.

Now, cover the pot with the lid set a little ajar or loosely cover with parchment or wax paper (don’t use plastic wrap). Place in the fridge for a few days, but not more than a week. This is an important step in aging an old bird, as the process helps break down the muscle fibers and tenderize the meat. DON’T SKIP THIS STEP! It will make a much better end product.

When the aging process is complete put the carcass, along with all the herbs and veggies, in a large stock pot and cover with water, adding more herbs and veggies if you like, then put the lid on. Set the pot to simmer and wait. This part can take 10 to 12 hours. Check periodically and keep the water level up.

If you are using a slow cooker you can let it go all day and into the next day for really tender meat. Just monitor the water level.

The bird is done when the meat is literally falling off the bone. Remove from the pot and set aside to cool. Once cooled, strip all the meat off the bones, reserving the skin, bones, veggies and herbs. You’ll see why in a moment.

At this point you can shred the meat and return it to the pot to make a large batch of chicken soup or you can put the meat into freezer containers and cover with liquid for a later use. I like to freeze the base so I have the option of making soup, chicken pot pies or a chicken casserole at a later time.

I don’t have a standard Chicken Soup recipe because it changes depending on what I have and what kind of chicken I’m using (I cook down every chicken carcass I bake). However, the basics are onions, carrots, celery, garlic, salt, pepper, savory herbs, a little Better Than Boullon and either noodles or rice. It makes a hearty cold weather feast after a day of chores.

Back to our pile of bones.

Toss the bones, skin and any drippings back into the pot and add water, more herbs and veggies to give it flavor, and simmer for 12 to 24 hours for the most fantastic broth you have ever tasted! You can also do this process in a crock pot if you don’t want to watch the stove. Once the bones have leached out all their nutrients you can strain the broth and either freeze it or can it.

There you have it, a tough unproductive chicken turned into many flavorful meals for the long cold winter ahead.

This is a lengthy multi-step process so make sure you give yourself plenty of time. I usually pick a cold rainy weekend. The warmth and smells fill the house. It’s amazing!

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