Chickens ready for the freezer after Kelly Russell used information she learned from social media groups and watching YouTube to process them. Credit: Courtesy of Kelly Russell

Kelly Russell is not one to shy away from a challenge. So the homesteader was not going to let a little thing like lack of first-hand experience stop her from processing her 45 meat chickens this summer.

When the time came to slaughter and butcher the birds, she turned to her extended social media community for all the support and instructions she needed.

There was a time when the knowledge needed to successfully farm was passed down from one generation to the next. While that is still the case for some homesteaders, for others like Russell, there is no one around to tell her how to do things on her Clinton homestead. That’s where social media came in.

Kelly Russell shows off one of the processed chickens from her homestead. Credit: Courtesy of Kelly Russell

Russell is a member of several Facebook groups devoted to homesteading and a dedicated follower of YouTube channels featuring successful homesteaders and farmers.

Thanks to this virtual village of people she has not — nor likely ever will — meet in person, Russell was able to successfully slaughter, pluck, de-gut, clean and package 45 chickens that will feed her family over the winter.

“Everyone was super helpful on social media,” Russell said. “The people in the [Facebook] groups are super supportive and so nice.”

Russell said the idea to get the chickens in the first place grew from concerns about the rising price of poultry at the supermarket. When she heard that a local farmer had some Cornish cross chicks for sale, she jumped on the opportunity.

Cornish cross chickens are a popular meat producing bird on small farms and homesteads.

“I said I’ll take 30 of them [and] when I showed up to get them, he had another 20 available because someone had backed out of buying them,” Russell said. “I figured, ‘What’s another 20? Easy-peasy,’ and when I got home I was like ‘What have I done?’”

Her Clinton homestead was already home to two heifer cows, some pigs and egg-laying hens and has several outbuildings to house them. But nothing that was ready for the tiny chicks.

Russell set up a room of her house normally used to raise puppies as a temporary chick nursery and went online.

Her first questions she posted in several of the Facebook homesteading groups had to do with construction of a movable chicken coop, often referred to as chicken tractors.

“I really like the Facebook groups because they are so interactive,” Russell said. “I was able to ask what size [chicken] tractor I need for 45 birds, what materials I should use and how to move it around.”

With that information in hand, Russell found several YouTube videos showing how to construct the mobile coop and was able to build her own.

Cornish cross chickens are normally slaughtered when they are between 8-10 pounds, a weight they reach in about nine weeks. As that time neared, Russell again turned to the online community for advice.

“There are some amazing [YouTube] videos out there,” she said. “I watched three or four that were really detailed and then went into the Facebook groups to ask questions about what are the best kinds of knives to use and that sort of thing.”

One video showed Russell how to humanely kill the chickens. Another taught her how to quickly dunk a slaughtered chicken into hot water and then use an automatic chicken plucker, the cost of which she split with a neighbor.

One thing none of the videos showed was how active a chicken is even after it’s been killed, thanks to a final burst of energy from severed nerve endings.

“The first one I dispatched was in the killing cone, and I know I hit the artery, but it flipped over after I cut it,” Russell said. “There was no video that showed what to do if that happened.”

She ended up placing a brick on top of each freshly killed chicken to stop them from thrashing around.

“I felt ready the day I decided to process them,” Russell said. “I looked at them and said ‘It’s me and you, let’s go,’ set up the equipment, turned on some music and grabbed the first two birds.”

After four hours, she had 16 of the chickens ready to place in her freezer. By that point Russell said she was pretty worn out and finished up another day.

With the chickens taken care of, Russell is now looking at videos demonstrating canning, pickling, gardening and other aspects of homesteading life.

And when it comes time to take on another, new project on her homestead, she knows just who she will turn to.

“There is nothing you can’t find on social media or YouTube,” she said. “It’s all there.”

Avatar photo

Julia Bayly

Julia Bayly is a reporter at the Bangor Daily News with a regular bi-weekly column. Julia has been a freelance travel writer/photographer since 2000.