How To Process A Genetic Hackle Cape

Once you raise a genetic hackle chicken to maturity the next step is to process the birds for the purpose they are bred for Fly Tying.

Check out the guest post detailing how to process a genetic hackle chicken by Mark LaBar

237096623_oBred by Mark LaBar

Processing can be one of the most time consuming and tedious jobs we have as hackle producers. It is messy and downright nasty if you have to do it in the summer time. When I started I tried to hatch 500 birds by March so they would be ready between Jan and July the following year. That would usually produce about 200-225 roosters to cape out, that got old pretty fast and with a growing family I had to figure out an alternative. Now I hatch a small (50-80) chicks starting in March and go through the summer. The birds mature in waves and skinning and drying 10-30 capes and saddles per setting is much more manageable on a one person operation. The following is the process I use for harvesting and processing my birds:

Supplies list:
1. CO2 tank/bottle with adaptor and hose or nozzle (or) Dry ice and a trash can.
2. Two or three sharp fillet knifes
3. Blade handle and #10 scalpel blades.
4. Roll of paper towels
5. Sharps container
6. Dry new cardboard (can be a used box as long as it has never been wet)

Euthanizing– I use CO2, I get my CO2 in paintball canisters that are refillable. I then use a big plastic bin and put several roosters in it at a time and gas them down. It takes a few times to get the handle of how much CO2 and how long they need to be in it but since we are putting them down it is better to overdo it a little rather than have them come back while waiting to be processed.


Cooling– I cool the birds to allow the blood to become viscous (clot) in the body. It does not eliminate all of the blood loss but it does help. If it is cold outside I may skin birds the same day I euthanize them or I can store them in the refrigerator or freezer until I am ready to skin.

Skinning– I start with the cape. Lay the bird on it’s back and push it’s legs down, this flattens the profile a little bit and keeps the bird from rolling all over the table when you are working on it.

Step 1. With the head toward you and feet away in dorsal recumbency put pull the wattles back and insert the knife just below the beak. Cut the skin in a straight line from the beak to the bottom of the crop.

Step 2. At the base of the neck, start to dissect the fascia with your fingers and free the neck from the skin. Once the skin is freed from the base of the neck place your knife through the opening between the skin and neck and cut in a downward motion freeing the bottom of the cape from the rest of the bird.

Step 3. Pull the cape up toward the crown of the head using care to cut or dissect the fascia so as to not tear the skin. Do this until the cape is pulled up to the base of the comb.

Step 4. Using a scalpel, cut a diagonal line from the bottom of the beak (where your first cut started) under the eye up to the point where the hackle starts to grow just above the nostril. Using the scalpel gently dissect the skin off the skull retaining ALL feathers and the comb.

Step 5. Once the skin is freed from the skull stretch the skin around the comb, lay it flat on the table and make a symmetrical “V” cut in the skin removing the comb from the cape.

Step 6. Turn the cape skin side up and remove as much fascia, fat and blood vessels that you can.

Step 7. Shake skin out to remove any debris and position, skin side down, on a flat cardboard surface. Note: Make sure that all feathers are removed from the skin surface so that all skin contacts the surface of the cardboard.

Step 8. Shaping the skin is one of the most important steps. Pull the forks of the “V” cut straight up so the sides of the crown hackle are parallel all the way down to the “shoulders” of the cape. Pull the shoulders of the cape out to the sides as well as the two tufts as the bottom of the cape that contain the remaining breast feathers. Do this step a few times until you have the cape looking like you would want it to look in the package. Then store in a cool dry area for 3 to 5 days.

untrimmed cape


Untrimmed Cape:

Once cape is dry and most of the oils have been soaked up by the cardboard trim the excess skin and feathers off the cape and put in a plastic bag. This is the point you can also wash skins. Use a delicate soap and use a spray head to wet feathers, dip into some soapy water and spray rinse then re-dry. If skins are clean and have no smells to them I don’t wash them. Also don’t use any chemicals on your skins, a lot of fly tyers put the feathers in their mouth and you don’t want to be liable for anyone getting sick.

trimmed cap

Trimmed Cape

Mark LaBar is a premium Genetic Hackle producer please check out his website and store for more information, don’t forget to check out his pictures of his hackle chickens.

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Thanks Mark for contributing to our blog.
If you would like to guest post to this blog don’t hesitate to contact us.
We are looking for all kinds of information genetics, husbandry or just your day to day activities raising your birds.
Ed Chiasson

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