Ah, poultry processing. Â That one part of farming chickens. Â Yes we all know whatâ€™s happening – itâ€™s natural, and we as humans have been doing it for decades to provide protein for the dinner table.
Now that weâ€™ve got that out of the way, we can talk shop. Â While any and everyone should do his or herÂ fair share of research before processing poultry for the first time, it isnâ€™t something thatâ€™s reserved for a farming expert by any means. Â Anyone with the right equipment and determination can do it with success! Â
One of the biggest challenges that farmers of all levels find when it comes to poultry processing is choosing the right equipment. Â Choosing the right tools depends on where your setup is, how many birds you plan on processing, how often you plan on processing, your budget, and more. Â
You Missed a Spot!
Before diving into the process itself, one thing has to be stressed, and that is the cleanliness of your setup. Â Cleanliness is of the utmost importance considering you are dealing with not just a product, but a product that you, your family, or your customers are going to eat. Â Whether youâ€™re planning on selling poultry to strangers or just raising for you and your family, a cleaner product is always a better product. Â Not only does this affect the taste, but it eliminates the risk of dangerous and harmful bacteria and other things from getting into the food that could potentially get people sick. Â Be sure to be knowledgeable of all state and federal laws before creating your own processing setup.
The Cones and the Stands That Hold Them
To begin, you will need poultry killing cones and a stand in which to house them. Â The killing cone is an upside down cone shape usually made out of stainless steel or durable plastic. Â The hole at the bottom of the cone allows you to put the chicken in upside down, and extend itsÂ headÂ out through the bottom for easy access to itsÂ neck. Â The chicken goes into a trance like stateÂ when it is upside down, similar to how it can be usefulÂ to flip a flighty or skittish bird upside down when you pick them up in order to calm them down. Â Keeping the birds calm leading up to processing does more than just make it more humane and easier on them, but it makes the final product taste better.
Â Introducing major stress and trauma right before processing your birds takes a toll on the meat and its tenderness. Check out Featherman Equipment processing videos for details on properly utilizing the kill cone method. There are many differentlyÂ sized killing cones aimed at housing game birds, turkeys, broilers and more. Â
The stand is what houses the cones and usually hangs over some sort of poly tank or receptacle in which you can easily collect and dispose of the blood. Â Some stands are large and hold more than 15 cones while many stands hold around 8 cones. Â You can also make and/or improvise your own cones and stand to fit exactly what you need. Â Many, but not all stands, come with a poly tank designed to collect blood.Â
“The Perfect Scald”
After using your kill cones, itâ€™s time to transfer the birds to a scalder. Â This very important step sets up the bird for the rest of the cleaning process. Â Scalding removes and loosens feathers on the bird. Â A scald thatâ€™s too cold wonâ€™t loosen the feathers enough, making removing the rest a pain. Â A scald thatâ€™s too hot will tear and damage the meat. Â Usually a good scald takes place around 140Â°F to 145Â°F. Â Like your kill cones and stands, a scalder can also be constructed or improvised with standard home goods and appliances. Â Chickens can theoretically be scalded on a kettle sitting on your stove, should you desire to do it this way! Â While this method seems more economical than purchasing a specialized poultry scalder, its efficiency, or lack thereof, will drive you crazy. Â If you plan on scalding and processing just a few birds, a home made set up could suffice; but for anyone looking to frequently scald birds or who wants precise heat transfer and temperature control, investing in a poultry scalder will exponentially increase your efficiency and decrease stress.
How you dunk the birds into the scalder is also up to you. Â Many companies manufacture various manual and automatic dunkers that can be fixed right on top of your scalder. Â The dunker you choose will most likely depend on your budget, physical ability, and your goals as a farmer.
The next piece of equipmentÂ in the assembly line is a poultry plucker (or poultry picker.) Â The plucker finishes the scalderâ€™s job by removing the rest of the feathers on the bird before evisceration. Â A fully cleaned final product is essential in producing high quality poultry; that means no pin feathers, ever! Â You can insert your birds into the plucker immediately following scalding. Â Most, if not all pluckers are going to feature a tub, or tub-like opening in which you can drop your poultry. Â Inside this tub are dozens of plucker fingers. Â These fingers gently grab and pull all remaining feathers out of your birds as the plucker tub spins around. Â Many pluckers also utilize a rinsing or washing water nozzle to help rinse off feathers and easily wash them down a waste chute. Â
Pluckers vary in price and size. Â Deciding the right plucker depends on what birds youâ€™re going to pluck and how often. Â If you plan on pluckingÂ turkeys, youâ€™ll obviously want a turkey plucker, if you plan on plucking game birds, get a game bird plucker. Â But one piece of information to remember is that most times a turkey plucker can also pluck game birds and broilers because itâ€™s merely a bigger tub with more fingers. This being said, a game bird plucker can’t pluck turkeys because the smaller game bird plucker canâ€™t handle the larger turkey carcass. Â If you plan on plucking all sorts of birds, it may be a good idea to get a plucker that can handle the biggest birds you plan on working with. Â Once your birds are picked clean, they are ready for evisceration. Â
The Poultry Processing Evisceration Station
Evisceration is the act of removing all insides and other parts of the chicken that arenâ€™t going to be included in the final product. Â Often done on a special evisceration table made with a drain valve for waste, this can be done on any table as long as itâ€™s clean and able to handle blood and other fluids. Â
The act of eviscerating a bird often begins with leg and head removal usingÂ a sturdy boning knife. Â After that you can remove the tail, loosen the craw, and scoop your hands through the bird to remove itsÂ insides like the lungs, liver, bile sac and more. Â Many tools like lung rakes or skinning knives are speciallyÂ designed to help you handle different parts of the evisceration process. Â While a knife is needed for obvious cutting and removing of some parts, many parts of the process can be done by hand. Â Just watch Featherman Equipmentâ€™s two part series on Poultry Processing, evisceration shows up about 2 minutes through part 2.
Lastly, your birds will go in a chill tank. Â The chill tank helps your bird’s meat stay tender post-processing as the body goes through rigor mortis. Â It can also help rinse and clean any residual blood and fluid leftÂ inside the bird. Â Many farmers use two chill tanks. Â The first tank will see the birds for about 20-30 minutes and should rinse out all remaining blood. Â After that you can move them to a second chill tank where they will stay for 3-4 hours. Â While two chill tanks isnâ€™t a necessity, it does increase the quality of your final product by providing an initial â€œrinseâ€ before the main chilling period. Â Chill tanks can be improvised and made from just about any large and clean receptacle. Â Many companies do manufacture special chill tanks designed for poultry processing.
Now that your birds are processed and chilled, you can get ready to store them for you, your family, or whoever else! Â
Where can I find this equipment?
If you want to learn more about the type of equipment to purchase along with pricing, check out the eFowl Buyers Guide on Poultry Processing Equipment.