600 Birds Later…

We processed our 600th bird with our Featherman equipment.  We did 56 birds in a little under an hour with just two adults early Sunday morning.  I was kill/scald/pluck/head and feet removal…as usual.  My wife hung them on the shackles and eviscerated, inspected and placed in the pink chill water.  Our kids woke up and joined us when there were a few birds left.  I was happy to see this pace though we haven’t broken any records.  In Pastured Poultry Profits, Salatin says he did 150 birds in 2.5 hours with his wife and young son helping.  I think that’s doable, we just aren’t quite there yet.

We need about an hour to scrub and sterilize the work area.  We need an hour to process 60 birds.  We need an hour to clean up and compost.  Then we need about 2.5 hours per 60 birds to package them because I had so many cut-ups.  Yikes!

The packaging process is the worst.  It’s a big chunk of the reason I need $3 per pound tending toward raising the price.  Darby reminded me, “You may as well do nothing for nothing as something for nothing”.  Something has to change on the packaging front.  Something has to change.  A label printer would save a few seconds and a bit of frustration.  Working to get a good scald would save a bit of time cleaning up birds before packaging.  Otherwise, it just takes time to cut and bag them.

I stand by the Featherman review I published earlier.  The kill cones are great.  The scalder does a good job but I have found the burner to be a bit fiddly.  The roto-dunker needs work as my fingers are cut from sharp edges on the dunker and the motor isn’t powerful enough.  The plucker does a fine job on the birds and the shackles are awesome.  Porter Pond Farm offers independent verification of the issues I am having with our processing equipment.

Raising chickens is easy…even with Cornish Cross.  We lose less than 2% of the birds to natural death.  The percentage goes up just a little bit when you include accidental death from pre-teen feet and very rare accidents when moving the chicken tractors.  Killing and eviscerating isn’t too bad.  It’s manageable work.  Packaging the birds in shrink bags is rough as cutting up and packaging parts eats away at the day.

I’m happy to report three 90 degree days later the compost pile is mostly containing the odor.  I put in equal parts sawdust and chicken offal along with a bale of straw on top of it all.  You can smell bad management.  My management must not be too bad…but that means it can be better.

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6 thoughts on “600 Birds Later…

  1. If you remind me (or your sis does) then I will bring the tool to de-burr and smooth the edges of your roto-dunker for the next time I come to the farm. It should only take a half hour or so.

  2. I’m impressed you do cut ups – definitely time consuming. Do you still sell by the bird, just pieced? or do you sell packages of wings, drums, etc? Since I have to go through a processor, who doesn’t do cutting up, my customers have no option,though I am thinking of running a demo, do it yourself option on pick up day.

    • I’ll sell the whole bird cut up or by the part. Leg quarters and boneless, skinless breast are big sellers on butcher day but we sell wings and tenders in larger quantities. We also keep a few feet on request. Whole frozen birds are our bread and butter.

      We do a ton of demos but it’s a rare customer who will do it themselves.

  3. Rocky Brook Farm
    Do you charge to cut up chickens? Do you always quarter the back or do you cut it out? When I cut up our broilers for home I cut the back out and freeze them and make a whole bunch of broth at once. I’m not sure if my customers would like them one way or the other.

    • Rocky Brook Farm…in NH?

      We charge a dollar more per pound if I cut up the bird. I charge even more for parts…but not quite enough. We’re getting there year by year. Selling the whole bird is the goal as it saves me time and saves the customer money. We would like to put up some videos detailing how we cut them and how it changes depending on how we plan to cook them.

      Since we cut out boneless breast we end up with the whole back and neck. We cut the neck off and cut the back in half. That way we can store 3 backs in a broiler shrink bag. The back is quite a lot of the total bird’s weight so it’s a real shame when we end up composting the backs. That’s why you are supposed to charge enough for the boneless breast to pay for the bird. Again, we aren’t charging quite enough.

      Backs are a little hard to sell because Tyson has trained us not to eat the whole bird. As a result, we miss a lot of flavor and nutrition. We also tend to eat the same things over and over…also not good for our nutrition. When we have the whole animal available to us, we necessarily have a more varied diet. We’re working to develop the market by educating our customers. We plan to do a lot with our series on dealing with the whole bird.

      We are planning to begin offering a cut-up option for fried chicken…bone-in breast, split back. We’re looking for feedback. Maybe next year.

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