Poultry Processing Reader Questions

Our friend Jesse is just starting his farming adventures and regularly shares his experiences with me in email.  He makes some valuable observations and asks good questions.  Here’s our recent coorespondence concerning poultry processing:

Jesse:

We just finished up our first day of processing.  21 birds, ha.  We are  slow, BUT we didn’t have any problems.  It was actually really smooth.  Took us about 9am to 12 for the evisceration, then a break, then we shrink wrapped.  A lot of learning took place, but the equipment all worked well, and we didn’t hurt each other.  We are tired though.   Well I had to share that with you.  I do need to ask you, do you remove  the kidneys?  We did, but every evisceration video I watch says nothing  about it.  Also do you leave the necks on?  We did, but it looks a bit  unorthodox in the shrink bags.  Thanks again!

I replied:
We leave on the neck.  We leave in the kidneys.  Just make sure to scrape out the lungs.  We used a bent butter knife when we started but found that to be unnecessary.  Now we just run our fingers along the keel till we start feeling ribs.  Then we run one fingernail between each rib down to the spine.  The lung just pops right out.

Glad you started small.  Salatin makes it look so easy.  You’ll find your groove.

Jesse wrote later:

Our days 2 and 3 of processing went really well, so we finished our first batch of 100 and they are beautiful.  We sold some fresh and some frozen, and we hope the quality of those first sold set off a wildfire of new customer referrals.  We’re still trying to find our rhythm working with the featherman equipment.  We did about 40 in 3 hours on Sunday morning.  I killed, scalded and plucked all the birds, then put them in cold water.  Lesley [His lovely bride] started the evisceration, table top, and when I finished all the plucking I joined her.  We feel we’re getting a little faster each time.  Any tips on improving processing speed?  One thing that slows us down is picking the few pin feathers before we start eviscerating, especially on the tail and at the base of the legs.  Also I had the pilot go out twice on the scalder, not sure why, the weather was good.  How long does a normal propane tank last you?  We did have about 3 broken or dislocated wings.
Our birds were on Sunday were nearly all at 4lb or over, with one or two even at 5lb.

I replied:
A 20# propane tank lasts several processing days if I don’t light my fire too early.  I don’t know why the pilot light won’t stay on sometimes.  You can tell by my blog posts I find it frustrating.  I suspect I’ll be indoors next year.

I know you have read this before but I’m going to write it out so I can think it through.  If it’s just Julie and me I pull four birds out of the plucker and put them in a dry stainless steel sink (2 more should be in the scalder with more bleeding out).  These birds are already headless.  One at a time I cut the feet off and cut out the scent gland.  While the bird is in my hand I reach for my plyers and pull out any remaining tail feathers.  Then I check the armpits of the birds and pass the bird to Julie.  I have to finish two birds before the scalder finishes its work.  Then I unload the scalder into the plucker, load the scalder with two birds again, finish the other two in the sink, unload the scalder, turn on the plucker, load the scalder, kill two birds, turn off the plucker, kill two birds, put 2 in the scalder, grab the birds out of the plucker and start again.  WHEW!  It helps if you can make a little triangle of equipment around you but lay it out so dying birds don’t flip their crap on the evisceration table.  Julie cuts the skin at the neck to pull the crop and windpipe then eviscerates the bird, removes the lungs, rinses it out and drops it in the chill tank.  She also maintains the ice in the chill tank.  She can do all that faster than I can type it so she sometimes waits on me after cleaning her work area.  It really helps if you have children who will grab the birds out of the plucker, remove the feet, pluck the feathers and hand the bird to mommy…lol.  I know we can do 80 in an hour but 60 is a lot easier on all of us.  Just the two of us are probably limited to 40-50/hour.  When we have even unskilled adult help we can quickly push to 100 birds.  I just need somebody to keep the kill cones filled so I can focus on keeping the water hot, the scalder full and the plucker cleaned out.

—-

Re-reading that response I realized I missed his comment about broken wings.  Lots of things can go wrong in the plucker.  We see broken wings, broken legs, broken ribs and torn skin but all of these are fairly rare.  Out of 100 birds Jesse saw three bad wings.  When we have a broken wing we usually salvage the leg quarters, breast meat and tenders for customers then keep the broken wing for ourselves.  There’s nothing wrong with the bird, it’s just not up to the standards we want to present to our customers.  Just know that it does happen.

I want to emphasize several things Jesse said.  His first time out of the gate he needed 3 hours to do 21 birds and was tired when he finished.  He needed 10 minutes per bird his first time out.  That’s why I recommend you start small.  This stuff is hard.  His second and third times he needed 3 hours to do 40 birds.  That’s a lot better but still a hard way to make a dollar.  Play with your equipment setup, kill more birds and you’ll figure out a process flow.  Just keep doing it and finding ways to get better.  I still watch Salatin eviscerate.  I have never figured out how he grabs the crop as quickly as he does.  I have shaken his hand.  I don’t think he’s that much stronger than I am.

I would like to know how long it took Jesse to package the birds in the shrink bags each time.  Hopefully Jesse will let us know in comments.  In fact, maybe he’ll do some guest blogging for me now that he’s an old hand at processing.

Good luck with your bird processing.  I hope you, like Jesse, won’t hesitate to ask if you need help either in comments or through email.

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10 thoughts on “Poultry Processing Reader Questions

  1. thanks again for that lung trick, lesley and i were so happy it works so well. the shrink bagging goes fairly quick. i built a pvc drain rack with 8 posts. we drain them, give them one last quality check, slide the bags over. I zip tie the end, dip them, and hand them to lesley. she labels, weighs, marks the price and heads them to the freezer. where do you pierce the bags, down at the leg ends or over the breast? i’m not sold on either. i’m also noticing some ice crystals forming in air pockets around the legs and areas the shrink wrap isn’t tight to the skin. is that normal? i’m sure we’ve got some improving to do there too.

    • We use a knife or an upholstery needle over the keel. The label fits well there. If your water is plenty hot (boiling) the bag shrinks in a hurry. Don’t submerge it till it’s done leaking air, just a couple of seconds and it will shrink tight around the bird.

      So 40 birds take how long for you to package?

      • i was just giving each a dunk or two, trying for one dunk, so less than a second? should i leave them in longer? i’d say the 40 birds took us an hour to bag.

        • Cornerstone farms says: Only dip bag as long as it takes to shrink 1-2 seconds do not wait until air bubbles stop as water will enter back into the bag

          The key is hot water though. We found our water cooled rapidly as we put chilled birds in to shrink them.

      • so do you just do a single fully submerged dunk, in and out one motion? or do you actually stop the bird in the water? maybe i’m complicating this. i should have just videotaped everything i did and go back like an nfl replay. slow motion even, ha.

  2. This was a Salatin video I’d not seen before – he sure is quick on the evisceration. Impressive. I’m OK with taking a couple more seconds on it though to scrape out lungs etc. I’m also not doing several hundred birds in a morning – 40 hens gives me way more leeway. Watching him do the crop, and with your comments in mind, I am trying to remember if we have issues with the crop – I think the answer is not really, we do it pretty much just as Joel shows. I’ll know soon though, when we do our processing in a couple of weeks. The shrink wrap bags are interesting, you’ve posted about them before – I don’t see them on chicken being sold here, and my own are not shrink wrapped by the processor – is it common where you are? A requirement?

  3. We’ve also had problems with that pilot light. We did 20 turkeys this past weekend and it went out a time or two. I’m just plain slow and deliberate on the evisceration and I don’t care. I’m doing a quality job and know I will improve as time goes on. I hate when the wings break or bruise or skins tears. It was more prevalent with the turkeys. We definitely need some larger kill cones for turkeys and maybe even a larger plucker as we could only do one at a time. We keep the bruised and broken ones for ourselves.

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