Featherman Product Review Update

This post serves as an update to my original review in April 2012.  Though I think that post is still worth reviewing, the scalder and I have gotten to know each other better and I have more to say about it.

I’m nearly 900 birds into my new Featherman equipment.  Today we processed 75 birds in just under an hour working at an easy pace.  As usual, I was kill, head removal, scald, pluck, foot removal and tail gland removal.  I also plucked whatever the plucker missed.  Three of my children stood at the table to hang up to 8 birds for mommy and to help me pluck feathers.  The oldest daughter also cut feet and glands.  My wife eviscerates 4 birds at a time cutting all crops, setting down the knife, pulling the crop and trachea from each, picking up the knife, cutting all the vents, setting down the knife and gutting each bird.  Finally, the oldest son collects the finished birds from the shackles, removes the lungs, inspects and rinses the birds and places them in chill water.  We started at 8:45 and by 10:30 we were scrubbed, had the offal in the compost and relaxing for a few minutes to write a blog post (this one).  Again, 75 birds took an hour to dress out for 2 adults and 4 children (aged 11, 9, 7 and 6) working at an easy pace.  This was not possible before we had our Featherman setup.

Even with our Featherman setup, I have a few issues.  Every part of the process hinges on the scalder.  If the water is too cold you don’t get a good pluck.  That translates into extra time spent picking feathers out later.  If the water is too hot, the skin tears and you end up with a mess you have to salvage by cutting up the bird.  When we processed on Wednesday we spent 3 frustrating hours trying to keep the scalder lit and warm.  When we finally finished I was sufficiently frustrated that I emailed Featherman to ask what could be done.  Was I using it wrong?  Am I trying to force the equipment beyond its design?  Should I sacrifice a chicken before firing up the scalder each time to appease the scalder gods?

David replied just over 2 hours later.  I’ll say that differently.  The owner of the company replied to my email almost immediately.  That’s cool.  Anyway, here’s his full reply.

Hi Chris,

I very much appreciate the time you’ve taken to outline the problems. I regret you are having them, but this is how we learn, grow, and improve. I am confident we can rectify every problem area you have identified.

I’m just back from Falling Sky Farm In Arkansas and got a big education there. Cody does 8000-9000 birds per year. At this level they are more intimate with the equipment than I can ever be. Although he doesn’t use our scalder (but one with the same burner) he says he had to move indoors. The slightest bit of wind kept it from warming up.

If you are committed to an outdoor space-the way my wife and I always did it-do your best to shield the scalder from the wind while still giving it plenty of combust/exhaust air.

Steel baskets with sharp edges remaining are a huge mistake. I will let our machining and our shipping people know. A potential injury like that should never have gone out. I got cut at the beginning too. They were all supposed to be well sanded down. Due to the extra weight and chore of sanding, we have redesigned with a heavy wire mesh (1″ opening) rather than the flat and sharp expanded metal. We are adding fingers at the ends to help deter heads and feet from dragging on the outside. If you want to swap yours we will be accommodating. They are not out of production yet, however.

I have seen the Ashley and Poultryman scalders – with identical burners as ours – produce at 200 birds per hour. There is no reason ours cannot. You do have the new model scalder, correct? Our first scalder is limited by the burner to 70 bph. Either there is a perennial problem with wind or there is some obstruction in the gas or the air is choked. Look at the flame. It should be a bright blue with only a bit of yellow at the tip and about 1 1/2″ long. If not, check for dirt in the orifice (clean with air, not an object), adjust the air intake cover to see if that helps. If the flame looks good then it is environmental cooling.

Poor location of the scalder, too much or too little air flow, jostling causing movement of wires or thermocouples or pilot light or air intake cover, dirty burner orifices – all of this I have seen or personally experienced as I used the equipment. On one video shoot we waited four hours for water to heat outside, finally broke down and set up inside a green house and zipped along fine (rooster video with roto-dunker). Stainless takes up and gives off heat incredibly rapidly and I’m guessing and hoping that is the culprit here but it is always a challenge to sleuth from far away.

I’m very keen for your demo to go well and for the quirks to disappear. Please keep me informed and let us know what we can do.

One last suggestion. Get a digital thermometer and put the probe safely in the scald water so that you know immediately if the temperature is falling off.

Thanks again,

David Schafer
Featherman Equipment
660.684.6464 farm

I was and am pretty satisfied with his response.  The fire under my scalder looks good so I need to find a way to shield my scalder from wind if we continue to do my part of the job outside.  It was pretty breezy toward the end of our processing on Wednesday.  Also, primarily because of sharp edges, we’re working on replacing my roto-dunker with the one he mentioned above.  David writes later to say that, like the newly redesigned scalder, the roto dunker will evolve in time.

I’m watching the roto-dunker closely. I don’t think we are done with it yet. Nobody knows better than I the frustration of equipment mishaps at processing time. This business from Heaven was born of blood, sweat and tears. We are a long way from being finished with a line of equipment.

I am at the summer break in my schedule.  900 birds down, 300 to go in the fall.  Here are my thoughts regarding my Featherman purchase:
-The cones and stand are great.  If you want to process 200 BPH, you’re going to need more than 8 kill cones…lol.  Look for a post coming up on how we clean up the stand.
-The scalder heats up quickly and it does work well but wind and cold weather both tax its abilities.  In May I heated water three times from one 20# propane tank.  That shows it can be efficient at heating water when conditions are right.  Conditions were wrong, wrong, wrong Wednesday.
-The roto-dunker can be your friend.  If your birds dress out below 4 pounds it will turn two in each side.  If above 4 pounds, one in each side.  As I say above, using the roto-dunker under those parameters frees me to go do other things for a few minutes.  That time counts when I’m working to keep my cones full.
-The plucker is absolutely trouble-free.  I do wish I had gotten the turkey plucker though.  I had gotten the milage out of my poor Whizbang plucker.  I remember the frustration of using it on large batches of birds last year.  The Featherman plucker has asked nothing of me.  Not so much as a hiccup.
-Evisceration shackles of any make will speed up your process and help your back but the Featherman shackles are, not surprisingly, the best value we have found.  I hung ours with some inexpensive carabiner clips.
-The chill tank is durable, easy to clean and holds a lot of birds.

I wrote to David because I was frustrated with his scalder.  Looking back, I was really frustrated with the wind.  Any scalder would have given me the same trouble and any other scalder would have cost me more money.

Thanks David for all you do to help small farmers like me and for taking the time to respond to my questions.