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Small Farmer's Journal
PO Box 1627
Sisters, Oregon 97759
800-876-2893
541-549-2064
agrarian@smallfarmersjournal.com
Mon - Thu, 8am - 4pm PST

Hand Plucking Poultry

Hand Plucking Poultry

by Ken Gies of Fort Plain, NY

One of the great things about farming is growing your own chickens. I have always enjoyed looking after a range pen of thriving broiler chicks in the dew-drenched dawn. I don’t mind the cost of feed; the thing that gets me is the cost of processing. If you buy a decent tub style plucker and scalder or build them, for that matter, you are out hundreds of dollars for limited use equipment. Renting involves the time to pick up and return the items plus the rental cost and fuel. If you are soft-hearted and can’t bear to traitorously slaughter those beloved birds yourself, the costs include processing and travel expenses to and from the processor.

I confess that I am cold-hearted and cheap. Though I love raising poultry, I hate spending time and money anywhere but on my little farm. So I process at home. If you are only raising a few birds for yourself, say 25 or 30 at a time, I recommend having a party and doing it all by hand. Eviscerating was well described in SFJ last year, but no brave soul has ventured into the ancient art of hand plucking poultry. My journey backward from machines to hands started with a chance encounter with a Kenyan chicken grower visiting the United States. He finishes 15,000 broilers each year.

According to the Kenyan chicken grower, groups of people (chicken processors) move from farm to farm. Chickens are plucked and cleaned entirely by hand. He claimed it didn’t take long to pluck the birds. Intrigued, I began to research this whole subject. I had plucked a few by hand and it hadn’t gone too well. Then my son, while on the worthy pursuit of knowledge, found an important factoid in the 10th Edition of The Guinness Book of World Records from 1971 on page 232. The fastest hand pluckers averaged just 2 minutes and 10.4 seconds! Further research found that one Ernest Hausen of Wisconsin hand plucked a chicken in 4.4 seconds! Well, I may never hit that mark, but two minutes eventually proved possible.

Hand Plucking Poultry

Bucket heater in 20 gallon barrel (could be a garbage can).

The secret is in the scald. I scald at about 145 degrees F for around 30 seconds. This is a little imprecise on purpose. Older birds generally need a bit longer than plump, 8 week old CXR (Cornish Rock Cross) broilers. Using hard-to-regulate heat sources such as fire, propane torches or burners, and electric bucket heaters makes the scald temperature a bit difficult to control. This can cause the scald time to vary. I use a dial faced cooking thermometer to monitor the water temperature. As I agitate the bled-out bird, I rub the side of one leg every few dunks until the feathers rub off with moderate thumb pressure. Then I hang it so I can use both hands to pluck. If the bird is scalded too long, the skin cooks and gets a white, almost frosty tinge. It rips very easily and makes plucking almost impossible. The pinfeathers are difficult to clean off if the scald is too short.

Hand Plucking Poultry

Agitate while scalding

A perfect scald will loosen all the feathers and even the pin feathers will rub off with a handful of the larger feathers used as a scrubber. I don’t use brute strength. The scald should be enough so that the feathers slip out like slicking water off a table top. My technique is sort of like stripping a cow’s udder. I stroke down the hanging bird’s legs against the lay of the feathers. I grab the tail feathers and twist them out. Then I stroke downward along the back, breast and sides saving one of the last handfuls to rub the fine pinfeathers off. I pull the wing feathers off against the grain too. I finish with stroking the neck clean.

Hand Plucking Poultry

Moderate thumb pressure should remove feathers

Hand Plucking Poultry

Rub feathers off

Hand Plucking Poultry

Pull wing feathers

To hang birds I use toggles or shackles. I made my own shackle out of 3/8 inch cold rolled steel rod. True Value sells 6 foot pieces that will do just fine. I bent it into shape in a vise and hammered the slots down to a 1/4 inch wide near the bottom of each “V”. It is 6 inches wide and 12 inches tall. Toggles are made of twine and two short wooden blocks. To use toggles wrap the twine around the leg and tuck the block between the leg and the twine.

Hand Plucking Poultry

Homemade shackles, lung rake (optional), short knife, sharpening stone

Hand Plucking Poultry

Homemade toggles

When ready to eviscerate the bird, I loosen the crop inside the neck skin, cut the oil glands off the tail, then tuck its head in between one of the toggle strings and its own leg or use the center notch on the shackle. I cut around the vent and up to the keelbone. Then I gently pull the gizzard and crop out from the inside in one piece. The rest follows easily. I have one more recommendation — use a short 3 or 4 inch knife. A skinning or paring knife is ideal. Short bladed knives stress the hands and wrists less. Long knives are best for cleaving stacks of NAIS documents. My first eviscerating was done on a table, so cleaning suspended birds took getting used to. However, I think that gutting a hanging chicken is more sanitary than gutting one on a table.

Hand Plucking Poultry

Hold wings securely

Hand Plucking Poultry

Tuck head under thumb, cut throat from ear to ear

Hand Plucking Poultry

Place head down in cone. Large traffic cone fits turkeys down to 3 lb chickens

Hand Plucking Poultry

“The Position” for evisceration

It is late January right now. Two weeks ago, someone gave me a few unfriendly roosters. I boiled a canning pot full of water, dumped it into a plastic five gallon bucket, and trotted out to the barn where I scalded, plucked, and eviscerated four birds in half an hour with the outdoor temperature a balmy 10 degrees F. My equipment included the plastic pail of hot water (no heat added) a knife, a bowl for the dressed birds, toggles (where is that shackle?) and a knife. I hung a rooster in the toggles, bled it out while holding its neck straight (no cones either) scalded it, plucked it, dressed it, and threw it into the bowl. I rolled the guts and feathers up in a wad of loose hay and added it to the field compost. After a thorough washing in the kitchen sink and eight hours in the crock-pot, the roosters were mighty tasty.

Spotlight On: Crops & Soil

Peach

Peach

by:
from issue:

The Peach is a showy tree when in bloom. There are double-flowered varieties, which are as handsome as the dwarf flowering almond, and they are more showy because of the greater size of the tree. The flowers of the Peach are naturally variable in both size and color. Peach-growers are aware that there are small-flowered and large-flowered varieties. The character of the flower is as characteristic of the variety as size or color of fruit is.

Cultivating Questions: Alternative Tillage & Inter-Seeding Techniques

Our intention is not to advocate the oddball living mulches we use with this single row inter-seeding system, but just to show how it is possible to utilize the between-row areas to improve insect habitat, reduce erosion, conserve moisture, fix some nitrogen, and grow a good bit of extra organic matter. If nothing else, experimenting with these alternative practices continues to keep farming exciting as we begin our twentieth season of bio-extensive market gardening.

Purslane, Portahoopies and Plow Planted Peas

Purslane, Portahoopies and Plow Planted Peas

For those not familiar with this tasty, nutritious weed, purslane can be a real challenge to manage in vegetable crops for a number of reasons. The seeds of this weed remain viable for many years in the garden, and generally do not germinate until hot weather — that is, after many of the market garden crops have already been planted. To make matters worse, this succulent plant often reroots after cultivation. Purslane also grows so close to the ground that it is impossible to control by mowing.

Winter Production of Fresh Vegetables

Winter Production of Fresh Vegetables

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from issue:

Any claim about winter production of fresh vegetables, with minimal or no heating or heat storage systems, seems highly improbable. The weather is too cold and the days are too short. Low winter temperatures, however, are not an insurmountable barrier. Nor is winter day-length the barrier it may appear to be. In fact most of the continental US has far more winter sunshine than parts of the world where, due to milder temperatures, fresh winter vegetable production has a long tradition.

Carrots and Beets The Roots of Our Garden

Carrots & Beets – The Roots of Our Garden

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from issue:

Carrots and beets are some of the vegetables that are easy to kill with kindness. They’re little gluttons for space and nutrients, and must be handled with an iron fist to make them grow straight and strong. Give the buggers no slack at all! Your motto should be – “If in doubt, yank it out!” I pinch out a finger full (maybe 3/4” wide) and skip a finger width. Pinch and skip, pinch and skip, working with existing gaps and rooting out particularly thick clumps.

Henpecked Compost and U-Mix Potting Soil

We have hesitated to go public with our potting mix, not because the formula is top secret, but because our greenhouse experience is limited in years and scale. Nevertheless, we would like to offer what we have learned in hopes of showing that something as seemingly insignificant as putting together a potting mix can be integrated into a systems approach to farming.

Cultivating Questions

Cultivating Questions: Follow-Up On Phosphorus

We like to think that the bio-extensive approach to market gardening minimizes the risk of overloading the soil with nutrients because the fallow lands make it possible to grow lots of cover crops to maintain soil structure and organic matter rather than relying on large quantities of manure and compost. However, we are now seeing the consequences of ignoring our own farm philosophy when we resorted to off-farm inputs to correct a phosphate deficiency.

On-Farm Meat Processing

The demand for fresh, local meat products – with no taint of industrial process – is absolutely staggering.

Beautiful Grasses

What follow are a series of magnificent hundred-year old botanist’s watercolors depicting several useful grass varieties. Artworks such as this are found on the pages of Small Farmer’s Journal quite regularly and may be part of the reason that the small farm world considers this unusual magazine to be one of the world’s periodical gold standards.

Lost Apples

Lost Apples

The mindboggling agricultural plant and animal diversity, at the beginning of the twentieth century, should have been a treasure trove which mankind worked tirelessy to maintain. Such has not been the case. Alas, much has been lost, perhaps forever. Here are images and information on a handful of apple varieties from a valuable hundred year old text in our library.

Fjordworks Horse Powered Potatoes Part 2

Fjordworks: Horse Powered Potatoes Part Two

These types of team implements for digging potatoes were the first big innovation in horse powered potato harvesting in the mid-19th century. Prior to the horse drawn digger the limitation on how many potatoes a farmer could plant was how many the farm crew could dig by hand. The basic design of these early diggers works so well that new models of this type of digger are once again being manufactured by contemporary horse drawn equipment suppliers.

Cultivating Questions Ridge-Till Revisited

Cultivating Questions: Ridge-Till Revisited

Delay ridge building until early fall so that the cover crop on the ridge does not grow more than 12” tall before winter. The residues from a short cover crop will be much less challenging to cultivate than a tall stand of oats, especially if tangly field peas are mixed in. Waiting for the winterkilled cover crop residues to breakdown as long as possible before ridge-tilling in the spring will also make cultivation much easier until you gain familiarity with the system.

Horsedrawn No-Till Garlic

Horsedrawn No-Till Garlic

We were inspired to try no-tilling vegetables into cover crops after attending the Groffs’ field day in 1996. No-tilling warm season vegetables has proved problematic at our site due to the mulch of cover crop residues keeping the soil too cool and attracting slugs. We thought that no-tilling garlic into this cover crop of oats and Canadian field peas might be the ticket as garlic seems to appreciate being mulched.

Raised Bed Gardening

Raised Bed Gardening

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Raised beds may not be right for everyone, and our way is not the only way. I have seen raised beds made from rows of 5’ diameter kiddy pools, and heard of a fellow who collected junk refrigerators from the dump and lined them up on their backs into a rainbow of colored enameled steel raised beds. Even rows of five-gallon pails filled with plants count as raised beds in my estimation. Do it any way you care to, but do it if it’s right for you.

Barnyard Manure

Barnyard Manure

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The amount of manure produced must be considered in planning a cropping system for a farm. If one wishes to manure one-fifth of the land every year with 10 tons per acre, there would have to be provided two tons per year for each acre of the farm. This would require about one cow or horse, or equivalent, for each six acres of land.

Cane Grinding

Cane Grinding: An Age-Old Georgia Tradition

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from issue:

Most sugar cane is processed in refineries to give us molasses, brown sugar, and various kinds of white sugar. However, some South Georgia farms that raise sugar cane still process it the old way to produce the special tasting sweetener for their own food. One such farm is the Rocking R Ranch in Kibbee, Georgia. It is owned by Charles and Patricia Roberts and their sons. The process they use has not changed in the past 100 years. This is how it is done.

Swallow

Rotation As A Means Of Blight Control

Every farmer knows that when a crop is grown on the same field year after year, it becomes inferior in quality and the yield steadily diminishes.

Walki Biodegradable Mulching Paper

New Biodegradable Mulching Paper

Views of any and all modern farming stir questions for me. The most common wonder for me has been ‘how come we haven’t come up with a something to replace plastic?’ It’s used for cold frames, hotbeds, greenhouses, silage and haylage bagging and it is used for mulch. That’s why when I read of this new Swedish innovation in specialized paper mulching I got the itch to scratch and learn more. What follows is what we know. We’d like to know more. LRM

Small Farmer's Journal

Small Farmer's Journal
PO Box 1627
Sisters, Oregon 97759
800-876-2893
541-549-2064
agrarian@smallfarmersjournal.com
Mon - Thu, 8am - 4pm PDT