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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 PDT

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: People

Central Oregon Locavore Online Fundraiser

CENTRAL OREGON LOCAVORE NEEDS YOUR HELP! We at SFJ can relate.  Central Oregon Locavore is running a GoFundMe campaign, similar to our Kickstarter campaign earlier this year.  Follow the links to learn more about Locavore and to show your support. www.centraloregonlocavore.org www.gofundme.com/locavore Central Oregon Locavore works for an ecologically stable and socially just food system […]

Cindys Curds & Whey

Cindy’s Curds & Whey

by:
from issue:

The Burgess dairy farm and cheese factory are sustainable operations, meaning that nearly every by-product is re-used or recycled. For example, the usually-discarded whey goes to feed their own pigs, producing an exceptionally tasty, lean pork. Whey is the liquid portion of milk that develops after the milk protein has coagulated, and contains water, milk sugar, albuminous proteins, and minerals.

Rope Tricks

a short piece on rope tricks from the 20th anniversary Small Farmer’s Journal.

NYFC Bootstrap Videos Clover Mead Farm

NYFC Bootstrap Videos: Clover Mead Farm

I couldn’t have been happier to collaborate with The National Young Farmers Coaltion again when they called up about being involved in their Bootstrap Blog Series. In 2013, all of their bloggers were young and beginning lady dairy farmers, and they invited us on board to consult and collaborate in the production of videos of each farmer contributor to the blog series.

The Persimmon Tree

The Persimmon Tree

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from issue:

It wouldn’t take my brothers long to make the rounds. I needed to be ready, so I cautiously approached the tree and stepped under the shade of its branches. Then I leaped backward, causing my braids to wave forward like swinging doors. There were possums in the branches — possums hanging from their tails! After the first reaction of surprise and fear, I was overcome with amusement. They were so funny!

LittleField Notes A Trip to the Auld Country

LittleField Notes: A Trip to the Auld Country

by:
from issue:

I’ve come to the north of Scotland this October almost by accident. And I find myself standing on the windy, rocky point of land that is northernmost on the isle of Great Britain. The sea lies before me: the flooding tide from the Atlantic pours in on my left where it collides with the North Sea pouring in from the right, the opposing currents whipping up a frenzy of white capped, tidal confusion: for sailors past and present, treacherous waters indeed. Straight ahead, across the seething waters of Pentland Firth lie the Orkney Islands, my ultimate destination.

Loose Hay with Ryan Foxley

Loose Hay with Ryan Foxley A Farmrun Production by Andrew Plotsky

Bud & Mary Rickett

Buck & Mary Rickett: Successful Small Farmers

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from issue:

Ten years ago I answered a classified ad and went to a small western Oregon farm to look at some young laying hens that were for sale. That visit to Buck and Mary Rickett’s place made a quiet impression on me that has lasted to this day. On that first visit in ’71 my eager new farmer’s eye and ear absorbed as much as possible of what seemed like an unusual successful, small operation. I asked what must have seemed like an endless stream of questions on that early visit.

Carriage Hill Farm

Carriage Hill Farm: Crown Jewel of Parks

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from issue:

“Thank you for taking the time to visit our farm.” This is one of the responses that I give to the many visitors as they prepare to leave Carriage Hill Farm, an historical farm which is part of a much larger system of 24 parks within the Five Rivers Metroparks system. The main emphasis of our farm is education and interpretation of an 1880’s family farm with all the equipment and animals from the 1880’s time period.

Students on the Lines

Students on the Lines & McD Grain Indicator Plate

from issue:

We conclude our online presentation of Volume 41 Issue 2 with beautiful photos from Walt Bernard’s Workhorse Workshops (www.workhorseworkshops.com) and some hard-to-find info on the McCormick-Deering Plain Fluted Feed “R” Grain Drill Grain Indicator Plate.

Good Horses

Good Horses

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from issue:

Having written this down I must admit to a slight embarrassment. It is not because I worry about admitting to a lack of skill, or fear being seen as a romantic. It is because some of you will have similar stories, perhaps more impressive stories, as this is just the sort of thing that happens when you spend enough time with horses at work. It is at once normal, but also extraordinary.

Icelandic Sheep

Icelandic Sheep

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from issue:

I came to sheep farming from a background in the arts – with a passion for spinning and weaving. When we were able to leave our house in town to buy our small farm, a former dairy operation, I had no idea that the desire to have a couple of fiber animals would turn into full time shepherding. I had discovered Icelandic sheep, and was completely enamored of their beauty, their hardiness and their intelligence.

Ham & Eggs

Ham & Eggs

Max Godfrey leads Ham & Eggs, at Plant & Sing 2012 at Sylvester Manor.

The Way it Wasnt

The Way it Wasn’t

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from issue:

It often seems to me that a good share of life is determined by our own perspectives. I’ve competed in pulls where the team came in last and I was completely content, if not downright thrilled. I’ve had other times when the team pulled all they could and behaved perfectly, and still disappointed me. It’s just my personal perspective on that particular day that led to my disappointment or pleasure. Let’s face it; a day at a pull, with the good people a pull attracts, and the bond shared with horses is a good day that we should cherish whether you finished first or last.

Rainshadow Organics Saralee and the Interns

Rainshadow Organics: Saralee & the Interns

Rainshadow Organics in Central Oregon is a really big small farm. As part of their mission to produce and promote good food, they participate in the Rogue Farm Corps internship program. This season they have 7 interns who made time during their lunch break to speak to us about the program.

Great Oregon Steam Up

Great Oregon Steam-Up Bonus Gallery

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from issue:

The best thing about the SFJ website is “unlimited real estate.” With each issue of the Small Farmer’s Journal comes the required agonizing over what to keep and what to sacrifice due to page space. What follows is a photo gallery of every picture we took at the 2016 Great Oregon Steam-Up. Why? Because we can! And, because there were a lot of interesting machines there that we are sure some of you will enjoy seeing.

No Starving Children!

You’d never be able to harvest the broccoli or the hay or milk the cows or make the cheese if it were subject to government process. Not only are our industrial farms too big…

Paul Birdsall

Our Friend and Champion Paul Birdsall has Passed On

from issue:

Our dear, gentle friend farmer Paul Birdsall had the countenance of an old Maine lobsterman-wood cutter mixed with a toy maker’s spirit. He had that long true visage of a man at sea, it started ‘neath the cap bill and waved out and away just as far as need be. He had the posture of a man poised to turn and move onto the next thing that needed doing. No hesitations, no wasted steps. He had the patient reach and touch of a true horseman, making useful contact and taking sweet rewards.

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