Small Farmer's Journal

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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: Crops & Soil

Onion Culture

Onion Culture

The essential requirements of a soil upon which to grow onions profitably are a high state of fertility, good mechanical condition, properties – that is, if it contains sufficient sand and humus to be easily worked, is retentive of moisture and fertilizers, and is capable of drainage – all other requirements can be met.

What We've Learned From Compost

What We’ve Learned From Compost

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Our compost piles will age for at least a year before being added to the garden. We have learned that the slow aging is more beneficial to the decomposition process as well as not losing nearly as much nitrogen to off-gassing as happens with the hot and fast methods. Another benefit is the decomposition is much more thorough, destroying weed seeds, pathogens and any unwanted chemicals much better in a slower composting setup.

On-Farm Meat Processing

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

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.

How to Grow an Acre of Potatoes

How to Grow an Acre of Potatoes

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Heretofore potato production in this country has been conducted along extensive rather than intensive lines. In other words, we have been satisfied to plant twice as many acres as should have been necessary to produce a sufficient quantity of potatoes for our food requirements. Present economic conditions compel the grower to consider more seriously the desirability of reducing the cost of production by increasing the yield per acre.

Peach

Peach

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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.

Marketable Cover Crops

Marketable Cover Crops

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Our cover crops have to provide the benefits of smothering weeds, improving soil structure, and replenishing organic matter. They also have to produce some income. For these purposes, we use turnips, mustard and lettuce within our plant successions. I broadcast these seeds thickly on areas where cover crops are necessary and let them do their work.

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.

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.

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.

Syrup From Oregons Big-Leaf Maple

Syrup From Oregon’s Big Leaf Maple

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There is a great potential in establishment of a seasonal “sugarbush” industry for small farmers of the northwestern states, particularly western Oregon and Washington. Five syrup producing species of maples are found mainly east of the Rocky Mountains. The Box Elder and the Big-leaf Maple are the only syrup producing maples of the Pacific Northwest. Properly made syrup from these two western maples is indistinguishable from the syrup of maples of the midwestern and northeastern states.

Of Peace and Quiet

LittleField Notes: Of Peace and Quiet

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Walk with me for a moment to the edge of the Waterfall Field. We can lean on the gate and let our gaze soak up the mid-summer scene: a perfect blue sky and not a breath of wind. Movement catches your eye, and in the distance you see a threesome hard at work in the hayfield. Two Suffolk horses, heads bobbing, making good time followed by a man comfortably seated on a mowing machine. The waist high grass and clover falls steadily in neat swaths behind the mower. What you can’t help but notice is the quiet.

Asparagus in Holland

Asparagus in Holland

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The asparagus culture in Holland is for the majority white asparagus, grown in ridges. This piece of land used to be the headland of the field. The soil was therefore compact, and a big tractor came with a spader, loosening the soil. After that I used the horse for the lighter harrowing and scuffle work to prevent soil compaction. This land lies high for Dutch standards and has a low ground water level, that is why asparagus can grow there, which can root 3 foot deep over the years.

Cultivating Questions

Cultivating Questions: Concerning the Bioextensive Market Garden

One of our goals when we first started farming here was to develop the farm as a self-contained nutrient system. Unlike the almost complete recycling of nutrients which can take place on a livestock operation, we are always amazed – even a little disturbed – to see how many tons of fertility and organic matter leave the market garden each year with so little returned to the good earth.

An Introduction To Farm Woodlands

The farm woodland is that portion of the farm which either never was cleared for tillage or pasture, or was later given back to woods growth. Thus it occupies land that never was considered suitable, or later proved unsuitable, for farm enterprises.

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.

Seed Quality from Two Perspectives

Seed Quality from Two Perspectives

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We are approaching this from a seed quality standpoint, not just a seed saving one. Saving seed is fairly simple to do, but the results from planting those seeds can be very mixed; without a basis of understanding of seed quality, people can be disappointed and confused as to why they got the results they did. Both the home gardener and the seed company must understand seed quality to be successful in their respective endeavors.

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