Today, we had our first poultry processing day, complete with old-fashioned, by hand, feather plucking! Note: This post may be graphic! We have been studying this process for some time now, and the ins and outs and various ways of doing the job. In preparation, we separated the preferred birds last night, so they wouldn’t eat and would allow their crops to empty (makes for a cleaner job). We put 2 turkeys in a big dog crate, and 5 Hamburg roos in an empty rabbit cage. I told you I like multi-purpose structures! Of course, both groups still had access to water all night.
S got up this morning and began setting up. First, he decided to build a couple of sawhorses out of some scrap lumber we had. He has been needing “legs” to rest his butcher-block/table top on. He filled a couple of buckets with clean water for rinsing, and set up a chilling cooler with ice water.
Then, using his engineering ingenuity, he devised a scalder out of a feed can, wrapped in a foam insulation pad and duct tape. After I boiled some pots of water, we poured water in until it was the right temperature for scalding. Amazingly, this tank wound up holding the heat a relatively steady temperature.
Finally, he attached some killing cones he had made at his lab to a tree and to his sawhorses. It was time!
We decided to start with the turkeys first. S got the first big tom out of the dog crate.
We slipped it into the killing cone, where S immediately slit its artery. Minutes later, it was bled out and ready for the next step.
I just have to say here that killing cones are the best! I’m sure you have heard the stories of old-fashioned chicken butchering, whether the head is just chopped off or if it’s hung by it’s legs and has the throat slit. Either way, it winds up a very messy process, as, even though the bird is dead, the muscular reflexes that occur result in blood everywhere. We witnessed one guy hang a 10-lb. weight from his turkey, then grab hold of the wings, and still, he got the stuffing knocked out of him as the bird violently flapped its wings during those reflex spells. The killing cone, on the other hand, takes advantage of a birds natural tendencies. When you flip a bird upside down, they instantly relax. Whether it is from dizziness, blood rushing to their head, or whatever, they just hang there calmly. Once they are in the cone, there is no struggling. The throat is slit, and heart is able to pump the blood out, while the bird simply slips into oblivion. Never a struggle, never a fight. It simply goes to sleep. Once it is dead, and the brain begins to trigger the reflex reactions, the cone contains the bird, so there is very little movement, and no mess. As far as children are concerned, I don’t think there is any more appropriate way for them to observe! The whole cone process just seems so much more calm, humane, and respectful of the bird. OK, enough on that…
Once the blood is drained (it takes several minutes), then the bird is dunked in the scalding tank to help loosen the feathers.
Then it’s time to pluck. This was where the children and I got to help out. By hand, plucking took us about 45 minutes per turkey. In the future, we plan to invest in a mechanical plucker, which takes about 30 seconds–for multiple birds. This year, we couldn’t justify it though, so we did it the old-fashioned way.
We know a lot of folks prefer to just skin the bird, and we plan to do that, too. However, I like to brine and roast turkeys, so I prefer them skin-on, and the Hamburg roos we planned for today were to small to cut up, so we decided to pluck them as well. We have some larger chickens we will be skinning next week.
Finally the bird was plucked and rinsed and ready for eviscerating.
After about 2 hours, we successfully dressed our very first turkey! The hen weighed out at about 18 lbs., while the tom weighed out at a full 20 lbs. dressed!
While we plucked the first turkey, S actually coned and bled the second one. Then, we started plucking the second while he was eviscerating the first. It kept the flow going a little better, and sped things up. A little. A VERY little.
One debate that frequently seems to pop up is whether the other chickens in the group know what is happening to their “buddies” and then whether they stress over being next. I took a few pics of the other toms and roosters in the brooder pen while S was working on the turkeys:
I got a kick out of the fact that it looked like the roos were hiding behind their box, and the turkeys were nervously puffing up. In actuality, though, the roos hide anytime a person enters the pen, and I think the toms were ticked off that we had just taken away the only turkey hen! How can I be so sure?
Because the free-ranging hens would NOT leave us, or our work area, alone! They were grazing all around it, with one occasionally sneaking in to steal some type of offal out of our bucket! Believe me, they couldn’t have cared less about the cousin hanging a foot above them. They were solely interested in what they perceived to be a veritable protein feast!
After we finished the turkeys, it was time for the Hamburg roos. Unfortunately (or fortunately for them), 2 managed to escape the rabbit coop when someone left a door open. So, we only had 3 to process. Compared to the turkeys, the Hamburgs were sooooooo pitifully tiny! Once they were dressed, they averaged around a 1.5 lbs.
We also had some friends show up to help out, which was good, since I had to take a lengthy break to tend to low blood sugars and young children. S still had plenty of help thanks to our friends.
A good day in all! We took another major step toward self-sufficiency and homesteading knowledge, created plenty of justification for a mechanical plucker in the future (you really have to hand-pluck to be able to appreciate such a convenience!), and we are greatly anticipating a yummy first-dinner of our very own, homegrown, chicken for dinner–even if they are a pitifully small egg-laying breed rather than a nice and meaty meat breed!