Small-Scale Poultry Processing


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Small-Scale Poultry Processing

  1. 1. SMALL-SCALE POULTRY PROCESSING By Anne Fanatico NCAT Agriculture Specialist May 2003 Introduction Introduction A growing number of small producers are rais- ing poultry outdoors on pasture, processing the birds on-farm, and selling the meat directly to customers at the farm or at a farmers’ market. Many states allow up to 1,000 birds to be processed on a farm Photo by Paul Helbert each year and sold directly to consumers with no inspection. Some of these small producers are go- ing further—building government-licensed process- ing plants to supply regional or niche markets. Spe- cialty “religious kill” is often done in small plants. “Kosher” is the term for Jewish slaughter and “halaal” for Muslim slaughter. Access to processing is a critical issue for small producers. Consolidation in the meat process-ing industry has left very few small plants that will do custom poultry processing. (Large plantsgenerally don’t process for small producers; they can’t keeptrack of a small batch of birds and can’t make money on small-volume orders.) This publication covers small-scale processing, both on-farm and in small plants. Relevant information on large-scaleprocessing is also included for comparison, to provide con-text, and because small processors need to have some under-standing of how large-scale processing works. Related ATTRA publications Sustainable Poultry: Production Overview Growing Your Range Poultry Business: An Entrepreneur’s Toolbox This publication was developed by the National Center for Appropriate Technology (NCAT) ( for Heifer International ( with funds from Southern Region SARE. Distribution is provided free of charge to the public through NCAT’s ATTRA Project (http://www., the National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service.
  2. 2. Table of ContentsIntroduction ................................................................................. 1 Table 1. Comparison of types of processing................................ 2Pre-slaughter ............................................................................... 3Immobilizing, Killing, and Bleeding ................................................. 4Feather Removal ........................................................................... 6 Table 2. Scalding ..................................................................... 7Removal of Head, Oil Glands, and Feet ........................................... 9Evisceration ................................................................................. 9Washing the Carcass ................................................................... 10Chilling...................................................................................... 10Cut-up, Deboning, and Further Processing.................................... 13Aging ........................................................................................14Packaging ..................................................................................14Storage ..................................................................................... 15Delivery and Distribution............................................................. 16Clean-up ................................................................................... 16Waste Management .................................................................... 16 Table 3. Processing Plant Waste Loads per 1000 Chickens ........ 17Equipment and Supplies .............................................................. 18Processing Diverse Species..........................................................19Batch vs. Continuous Processing .................................................. 19Processing Rate .......................................................................... 19Processing Setup ........................................................................ 20Economics ................................................................................. 23Resources ..................................................................................23References ................................................................................. 24 Appendix A. South Central New York RC&D MPU Layout ......... 29 Appendix B. Kentucky MPU Layout.......................................... 35 Appendix C. Small Plant Work Areas and Design ......................36 Attachment ............................................................................38PAGE 2 SMALL-SCALE POULTRY PROCESSING
  3. 3. Table 1. Comparison of types of processing On-farm Small Large Size Outdoor or shed facility 2,000 to 3,000 sq. ft. 150,000 sq. ft. Equipment Manual Manual/Mechanical Fully automated Cost Less than $15,000 Less than $500,000 $25,000,000 Labor Family Family/hired Hired Capacity 50-100 birds per day 200-5,000 birds per day 250,000 birds per day Operation Seasonal; 1-30 pro- Seasonal or year-round; Year-round; process cessing days per year 50-plus processing days daily per year Marketing Product sold fresh, Mainly cut-up, sold sometimes frozen; Fresh and frozen, whole fresh, further-pro- whole birds and parts cessed Comments Independent operation; Independent or part of a Part of an integrated labor-intensive; low- collaborative group; operation including risk; usually non- requires good markets grow-out, processing, inspected, direct sales and grower commitments and marketing During the first part of the 20th century, poul- and the possibility of tearing it during process-try was sold live to consumers who did their own ing, which would cause fecal contamination ofprocessing. In the 1930s, only the blood and feath- the carcass. Withholding the feed too long willers were removed (“New York dressed”). As result in watery guts that leak.consumers demanded more convenience, themarket grew for eviscerated or ready-to-cook CATCHING AND LOADING(RTC) birds. Large producers harvest all their birds at once Producing ready-to-cook poultry involves: (all-in, all-out). Small producers often “skim” by• Pre-slaughter: catching and transport harvesting larger birds and leaving smaller ones• Immobilizing, killing, and bleeding to grow. Birds are best caught at night or early in the morning when they are calm. For small• Feather removal: scalding, picking producers, picking birds up individually by the• Removal of head, oil glands, and feet sides is the best way to minimize stress and pre-• Evisceration vent injury. Of course, this is not feasible when you’re dealing with thousands of birds (1). In• Chilling large-scale production, chickens are caught by• Cut-up, deboning, and further processing grabbing both legs, just above the feet. No more• Aging than three birds should be carried in one hand. Crews of 10 people catch and crate birds at the• Packaging rate of 10,000 per hour, bruising up to 25% of• Storage them (1). In Europe, automatic harvesting ma-• Distribution chinery is increasingly used in large operations, because it is considered more humane than the rough treatment by catchers who handle several Pre-slaughter birds at once. Transport crates are wooden or plastic. A Broilers are usually processed at 4.5 lbs. live typical crate can hold about 8 birds in the sum-weight. Feed is withheld for 8 to 12 hours before mer and 10 in the winter, depending on their sizeslaughter to reduce the amount of feed in the gut and on the weather. The crates usually have aSMALL-SCALE POULTRY PROCESSING PAGE 3
  4. 4. small opening, to help prevent escape during Once the birds reach the processing facility,loading, but a small opening also increases the it is important to keep them comfortable in thechance of physical injury to wings. Crowding of holding area. Scheduling arrival at the plant canbirds in crates is another welfare issue. reduce waiting time. On-farm processors usu- Kuhl Co. (2) and Brower Co. (3) sell trans- ally hold crated birds under trees or other shade.port crates. Used crates are sometimes available The conventional industry typically producesat lower prices. Small producers sometimes birds within one hour of the processing plant.make their own wire crates from welded wire With two hours of travel, shrinkage or weightmesh and clips. loss is about 1% (4). In Europe, special modules are used on transport trucks for even air flow and good ventilation. Companies are fined for arriving with dead birds. Large processors keep crated birds in a holding shed with fans and mis- ters to keep them cool. Care must be taken when unloading the birds Catching and from the crates to prevent bruises and broken transport can bones. On-farm and small plants unload birds be stressful for by hand. At large plants, broilers are unloaded onto conveyor belts. Transport crates should be the birds. washed after each use. Catching, loading, transporting, and unload- ing expose birds to new environments and new sources of stress. This can negatively affect meat quality (see Aging section). During hauling, in particular, birds have to deal with heat or cold, feed and water withdrawal, motion, vibration, TRANSPORT, RANSPORT HOLDING, AND noise, and social disruption (1). UNLOADING Avoid holding birds in crates for too long or Immobilizing, Killing,transporting them when the weather is too hot,cold, or wet. With on-farm processing, there is and Bleedinglittle or no travel time. If you have to transport Small processors usually place birds in fun-in cold, wet weather, be sure to cover the birds— nel-shaped kill cones after removing them fromsmall producers typically cover the crates with a crates; large plants hang them on shackles andtarp. stun them before killing. You will need a full-size pick-up or largertruck—200 birds in 25 crates weigh about 1250 An overhead track is used to move carcassespounds. For more birds, you will need a trailer. through a plant. Keeping birds on-line through-If you need to transport 1000 birds at a time, you’ll out killing and dressing reduces labor sinceneed a special vehicle such as a bob truck. there is no handling. In many small plants, you just push the shackle along; in large plants, the track is motorized. For on-farm processing, stainless steel kill cones, wrapped metal, or traffic cones are com- monly used. A bucket or jug with a hole screwed to a board will also work. Birds are not stunned before killing and will jerk a lot during bleeding. Cones should be the proper size, and the bird’s wings folded down when inserted, to prevent the Birds are crated and transported to bird from flapping its wings or backing out of processing in this trailer. the cone. Wing flapping can cause hemorrhagesPAGE 4 SMALL-SCALE POULTRY PROCESSING
  5. 5. in the muscle and broken bones (1). In large vides a uniform heartbeat for better bleeding, andplants, birds are hung on shackles in a dark room relaxes the feather follicles for easier picking (7).to help calm them and ease handling. Special Furthermore, stunning is considered more hu-lighting, such as blue, will also keep them calm mane than not stunning. U.S. law requires stun-and prevent flapping and injury (1). ning of other livestock, though not of poultry. There are several ways of cutting blood ves- In large plants, stunning works as follows.sels in poultry, the most common killing method. The heads of the birds are dipped into a salineIn the conventional industry, the carotid arteries bath with an electric current, rendering them tem-and the jugular veins are cut on both sides of the porarily unconscious (1–2 minutes—enough timeneck by a deep cut in the front. In kosher and for cutting and bleeding them to death) (7). Thehalaal slaughter, only one side of the neck is cut, current is low-voltage and low-amperage (aboutso the birds bleed more slowly. The spinal cord 20 volts, depending on bird size, for 3–5 seconds;should not be cut (as when the head is cut off), the amperage is 10–12 mA per bird) (7).because the feathers “set” and are hard to pick In Europe, stunning of poultry is required by(5). The esophagus should also not be cut, to law, and the stun, administered at higher volt-prevent microbial contamination from leakage. age and amperage, is irreversible—birds cannot recover. Another method of stunning, more com- mon in Europe than in the U.S., uses carbon di- oxide or argon gas to anesthetize the bird. Gas stunning is expensive, but is useful if you are processing a variety of birds, since it can be diffi- cult to adjust an electric stun for different spe- cies. There are relationships between stunning, killing, muscle metabolism, and meat quality. These interactions have been studied mostly with stunned birds killed in shackles, since that is the typical practice in large plants. Less is known about the effects on meat quality of killing in Making the cut. cones with no stunning. S TUNNING B LEEDING Stunning is not used in on-farm processing Small processors usually believe that theand is only sometimes used in small plants, where bleed-out is more thorough with no is often impractical. Small-scale processor About 35–50% of the blood comes out of stunnedAaron Silverman (6) does not stun. “I don’t like birds, with the rest remaining mainly in the or-the idea of my employees using an electrical gans (1). Bleeding takes 1.5 to 3 minutes (7).implement in a wet environment.” According to According to industry thought, if the bird is notSilverman, if you do not stun, you should kill in stunned, the bleed-out is slower and not as com-cones to restrain the bird from convulsions and plete, because the bird is struggling and its or-wing flapping. In some specialty religious pro- gans are using blood. Maximum drainage ofcessing, such as kosher and halaal, stunning is blood is desirable so there won’t be dark spotsnot permitted. However, stunning is very help- on the meat, especially on wing veins.ful when working with turkeys or geese becauseof their larger size. When using a stun gun, it is B LOOD RECOVERYcritical to set it at the correct voltage—110 volts. On the farm, blood is collected in a bucket orIf you do not adjust the stun correctly, birds will trough and used in composting; however, on abe over- or under-stunned. Over-stunning re- large scale, blood is a wastewater pollutant sincesults in hemorrhages and broken bones. it contains a lot of organic matter. On a shackle Stunning is the norm at large plants. It im- line, blood can be collected in a blood tunnel thatmobilizes the birds for the killing machine, pro- reduces splashing.SMALL-SCALE POULTRY PROCESSING PAGE 5
  6. 6. On-farm processors use a single tank of hot Feather Removal water, usually scalding one to four birds at a time. Labor is saved when a mechanism such as a bas- S CALDING ket or arm dunks several birds together. In small plants, scalders with such a mechanism can handle Small processors remove the birds from the 12 birds at once. Some on-farm processors addkilling cones for scalding. In large plants, the dish soap to the scald water to help it better pen-birds stay on the shackles. etrate the feathers and facilitate picking; others do not find this necessary. It can take a while to heat the Table 2. Scalding water in a small scalder to the right temperature, and it can be tricky to Types of Length of Temperature Comments maintain that temperature, especially Scald time when fresh water is added. Most on- Waterfowl 160-180°F 30-60 Needed for farm processors don’t replace the (very hard) seconds waterfowl water during processing for these Hard 138-148°F 30-75 Removes outer reasons. However, this can lead to seconds layer of skin another problem—the water gets too No Man’s 130-138°F Avoid: too hot to dirty. Some on-farm processors solve Land keep skin intact the dilemma by using two scalders but too low to at a time, rotating them as one reaches remove epidermis the correct temperature. Robert Plamondon in Oregon uses a water Soft 123-130°F 90-120 Keeps skin intact heater so he can replace the scalder seconds water as often as needed. “When (Adapted from Tanner, James Jerrel. 1970. A Wastewater you have to wait a half-hour for the Characterization of the Poultry Processing Industry. Master’s thesis, scalder to heat up, there is a tempta- University of Arkansas. p. 20.) tion to scald more birds than is wise” (8). Bigger scalders have an overflow Birds are scalded (immersed in hot water) to to add fresh water continuously.loosen the feathers. Heat breaks down the pro- Additional precautionary measures can re-tein holding the feathers in place (5). Scalding is duce filth in the scalder. Wet birds in the fieldvery temperature-sensitive. can pick up manure on the skin and feathers and In the U.S., a hard scald is used by small and this material can end up in the scalder. Largelarge processors alike. It loosens the outerlayer of skin, providing a better coating adhe-sion for fried foods (important for further-pro-cessing). After a hard scald, the skin must bekept moist and covered or it will discolor. Avery hard scald is needed for waterfowl be-cause their feathers are harder to loosen. In Europe, soft-scalding is more commonand used in conjunction with air-chilling (seethe Air-chilling section below). The Label Rougeprogram in France, which focuses on gourmetmeat quality, requires a soft scald. The skinremains intact and skin color is retained; how-ever, picking is more difficult. Scalding increases the body temperatureof the carcass. In kosher processing, the birdis not scalded because it would partially cookthe meat. As a result, the birds are harder to Aaron Silverman’s scalder (foreground) and picker handlepick. about 12 birds at a time.PAGE 6 SMALL-SCALE POULTRY PROCESSING
  7. 7. plants may use a bird scrubber (large rotating at a time. The operator holds the bird above thebrushes on either side of the bird) and also spray cylinder, rotating it as the cylinder spins and picksthe birds with chlorinated water before putting off feathers. Drum pickers come in table-top orthem in the scalder. free-standing models. A tub or batch picker is a While small processors use a single-stage, rotating tub with rubber fingers mounted on thestatic tank, large plants use long multiple tanks inside walls; it can handle 2–12 birds at a time.for multi-stage scalding. The tanks vary in tem- Small processors carry the birds to the picker.perature—the first is kept at a lower tempera- Large plants use continuous, in-line pickers thatture since it can take 2 minutes for the track to look like a tunnel with rubber fingers. Birds passcarry the birds through. In that time, they would through the tunnel on shackles.cook at 134° F. The tanks also have a countercur-rent flow of water, which produces a dirty-to-clean gradient. The scald water flows in the op-posite direction of the birds, so they are continu-ally moving to cleaner water. Overflow adds freshwater continuously. Water for processing It is important to have an adequate supply of potable water for processing. If you have well water, it needs to meet drinking stan- dards and should be tested. If the rate of water flow on your farm is slow, you may need to add a reservoir tank. Robert Plamondon put a sealed 1500-gallon plas- tic tank on a concrete slab close to his well. (He lives in a mild climate and does not have A producer is trained to use a drum picker. a freezing problem in winter or a heating problem in summer.) “The well pump pours Turkeys and older laying hens are harder to water into the top of the tank, and a second defeather, and waterfowl feathers are especially pump (a jet pump) takes water out of the hard to remove. Pinfeathers—immature feathers bottom of the tank” (9). He shock-chlori- still in the feather shaft—can be hard to remove nates occasionally and flushes residues out mechanically. Wax for removing pinfeathers is of the bottom (8). He bought the tank from available from Pickwick/Zesco (11). “Pinning” Snyder Industries, Inc. (10). is the removal of pinfeathers by hand. “Singe- ing” involves passing the bird through a flame to burn small hair-like feathers. Some on-farm pro- cessors use a propane torch to burn them off, P ICKING being careful not to burn the skin. The feathers of colored birds may leave spots of pigmenta- The quality of the pick is related to the scald. tion on the skin. Commercial poultry breeds haveIf the scald water was too cool, the feathers won’t white feathers that do not leave stains. Consum-loosen; if it was too hot, the skin will tear in the ers in the U.S. are accustomed to a carcass with apicker. But if it was just right, the feathers usu- clean, unspeckled come out easily and can even be removed byhand. However, hand picking is time-consum-ing. If you are planning to process very many Feathers arebirds, you will need a mechanical picker. Re- removed by the Photo by Paul Helbertmoving the feathers by abrasion, these machines abrasive action ofcan pick a bird clean in about 30 seconds (and rubber fingers inwill sometimes break the wings). Some on-farm this tub-styleprocessors skin the birds instead of removing the picker.feathers. A drum picker—a cylinder with rubberfingers around the exterior—defeathers one birdSMALL-SCALE POULTRY PROCESSING PAGE 7
  8. 8. SCALDING AND PICKING EQUIPMENT companies have graveyards with used equip- ment, some being turned into scrap metal. Keep The companies Pickwick/Zesco (11), Brower in mind that while used equipment can help you(3), and Ashley (12) have supplied small-scale cut costs, it may not meet the specifications yourpoultry processing equipment for many years. facility requires.Small scalders (one bird at a time) cost less than$200 and small pickers less than $400. These com-panies also offer many larger models. A 12- to Homemade or Modified Equipment16-bird scalder costs about $10,000. Making your own equipment is another way Some home businesses have emerged that sell to lower costs, but consider the time requiredrelatively inexpensive processing equipment for to build or find parts. Again, make sure theon-farm processors. design and materials meet the specifications you require. But be forewarned that home-• Kenneth King of JAKO, Inc. (13) sells a rela- made equipment is not likely to meet federal tively low-cost scalder and tub picker of his or state meat inspection requirements. own design. Each piece costs $1,700, com- pared to about $3,000 each for comparable Homemade scalders: When first starting out, equipment from conventional suppliers. The some small-scale producers use a large picker has a plastic barrel. JAKO also sells a stockpot in the backyard heated with a fire. small table-top picker (Lil’ Pick) powered by On-farm processors have also used propane a hand drill for $125. burners (from outdoor turkey fryers), water- bath pots made for canning, and hospital ster-• Eli M. Reiff of Poultry Man (14) has equip- ilizers (common before the advent of the au- ment made in a local farm shop. He offers a toclave). A homemade scalder can be made rotary scalder for $1,895 and a tub picker for with a utility sink, a heating element, and a $1,395. He says comparable equipment sells thermostat for about $50 (19). On-farm pro- for $6,000. He also offers a smaller picker for cessors also make large insulated scalders $695. from old electric or propane water heaters.• David Schaeffer (15) has developed the Some even have a dunker. It is especially Featherman Jr., which picks three chickens important to use thermometers with home- or one turkey. It costs $715 with the motor (1 made scalders to ensure a constant tempera- hp 115 Volt Dayton) installed and $520 with ture. no motor. Schaeffer recommends pairing his For those making homemade equipment, it picker with the Ashley M-38 scalder (40,000 is very important to be aware of the danger BTU, 38 gallon tank, automatic temperature of electrocution. Scalders and pickers are control, $1250). used around water, which makes improperly connected electrical parts even more dan-• Rob Bauman of R & R Pluckers (16) builds gerous. Important safeguards include using pickers. a competent electrician, following electricalNote: Prices may have changed. code, installing ground fault circuit interrupt- According to on-farm processor Jenny Drake, ers (GFIs), and making sure the power cord“I KNOW the stuff is expensive, but you will is of sufficient gauge to handle the current.kick yourself over and over if you don’t get equip- Gas-powered water heaters are also used,ment designed for the scale of operation. We bit but there is an explosion risk.the bullet and bought JAKO equipment, and it Homemade pickers: Many have convertedhas been worth every penny.” old washing machines or plastic 55-gallon Small processors can look for used equipment drum into pickers. On-farm processor Herrickfrom sources such as Grit, the newsletter of the Kimball has written Anyone Can Build a Tub-American Pastured Poultry Producers Associa- Style Mechanical Chicken Plucker (20). Hetion (17), or from Tom Neuberger of South Da- estimates that this type of picker can be builtkota Poultry Headquarters (18), but availability for $500—much less than the typical $2, limited. There may be old poultry processing He also moderates a listserver calledequipment in your area from small plants of thepast. Large plants in your area that are remodel- Continued on page 9ing can be a source of used equipment. LargePAGE 8 SMALL-SCALE POULTRY PROCESSING
  9. 9. for easy cleaning or a disposable plastic sheet). Continued from page 8 However, some on-farm processors use an indi- whizbangchickenpluckers, accessible at vidual shackle on a rack or stand, available from <>. Photographs are Neuberger (18). According to small-plant pro- available. JAKO (13) and Stromberg’s (21) cessor Luke Elliott (23), it is easier and cleaner to sell picker fingers for about $1 each. eviscerate on shackles. For internet pictures of a scalder being built, On-farm processors and small plants eviscer- see Paul Helbert’s (22) webpage <http:// ate manually with scissors, knife, or a handheld>. vent-cutter gun with a circular blade, and draw out the guts by hand. Large plants use auto- mated machines that scoop out the guts; high- Removal of Head, Oil speed lines eviscerate 2,000–8,000 birds per hour (1). These automated lines are usually designed for one species, and uniformity in size is very Glands, and Feet Feet important for proper operation. For state and federal inspection, the guts usu- After feather removal, the heads, oil glands, ally remain attached. They can be separated butand feet are removed. On-farm and small pro- must remain alongside the bird so that the in-cessors usually cut the head off; large plants have spector can see both the inside and outside ofmachines that pull heads off so that the esopha- the bird as they look for disease or other prob-gus is also removed. lems. Inspection requires bright light, a Birds preen their feathers with an oil gland handwashing station, and places to put suspectlocated on top of the tail. It is almost 1% of the birds and condemned birds (1). A mirror on thecarcass, but because of its odor and taste it is backside of the bird allows the inspector to ex-removed. Asian markets may prefer a carcass amine it without touching.with the oil gland intact; government regulations If the gut is torn, microbial contamination willpermit it to remain under religious kill exemp- occur. One gram of gut content can carry a bil-tions. lion bacteria (1). In some countries a spill results The feet are removed at the knee joint. In in the whole bird being condemned; in other coun-small plants, birds are put on evisceration shack- tries, including the U.S., washing is permitted.les after scalding and picking. In large plants, Small plants use spray bottles of chlorinated wa-after the feet are removed, the birds are rehung ter to clean off fecal contents. In large plants inon the shackles. When birds are first hung, it is the U.S., 2.5% of birds are condemned becauseeasiest to hang them by the feet, but during of contamination. (A torn crop is also a source ofrehanging, they are hung by the knee joint. This contamination.) It is unknown how often the in-process also keeps the dirtier kill shackles sepa- testines tear during manual evisceration.rate from the cleaner evisceration shackles. One Silverman (6) can go all day at his 500-bird/daykill line feeds several evisceration lines, since evis- plant without a tear. Proper feed withdrawalceration is relatively slow. In a small plant, nineshackles per minute is a good rate during evis-ceration (6). Evisceration To eviscerate manually, cut around the vent,open the body, and draw out the organs. Re- Eviscerating inmove inedible viscera or guts (intestines, esopha- a small plant.gus, spleen, reproductive organs, lungs). Loosenthe crop so it will come out with the guts. Thekidneys remain inside because they are hard toremove. Instead of shackles, on-farm processors usu-ally eviscerate on a flat surface, (stainless steelSMALL-SCALE POULTRY PROCESSING PAGE 9
  10. 10. before processing will help reduce tears; when eter (less than $20.00) that can be calibrated. Ther-the gut is full, it tears more easily. mometers are calibrated to 32° F by placing the The edible viscera or giblets (heart, liver, and probe in a glass of ice water. Before my experi-gizzard) are collected. On-farm and small-plant ence in the plant, I always just took the waterprocessors peel the gizzards by hand. Many small temp and that does not give a good representa-processors simply discard the giblets. The lungs tion of the bird temp. We normally tested threecan be scraped out with a lung puller or a birds out of the tank and tested the ones thathandheld gun used with a vacuum. Large plants went in last” (23).automate harvesting of edible viscera and re-moval of lungs. A pile-up of feathers and viscera can be aproblem when processing a lot of birds. Somesmall plants have systems that expel the feathersfrom the picker to an outside container. Gutsare collected in a trough and hauled away fromthe area in barrels. These are called “non-flow-away” systems. “Flow-away” systems in largerplants use water to continually remove feathersand guts. New York dressed Carcasses are sold with the guts in—“New An ice slush chill in a large bin. York dressed”—mainly to ethnic markets. In the past, all poultry was sold like this in the U.S.; the USDA still permits it under specialty On-farm processors use large plastic tubs religious-kill exemptions. filled with cold water and ice. Sometimes they have two tubs, using the first to remove the ini- tial body heat and the second to chill the carcass. Washing the Carcass Carcass Carcasses usually stay in the water for about one hour. Small-plant processors use food-grade plastic or stainless steel bins filled with ice—a Washing can occur at different points in the slush forms as the ice melts. The drainage holesslaughter process. The most common point is in the bottom can be opened and the waterbefore chilling, when the carcass is washed in- drained out, leaving only ice, according to Elliottside and out. On-farm processors usually use (23). “A bin size that holds 50 to 100 birds allowshoses to wash. Small and large plants use food- an hour’s worth of processing to chill while birdsgrade hoses and sprayers. Large plants use ad- processed later can go into a separate tank. Thisditives to the water, such as chlorine, to reduce is also an easy-size bin to move when full” (23).bacteria. Ice is an important supply issue for on-farm and small processors. “More than 5-pound bags Chilling of ice will be needed,” as one on-farm processor puts it. A rule of thumb is one pound of ice per The carcass temperature must be lowered pound of meat. In a small plant designed for 500quickly to prevent microbial growth. The USDA birds per day, 2000 lbs. of ice would be required.requires that the temperature of the carcass be An ice machine with a bin capacity of 1800 lbslowered to 40° F within 4 hours (for 4-lb broil- costs about $5,000 and has a recovery of 900ers), 6 hours (4- to 8-lb), and 8 hours (greater pounds per day. In order to process on consecu-than 8 lbs or turkey) (5). Soaking the carcass in tive days, a second ice maker would need to bechilled water is the most common method of chill- mounted on the bin to allow sufficient recoverying poultry in the U.S. (23). One maker of ice machines is the A-1 Re- According to Luke Elliott, “The temperature frigeration Company (24). Crushed ice is moreshould be taken in the breast of the bird with a efficient than cubed ice, which always has pock-probe-type thermometer. Get a good thermom- ets of warmth.PAGE 10 SMALL-SCALE POULTRY PROCESSING
  11. 11. Some on-farm processors use dairy equip- Cold shortening ment—bulk milk coolers with stainless steel Cold shortening is not a big problem with poul- tanks—for chilling carcasses. The tank try since they have a fast rigor mortis process never gets below 32 degrees, and a sub- (1–3 hours after death) (1). Large animals mersible fountain pump keeps the water cir- have a slower rigor process and therefore culating to ensure that chickens don’t freeze more problems with cold shortening. Theo- to the bottom. Missouri producer Kip Glass retically, if you dunk a warm, freshly processed describes his dairy equipment: bird in 32° F water, the muscles will contract, I purchased a used 250-gallon bulk milk cooler resulting in tough meat; however, small pro- for $400...We don’t have to buy ice, store ice, cessors who practice this type of chilling do or worry about the high maintenance demands not report a problem with tough meat and pre- of an ice machine…We have done so far this fer to reduce temperature quickly. year over 2000 broilers, and I know if we had to have bought the ice it would have been a lot more than a $1000 dollars for the 2500 birds Water uptake we are doing. Figure 2500 birds at 4 lbs., at Gradual temperature reduction results in wa- a 1 lb. of ice per pound of bird. That would be ter uptake by the carcass. Most of this water 10,000# of ice. At $1.00 per 10#, you do the is absorbed by the skin; not much goes into math. the meat. The cold water in the chiller seals We fill it up the night before processing, let it the water gained during cooling into the car- run, for approx. 4 hours to chill our water down cass by closing the skin pores. The USDA to 36 degrees. Start processing the next morn- ing and let it maintain the temp. all morning permits poultry to contain 8–12% water when through processing, and all afternoon through sold. This regulation was developed in the customer pickup. Being it’s insulated it doesn’t past to compensate processors when excess run much to maintain that temp (25). water dripped out of packages and was lost during marketing. Nowadays, poultry meat is allowed to have 8% water in tray packs and 12% in bulk packaging, but broilers typically contain 6% water (7). It is obviously an ad- Water chilling is used in large plants. Car- vantage to poultry companies to have highcasses are removed from shackles and put in large moisture in their products since it increaseschill tanks filled with cold water. About one-half the weight—and the products are sold bygallon of water is required per carcass for the weight. However, new regulations will requireinitial tank of water (make-up water). Some chill- the moisture level to be printed on the label.ers hold more than 300,000 gallons of water. Theyare either a through-flow type with paddles orrakes, or a counter-current-type with augers tomove birds. The water is cooled to 32 to 39° F by Small processors put the carcass directly intoa heat exchanger. an ice slush (32° F). Although, theoretically, cold First the carcasses are placed in a pre-chiller shortening can occur, the skin pores close fromto cool them down gradually. The carcasses are the cold, reducing water uptake. Most small pro-warm (107° F) when they enter the prechiller (55- cessors report only about 1 to 4% water uptake.60° F), where they stay for 15 minutes. The car- In large plants, the chill water has chlorine added.casses are then moved to the chiller tank (32° F) Most small processors simply use city water orand kept there for 45 minutes. Counter-currents treated well water with negligible chlorine. Someare used so the carcass moves continually to believe that preventing a high uptake of chlori-colder, cleaner water. An overflow continually nated water can improve the quality and taste ofreplaces water with clean water (1/2 gallon for poultry meat. Low uptake of water is an impor-each bird coming in). Air bubbles agitate the tant distinction in the marketplace for on-farmwater to improve heat exchange. and small processors.SMALL-SCALE POULTRY PROCESSING PAGE 11
  12. 12. A IR- CHILLING skin is drier (7). Since air chill does not promote cold shortening as much as water does, a gradual Air-chilling of poultry is commonly practiced temperature reduction is not as important. Birdsin Europe, Canada, and Brazil, and was once com- encounter cold air in the first stage of enteringmon in the U.S., where air-chilling is still the norm the chiller (19 to 23° F). In the second stage, thefor beef, pork, and lamb. Air-chilling takes longer air is warmer (25 to 30° F) (26).than water chilling, usually at least two hours. There are currently only three air-chill poul- Air-chilling takes place in an insulated room try plants in the U.S.: MBA Poultry (Smartor tunnel in which the temperature is kept be- Chicken) (27) in Tecumseh, Nebraska, Mavericktween 20 and 35° F by coolers in the ceiling (7). Ranch Natural Meats in Denver, Colorado, andAir is blown from nozzles directly into the cavity Kadejan in Glenwood, Minnesota. Other plantsof each bird or around it. An overhead track are in the planning stages. In Canada, Mapleleafconveys the carcasses into the room. It saves Foods (28) has an air-chill plant.labor to keep the birds on the shackles for chill- Air-chill equipment is available from the fol-ing since there is no need to handle them, but lowing companies: Linco (29), Stork (30), andsometimes they are removed and put in baskets Meyn (31). The equipment is made in Hollandor on racks. To prevent an upper layer of car- and Denmark and shipped to the US. These com-casses from dripping on a lower layer, the birds panies can work with clients on the particularare usually not stacked. Heightened humidity specifications desired, including size and scale.or a water spray prevents the carcass from dry- Shelly McKee (32) is a poultry-products scientisting out. Evaporative chilling is a type of air-chill at Auburn University with expertise in air-chill-in which water is sprayed on the carcass; water ing.absorbs heat during evaporation. Chan Zuber at Pickwick/Zesco (11) can as- Air-chilling equipment requires more space sist small processors who are interested in de-and uses more energy than water-chilling equip- veloping air-chill layouts with American equip-ment, and costs more. However, water use is ment. Refrigerated rooms can be assembled fromlow. Both types of chilling are effective and the insulated panels, or used coolers can be boughtchoice depends on water availability, the mar- from restaurant supply companies at reasonableket, etc. (1). Air-chilled poultry is usually sold prices. Pickwick-Zesco has a rack for air-chillingfresh. Birds that are air-chilled should be soft- poultry that prevents the birds from dripping onscalded—if they are hard-scalded, the meat may each other.discolor. Small poultry growers in the UK use 40-ft. There is no water uptake with air chilling. In refrigerated trucks for air-chill. The trucks mustfact, there is water loss of 2–4%, and the outer be fitted with racks, but they already have blow- ers. Some growers remove the wheels for a stationary set-up; others keep the trucks mobile. One producer reports keeping the temperature at 34° F and lowering the temperature of 500 chick- ens to 36° F in 3 hours. He does not spray water on the birds to increase hu- midity. A seasonal duck-processing fa- cility in Arkansas bought a used 8’ x 18’ refrigerated truck for $3,000 and can run it for $175 per month in utility costs. Other types of refrigerated vehicles can also be used. For example, refriger- ated containers for ocean transport hold potential for air-chill. Some are plug-in and some rely on diesel gen- Birds are air-chilled on racks in an insulated erators. TRS Containers (33) is a com- room with fans in France. pany that specializes in converting shipping containers to different uses.PAGE 12 SMALL-SCALE POULTRY PROCESSING
  13. 13. and legs. Breasts and thighs are commonly Cut-up, Yields Average yields for poul- deboned in large plants with automated equip-Deboning, try carcasses without the feathers, blood, and ment. Meat should not be deboned for at least 4 hours, since rigor mortis is occurring, and and viscera: deboning early would toughen the meat. (See the Aging section below.) • 75% for broilers with Further giblets F URTHER PROCESSINGProcessingProcessing • 65% for broilers with- out giblets While the slaughter areas in large plants are kept at about 65–80°F, the temperature is 50°F or lower in further-processing areas. • 78% turkeys with gib- CUT-UP lets (due to the larger The cooler and the shipping dock are 34°F or lower. On-farm proces- neck)sors generally sell car- “Further processing” includes not only cut-casses whole—they do not offer cut-up. In a small up and deboned, but also portioned, formed,plant, about 16 to 30% of the birds need to be cooked, cured, smoked, and brined products.cut-up because of bruises, broken bones in the Further processing seems like another world forpicker, etc (23). U.S. customers are very accus- most small processors today, but in the future ittomed to the convenience of cut-up poultry and may be an important value-adding option forparts. In the industry, about 70% of poultry is them. It’s important to note that further pro-sold as parts or further processed. Boneless, skin- cessing requires government inspection.less breasts are a particularly popular product, Portioning and sizing are important in theand dark meat is exported overseas. Large plants conventional industry, since many restaurantsuse automated equipment to cut-up, while small only want to buy uniform portions of meat.processors cut-up manually or use a saw. Formed products are made by reducing the Cut-up includes removal of the wings, legs, particle size of the meat, adding ingredients forand front halves (breast). Whole legs and leg flavor or functionality, tumbling to increasequarters can be cut into thighs and drumsticks. penetration of brine, and forming with a stufferCommon cut-up configurations consist of eight or mold. Some products are also coated withpieces (wings, breasts, thighs, drumsticks). The breading and cooked. Formed products includewings can also be cut into drumettes. The re- the following:maining racks are a by-product (e.g., soup stock, • Whole (deli rolls and loafs); these have piecespet food, waste). that can still be recognized as meat. D EBONING • Comminuted (chicken nuggets, patties); the pieces of meat have been chopped and are Small plants that debone manually place the smaller; breast meat or deboned meat andwhole bird on a cone and cut off the wings, breast, skin are used. • Emulsified (hot dog, bologna, sausages); the pieces of meat are very small and, when mixed with fat and water, may not be recog- nizable as meat (7). Curing and smoking are ancient ways of pre- serving meat that also contribute to flavor. Cur- ing uses nitrites as a preservative. Smoking can be done without nitrites. Some small proces- sors brine poultry. According to small processor Brandon Sussman,“while some salt and sugar is inevitably retained in the brining process, the reason for brining is to improve moisture reten- tion and meat texture, not to enhance flavor. I believe that there is a certain amount of blood A cone line in France for manual deboning. stripping as well, though I try very hard to get aSMALL-SCALE POULTRY PROCESSING PAGE 13
  14. 14. good bleed out when killing.” For home use, fore slaughter will have little glycogen in theSussman uses “1/4 cup Kosher salt + 1/4 cup muscles. The limited production of lacticwhite sugar to each quart of cold water…1 hour acid and high ultimate pH that result makeper pound up to 8 hours” (34). On-farm brining is the meat dark, firm, and dry (1). On the otherusually done during chilling, but can also be done extreme, the pH can drop quickly and pro-in the refrigerator. In kosher processing, the meat duce pale, soft, exudative salted to draw out all visible blood, becausethe Jewish dietary laws prohibit the eating of blood. Packaging Aging After the carcass is properly chilled, it is ready to be packed. Elliott recommends swift Tenderness is directly related to aging. Poul- packing in a cool room once you take the birdstry meat needs to age for at least four hours be- off ice, to get them packed and into proper stor-fore it is eaten or frozen, or it will be tough. This age before they warm because of rigor mortis—a temporary tough- On-farm processors usually don’t have to re-ening—which is part of the process of muscle frigerate or deliver. They sell their birds fresh,death, the natural biochemical process that con- immediately after slaughter, to customers whoverts the muscle to meat. Although the bird is come to the farm to pick them up. They usuallydead, there is still energy in the muscle. The put the chicken in a plastic bag, close it with amuscle cells continue metabolizing until this en- twist-tie, and weigh the package. Labeling mayergy is used up, switching from aerobic metabo- be as simple as as marking the weight with alism to the less efficient anaerobic (without oxy- “Sharpie” marker on the outside of the bag. Con-gen). Rigor mortis does not set in immediately sumers of fresh poultry must eat or freeze theafter slaughter, but gradually as the muscles de- birds within six days.plete their energy stores. “Cross bridges” form Bags are available from Koch (35), Freundwithin the muscle structure, and the muscle can- Container (36), and Brower (3). Try asking for anot be extended. After a while, the muscle struc- sample of bags your first season, before buyingture starts breaking down and the muscle be- in bulk.comes flexible again (1). Small processors also package in individual Rigor mortis is relatively brief in poultry; it is bags, but they usually shrink-wrap them. Dip-largely complete in 4 hours in chickens (6 to 8hours in turkeys). Rigor is not fully complete for24 hours, but tenderness only increases margin-ally after the initial 4 hours. According to LukeElliott, “We normally advised people who bought Special bags shrink when dippedbirds on the day of processing to wait 24 hours in hot water, removing air from the water, frombefore eating the bird” (23). package. Rigor is dependent on temperature: atwarmer temperatures, it occurs more quickly.However, carcass temperature must be kept lowenough to prevent microbial growth. Meat Quality Biochemistry Meat quality is affected by any stress the bird experiences during catching, loading, ping the bagged birds in hot water will cause transport, unloading, and immobilization be- the shrink-wrap to contract, removing the air. fore slaughter. After death, when energy Cryovac Sealed Air Corporation (37) sells bags metabolism switches from aerobic to anaero- that shrink when exposed to heat. According to bic, lactic acid will accumulate in the muscle Elliott, “Minimum orders are 4,000 bags unless until the glycogen (stored energy) is depleted you ask for overstocks” (23). Another way to or the pH becomes too low for enzymes to remove air is by vacuum. work (1). Animals that were stressed be- A clip machine to close the bag costs aboutPAGE 14 SMALL-SCALE POULTRY PROCESSING
  15. 15. $650 and speeds up packing. Kuhl Corp. (2) fresh.sells a smaller hand-held clipper. According to • Dry tray packs: The meat is packed on overwrapped trays. Only the top quarter inch of meat is frozen (“crust frozen”) to help in- sulate the product. Shelf life is 21 days (when stored at 28° F). • Bulk ice packs: Meat that is destined for whole- sale and restaurants is packed in boxes of 40 and 70 pounds with ice on top. There are drainage holes in the boxes. The shelf life is 7 days (when stored at less than 39° F). Modi- fied atmosphere packaging (MAP) may be Packages and plastic crates used in large plants to increase shelf life. Bulk packaging may use CO2 snow to increase shelf life to 14–21 days and eliminate the nui-Elliott, ”Tipper Tie, a good packing machine that sance of water dripping. However, CO2 canpulls a vacuum and drops a clip on the bag and be a hazard to work with. Other gases suchcuts off the excess bag, can be purchased for as N2 and O2 are used with a vaccum andaround $5,000” (23). Expensive vacuum bag- back flush to increase shelf life up to 28 daysging machines can cost up to $60,000 and are (stored at 28-32 F) (7).not necessary for most small processors. Theshelf life of vacuum-packed poultry is usually5–12 days (1). Storage In addition to individual packaging, smallprocessors also pack birds on ice in plastic cratesthat the customers return. Dry tray packs—good for retail trade (in dis-play cases)—may be an option for small proces-sors. The bird is placed on a pad in a styrofoam Product being held on racks in a small plant’s This scale cooler.prints a label with the weight On-farm processors store the carcasses fortray, which is wrapped with plastic film and their customers in refrigerators or freezers. Ifheat-sealed. Brower Company sells a single-roll storage is limited, it is best not to slaughter tootray-wrap machine. However, this type of pack- many birds at a time. Loading birds that haveaging is not suitable for freezing (23). not chilled to 40° F in your refrigerator or freezer Scales that print out a label when the pack- may drive up the temperature and allow microbesage is weighed are available from companies like to grow on the carcass. One option is to rentBerkel Co. (38). Get labels designed for cooler freezer space at another location.and freezer use so they won’t fall off. In large plants, meat is packaged in dry traypacks or bulk ice packs. Birds are usually sold F REEZINGSMALL-SCALE POULTRY PROCESSING PAGE 15
  16. 16. Although U.S. consumers are accustomed Bone darkening is sometimes seen in youngto buying poultry fresh—80% of poultry is sold chickens after freezing. “This shows as a dark/fresh (5)—freezing will extend the shelf life. bloody appearance of the tips of the bones andMeat does not freeze until it gets below 28° F muscle areas close to bone. Myoglobin squeezedbecause of its salt content, which suppresses the out from the bone marrow, through the relativelyfreezing point. Poultry meat kept above 26° F porous bone structure of young chicken, duringcan still be marketed as fresh (5). the freezing process causes this” (1). It is usu- Frozen poultry will stay flavorful for about 6 ally seen around the leg, thigh, and wing bones,months, but after that it may become rancid. and is unappealing to consumers (1).Don’t store poultry for more than 12 months(1). Freezing does not kill all the microbes; somewill survive and grow after thawing. Deliver y and Delivery Storage recommendations: Distribution • At 10° F, limit storage to 2 months. For on-farm processing, there is usually no • At -0.4° F, limit storage to 4 months. delivery: customers come to the farm. However, some producers deliver to farmers’ markets or • At -11° F, limit storage to 8 months. other places in iced coolers. Small plants may • At -22° F, limit storage to 10 months (1). have a refrigerated truck or trailer. The rate of freezing affects the meat: Clean-up• Slow freezing (3–72 hours) results in large ice On-farm processors usually clean with water crystals, which damage cells and membranes. hoses, using hot water and soap, followed by a Upon thaw, there is more drip loss. water rinse and a sanitizing rinse. Small and large• Fast freezing, which lowers temperature to - plants clean with pressure washers. When pro- 22° F in 30 minutes, results in small crystals cessing under inspection, written sanitation pro- (1). cedures are required.• Methods of freezing poultry include: Still air is a slow method used by home freez- Waste Management ers. Waste from processing includes offal, feath-• Blast freezing uses cold air circulated by fans ers, and blood. On-farm processors usually com- for rapid air movement. The industry uses post their waste. ATTRA’s Farm-Scale Composting blast freezing to form a frozen crust on a prod- publication provides a list of information re- uct to insulate it. sources and suppliers. Small plants usually pay rendering compa-• Liquid immersion or spray: the product is im- nies to pick up barrels of waste, often at a flat mersed in a freezing liquid (1). rate (the same price whether they pick up one The packaging material used for frozen meat barrel or several). Because of the high expense,should be strong, because the meat will dehy- some processors are considering switching todrate and get freezer burn if exposed to cold air large-scale composting or to incineration.(1). Some bags are made for cooler use and some Small processors are also exploring ways tofor freezer use. One on-farm processor recom- market the waste as natural pet food, raw ormends a bag of at least .002 mil thickness (39). cooked. There are websites such as <http://The material should be moisture-proof and> that describestretchable so that it will cling to the meat (1). If feeding dogs “Bones And Raw Food” (BARF).meat will be frozen for a long time, it is better to Large plants usually render wastes, turning themvacuum-pack it. This removes the insulating air, into a by-product such as pet food or meat- andmakes a skintight package, and prevents water bonemeal for livestock or fish.evaporation and ice formation inside. Removingthe oxygen also helps reduce oxidation and ran- WASTEWATER ASTEWAcidity (1).PAGE 16 SMALL-SCALE POULTRY PROCESSING
  17. 17. A lot of water is used in processing, espe- residue, like fats and fine solids.cially for scalding, washing carcasses, chilling, and • FOG: Fat, oil, and grease content is determinedclean up. Large plants use about eight gallons by extracting the FOG from wastewaterper bird. The wastewater “cannot simply be dis- with an organic solvent (5).charged into lakes and rivers because of the rela- There are standard lab procedures for makingtively high content of organic matter such as pro- these wastewater measurements.tein and fat and the microorganisms present” (1). How dirty is the wastewater in a small plant? On-farm processors often apply the waste- The chart below indicates the amount of BOD andwater to a garden. Small-plant processors may SS typical for plants in 1962—a time when there weredischarge into a municipal sewage system, but a still many small plants. Two important questionsmunicipality can charge high fees for treating wa- should be considered.ter with a lot of organic matter. Some initial treat- • Is the blood recovered? Blood has high pollu-ment at the plant will lower this cost. In fact, tion potential (15 lbs BOD per 1,000 birds)most large plants—and some small ones—have (40). Therefore, most plants try to recover orextensive water-treatment facilities. At large catch as much blood as possible, so it doesplants, water and its associated treatment as not become part of the wastewater.waste costs $5.00 per 1,000 gallons (5). Methods for measuring the contents of waste- • Does the plant have a flow-away system? Flow-water include: away systems use large amounts of water to remove feathers or offal.• Biochemical oxygen demand (BOD) measures the amount of oxygen con- sumed by microbes as they W ASTEWATER ASTEWA digest organics in wastewa- T REATMENT REATMENT ter. This measurement re- Treating wastewater starts quires five days to complete. with screening out big chunks If wastewater entering a river and ends with the breakdown or lake had a high BOD, mi- of dissolved organic matter by crobes would rapidly deplete microorganisms. Treatment the oxygen, and fish and other methods must be able to aquatic life would not have handle fluctuations in waste enough oxygen to live. load, which can vary depend-• Chemical oxygen demand ing on what is occurring in the (COD) is a similar test that The access to an underground fat plant (e.g., slaughter, clean- takes only a few hours. trap in a small plant. up, or downtime). Treatment• Suspended solids (SS) measures nonfilterable also takes into consideration the use of cleaning agents in the plant. Preliminary treatment removes Table 3. Processing Plant large particles by screening. Waste Loads per 1000 Chickens Primary treatment removes small particles suspended in the water. Fats Wastewater Suspended and fine solids are removed by means Type of Plant in gallons BOD, lbs solids, lbs of fat traps or dissolved air flotation. Flow-away 7000 • Fat traps work on the prin- With blood recovery 25 13 ciple of gravity separation in a flow-through tank. Heavy All blood wasted 41 23 solids (dirt, crop content) Non-flow-away 4500 settle out on the bottom, With blood recovery 23 12 while fat and fine solids rise All blood wasted 35 21 to the surface. A moving belt with paddles scrapes the sol- As cited in Tanner, James Jerrel. 1970. A Wastewater Characterization of the Poultry Processing Industry. ids off the bottom, moving Master’s thesis, University of Arkansas. p. 20. them to a collection area.SMALL-SCALE POULTRY PROCESSING PAGE 17
  18. 18. The solids are then removed materials). by pump. Floating material Tertiary treatment removes odors and color is skimmed off the top with a from the water. Sand and coal filters are com- continuous-skimming device monly used. (1). Disinfection, using chlorine and hydrogen • Dissolved air flotation uses micro- peroxide to kill pathogens, is the last stage of bubbles to speed the rise of light- treatment. The wastewater is then discharged, weight particles to the surface— either into a stream or sewer or onto land. the bubbles attach themselves to Sludge from biological treatment is most of- the suspended material and lift it. ten buried at landfills, spread on land, or dried Chemicals can be added to make and incinerated (40). It can also be composted the process more efficient. (1). When planning waste management, it is criti- BOD is reduced by 30% in primary treat- cal to be aware of federal, state and county regu-ment. Energy costs are low since gravity and lations regarding waste disposal.flotation do much of the work (1). After primary treatment, the wastewater iseither discharged onto land (“land treatment”) Equipment and Suppliesor given secondary treatment. Land treatmentrequires large tracts of land, but has several ad- Since birds are small, processing themvantages: both plant nutrients and water are re- doesn’t require a saw, track, or other heavy-cycled, surplus nutrients can be removed by duty equipment needed for slaughtering largercrops, and the methods used—irrigation, over- animals. Equipment used by on-farm proces-land flow, and high-rate percolation—are rela- sors includes poultry crates, killing cones,tively inexpensive to install and operate. Land scalder, thermometer, picker, stainless steel evis-treatment may not be an option near urban areas cerating tables or shackles, and a chill tank.because of odor and drift (40). Plastics, including the water hoses, should be Secondary treatment puts biology to work— food-grade. Many sources of this equipmentmicroorganisms break down the organic matter have already been discussed.suspended in the water. The result is the growth Large-scale plants use costly automatedof microorganisms and production of gases such equipment that is highly specialized. Industryas carbon dioxide. Biological treatment is used magazines list equipment suppliers. An Internetbecause it is easier and cheaper to filter out the search for poultry processing equipment will alsomicroorganisms than the suspended organic mat- yield suppliers and prices. Information on usedter (1). Biological treatment can be aerobic or equipment is available at the Equipment Ex-anaerobic. change Company of America, Inc. (41). An ex-• Aerobic lagoons rely on microorganisms that cellent opportunity to view automated equipment use oxygen, so these lagoons use mechanical is at the annual International Poultry Exhibition aerators to help keep oxygen in the water. in Atlanta; information is available through the The lagoons are usually 10 ft deep. The total U.S. Poultry and Egg Association (42). BOD reduction is 70–90%. The solid sludge Small equipment and supplies include can later be removed in a polishing pond. sanitizers, brushes, soap, paper towels, buckets,• Anaerobic lagoons do not use oxygen. Fermen- pans, brooms, mops, knives, pinning knives, lung tation produces methane and carbon dioxide puller, ice, scales, bags, staples, clips, plastic (as in a cow’s rumen). Anaerobic lagoons gloves, metal mesh gloves, hair nets, aprons, rub- cost less because mechanical aerators are not ber boots, etc. Koch Supplies (35) sells many of required. BOD is reduced by 60 to 80% in 1 these items. to 3 weeks (when temperature is greater than On-farm processor Karen Black in Oregon has 72° F). this to say about knives: Another form of biological treatment is a“trickling filter.” Wastewater is aerated as it I use a Heinkel paring knife (about 2" longpasses over a large surface area (rocks or otherPAGE 18 SMALL-SCALE POULTRY PROCESSING
  19. 19. with a reverse curve) for killing, and a 3" weighing 17 lbs. to big toms weighing over 40 knife for eviscerating. I really like the lbs. The range in weight is so great that turkey Heinkel’s because they are stainless, hold an processing is usually not automated, even in large edge well, and have a good grip that doesn’t plants. Turkeys are also very heavy, an impor- slip in my wet hand. They are pretty tant consideration for manual slaughter, especially expensive, and I’m sure there are less- if you do not have an overhead track. Feathers expensive knives that do a fine job. and crops are harder to remove, and more ice is required. I also bought a Chef’s Choice electric sharp- Processing plants in France that participate ener, and now all my work knives are kept in the Label Rouge program may process a num- sharp (a steel at my worktable keeps the edge ber of types of products. For example, Fermier honed while I work). It’s gotten to the point Landes processes chicken, guineafowl, squab, where I can feel when the knife needs a little cockrels, and rabbits, as well as capons and tur- steeling. keys for Christmas. The birds are processed in Here’s a website that has a lot of useful informa- different ways: ready-to-cook, efilee, or feet and tion about sharpening knives: http://www. head left on. Efilee is a specialty dressing; the (43). bird is eviscerated but the crop is left in. The feet and heads are often left on the carcasses of Processing Diverse Processing specialty poultry so that customers can verify the color of the shanks and feathers. Even though Fermier Landes is a large plant, they put Species together small orders and do custom process- ing. Because they slaughter manually, on-farm andsmall-plant processors can handle a wide variety Multispecies processingof poultry. In addition to broilers, they may pro- In Kansas, Diana Endicott (44) processescess large roasters and stew hens and small Cor- beef, pork, and poultry in the same plant.nish game hens, or other poultry species, such as She says it can be difficult to “cash-flow” aturkeys, ducks, geese, quail, squab, guineafowl, plant on poultry alone. Endicott keeps theand pheasant. In contrast, large plants cannot products separate by processing on differ-handle much diversity because their automated ent days and using separate equipment,equipment fits one size only. Large plants may aprons, etc. Rabbits and specialty poultryhave two separate lines: for example, large birds are sometimes processed in the same plant.(6.5 lbs) for further processing and small (3.4 lb) Keep in mind that regulators in your statebirds for fast-food restaurants. may not allow—or may just be unfamiliar Turkeys vary widely in size, from small hens with—multispecies processing. Batch vs. Continuous Processing Processing Birds are processed in batches during manual processing on the farm and at small plants. Pro- cessors usually do one activity at a time. For example, all the birds may be killed, eviscerated, and chilled during the first hours of operation, and packaged during the last hours. Workers usually perform a variety of duties. On the other hand, large plants use automated, in-line equip- Plants may process a diversity of ment for continuous processing, killing birds throughout the day. Workers usually perform species in France.SMALL-SCALE POULTRY PROCESSING PAGE 19
  20. 20. only one duty over and over. Processing R ate Processing Rate The rate of processing depends on the work-ers, the equipment, and the set-up. The work-ers’ level of proficiency is especially important.Eviscerating is usually the most time-consum-ing part of manual processing, but an experi-enced worker can eviscerate two birds per A typical on-farmminute. Manual cut-up and deboning requires processing setup.skilled labor. The type of equipment you buy depends on day is not a sign of commitment and a goodyour chore cycle: whether you process a few work ethic; it’s a symptom of bad management.birds often or a lot of birds infrequently. How- Heroic efforts aren’t called for except in a crisis.ever, if the scalder is too small, it will cause a Processing day shouldn’t be a crisis – it shouldbottleneck down the line. be something to look forward to (45).” There are other limiting factors. If your over- Processing Setuphead track is not motorized, the speed at whichthe plant operates will be no more than the speed Processingof the slowest person. Is your cooler or freezerlarge enough to allow you to process daily? Can Processing can be done on-farm, at a liveyou empty it daily? Set-up is discussed in the market in a city, in a mobile processing unit, ornext section. in a processing plant. Typical processing rates: O N- FARM S ETUP• Working alone with minimal equipment: 6 birds per person per hour. On-farm processors usually work outdoors, under a tree or in a shed. They use existing out-• Using equipment that handles at least 4 birds buildings or build a dedicated area, often just a at a time: 15 birds per person per hour. concrete pad with a shed roof. These are gen- Good layout, design, and standard operating erally not enclosed areas and are rarely screenedprocedures in a small plant can improve effi- to keep out insects.ciency. An on-farm processing setup usually in- Tip: The rates for equipment are sometimes cludes a combination of new, used, and home-given in terms of eviscerating speed. When evalu- made equipment. Costs range from $100 to $500ating processing rates, find out what the estimate for minimal equipment up to $4000 for a spe-includes. Is it for evisceration only, “kill-to-chill,” cialty line such as the one offered by Brower foror does it also include set-up, packing, storing,clean up, and paperwork time? The numbersabove include all of these. When processing turkeys on-farm, MarceyNameth found that although the evisceration timewas comparable to that for chickens, “everythingelse was slower.” Her scalding and picking equip-ment could handle 12 to 16 broilers in one batchbut only two turkeys. She could process only one-third the number of turkeys compared to broil-ers. “I found turkeys to be exhausting work. Atleast this year I wasn’t shredded by their feet—last year my shirts were torn to pieces.” Processing poultry can be hard work. RobertPlamondon has this to say about on-farm pro- An on-farm setup with a concrete padcessing: “Exhaustion at the end of a processing and shed roof.PAGE 20 SMALL-SCALE POULTRY PROCESSING