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How to process 12 birds?

 
master steward
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I've only ever butchered 4 cockrels in a shot.  My slow process is:
1.  Catch a bird
2.  Hang by feet and lovingly slit neck
3.  Scald
4.  Hand pluck
5.  Gut/prepare
6.  Bring to missus for final cleaning/picking and packaging
7.  Repeat

Now I have 12 to do...  I'm going to make a killing cone to speed up and simplify the killing process.  I'm also borrowing a plucker.  And I hope to get a turkey fryer burner to keep the scalding pot hot outside (vs bringing it into the house each time to reheat).

Process flow questions:
  • Is it better, worse or neutral to kill all 12 birds first and then move on to scalding?  Or should I keep doing them one at a time?
  • If I catch the blood in a bucket, how do I apply it to the garden?

  • Thanks!
     
    pollinator
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    This was the first year we did more than 8 in one day.  One at a time worked best with my husband and I working together.  Process was:
    1. Catch bird
    2. I held bird and got it to relax.  Husband came behind bird and shot with air rifle.  Bird never even reacted because it never saw the end coming.
    3. Slit throat and put in cone (just made this year.  Huge plus)
    4. Scald bird. (Definately get a turkey fryer size. We finally did 2 years ago)
    5. Pluck (husband built a plucker using rubberized finger put through pvc tube and it hooks to drill to spin. Amazing)
    6. Gut and get any stray feathers.
    7. Package for freezer.
    8. Repeated 10 times (then again on 2 other days. Will be doing again this week)

    We found the best workflow to be to get the next bird in the cone to drain right after previous bird was plucked. It kept things moving pretty steady. We processed more birds this year with the least hassle ever.

    As far as the blood, I added a little soap to the bucket and filled about third with water.  Kept blood from sticking to bucket so much.  I disposed of in woods because my garden is next to chicken run area and I want to keep predators further away.  Any unused bits from processing also went to woods.

    Hope it turns out well!

    (Edited for rotten spelling)
     
    pollinator
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    If you can, catch bird 1 and drain it.  While draining catch bird 2, remove bird 1 from cone, put bird 2 in, and drain it.  While bird 2 is draining pluck/gut bird 1.  Then repeat that process with all the rest.  If you kill them all then pluck/gut one at a time they'll get stiff before you get through more than 1 or 2.  Not a huge deal, but having them still floppy is nicer than having them stiff.

    If you can get even 1 person to help out that will speed things up a ton.  Probably go a lot more than twice as fast.  One person can pluck/gut while the other catches and drains birds, and runs the finished birds to the house for your wife to package.
     
    Andrew Mayflower
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    For the blood, I've never done it, but I'm told that diluting the blood 10:1 with water lets you add directly to the garden.  Add water to the bucket before you start to help prevent coagulation.  Just keep track of how much water you add at the start, and then how much volume the blood adds you can get that dilution ratio right at the end.  12 chickens isn't a huge amount of blood.  But at 10:1 you might need a couple 5 gallon buckets to get enough water mixed in.

    Anything else that is likely to get blood on it, if you put on some vegetable (or canola, or whatever) oil (sprayed or wiped on) before you get started it will make clean up MUCH easier.  
     
    gardener
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    I always do one bird at a time unless I have help. The experts can hand-pluck a bird in ridiculously short periods of time, and I have not mastered that ability, so I want to get the dead bird cooling as quickly as possible and that means one at a time.
    1. I'd read and now from experience agree that the feathers come out more easily immediately after death, so if I'm only doing a few, I'm now skipping the scalding, removing the wings at the first joint and plucking the hardest parts first (for ducks that's the back between the wings and the legs before the joint). If I have help, the scalder is worth heating up, but you now spend the whole time with wet hands which gets me cold faster, rather than dry feathers on a still warm carcass.
    2. I'm convinced there's a problem with our corn cooker, which is a close relative of the turkey fryer, so I have the type of meat thermometer that sits outside the oven with the sensor at the end of a wire. These are designed for "dry heat" rather than wet, so Hubby put some good heat-shrink tube on so water can't get in and I  highly recommend that.
    3. If you're borrowing a plucker, that's awesome - can you loan it to me after? (yeah, too far away and a border to cross). Keep a friend like that!  What type of plucker? The ones with a drum that rotates and you have to hold the bird against it are tricky to use. We borrowed one once when shit happened and Hubby whined when I ripped a wing off with it until he tried it and wrecked three birds in a row and apologized! The type where you drop the bird into a washing machine sort of barrel with rubber fingers sticking in towards the center, are way better/easier to use. If you've actually got one of those to use, I'd ask what the capacity is. Ex: if the plucker holds 4 birds, I'd kill, scald and pluck and process 4 at a time. If it holds 1, I'd stick with my advice in bullet 1. The pros have *all* the right equipment to keep things as clean as possible - most home set-ups don't, so I tend to run on the cautious side.


    Blood: I find catching it difficult because of arterial spray etc. I put down something like an opened feed sack, put chopped dry leaves on it, catch what lands there and not on the grass, roll it up at the end and compost it. I worry about attracting coons, so I dig a hole in the middle of a hot compost, put the blood, feather, guts etc mixed with high carbon stuff like chopped leaves/sawdust/paper into the hole and cover it over well. We've had good luck with it not getting dug up again, but I've had to set rat and mice traps at times also. I figure a little disturbance to a pile is "nature aerating it" for me, but if they're causing trouble and I know I've got stuff to bury that might upset the neighbors, I try to be proactive.

    Every situation is a little different, so hopefully others will speak up with what works for them and you can develop a plan based on collective knowledge.
     
    pollinator
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    I agree that having at least one other person involved will make your life a lot easier.  My husband and son pitch in when it's time to kill our cockerels, though we have never done more than 4 at once.  However, here's our method:

    1. Collect all birds the day before and keep them caged with a drink, no food
    2. Kill first bird (we favor the broomstick method) and bleed out
    3. Give bird to first helper to scald and pluck; meanwhile kill and bleed out second bird
    4. Repeat with another bird/another helper so that all three people now have a bird to pluck
    5. When someone finishes plucking, the quickest at butchery takes the plucked bird and starts gutting while the other two continue plucking the remaining birds; once two birds have been plucked, kill another bird, etc.

    If I had a plucker, I would kill as many at once as I could fit in the plucker, and can reasonably clean/gut within the span of ten or so minutes (for me this would be around four--some people are a lot faster).

    Good luck!
     
    Mike Haasl
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    Thanks for all the great replies everyone!!!  It is a drum style plucker where you have to hold the bird.  And unless something magical happens, I'll be doing it by myself.  So it sounds like my standard order is pretty good and the new tools will speed things up.  
     
    Jay Angler
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    Mike Haasl wrote:

    It is a drum style plucker where you have to hold the bird.

    You want to use a *very* light touch, moving the bird gently into the fingers and keeping the bird moving. It will speed things up , but you want to try to get yourself at the right height for you as I found it quite hard on my back and shoulders. That said, I had helpers who were doing the other parts of the job, so I was *only* manning the plucker and not getting breaks.

    Just to state the obvious - is there a reason you have to do all 12 on the same day? It should be doable on your own with that plucker,  but maybe judge how the time is going as you get part way through. You can always give the birds some more feed and then wait a day or so. With experience, doing 12 with that plucker should be quite reasonable, but it wouldn't surprise me if the first three or so are a bit frustrating.

    Is the plucker owner doing any birds himself before you need to do yours? What hints does the owner have for using it? (I got no help from the owner's direction when I used it, and we were doing a lot more than 12 birds, but I can't remember how many more.) If the owner is, would you be in position to "volunteer" to watch and try one before you need to tackle your 12?

    My friend says the feathers make great mulch for the garden.

     
    Tina Hillel
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    Jay Angler is VERY right that there is a learning curve with the plucker.  My husband bashed up a few before getting the hang of it.  Since he has gotten involved, I would happily take some birds with ripped up wings.  Those are definately the most fragile parts with the plucker.  Of course since our plucker is an investment of $12 in parts, scrap pvc and an existing drill, I can't complain!
     
    Tina Hillel
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    Also as far as the cone, we found we needed 2 sizes. One bigger one for meat birds and larger roosters and one smaller for extra cockerels.  
     
    Mike Haasl
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    Thanks team!  The loaner of the plucker hasn't used it in quite a while so I can't watch him use it.  I bought replacement fingers for it since some were missing and the rest seemed pretty brittle.

    The three reasons I want to do 12 the same day is..   1. So I can get it over with.  2. So the birds don't have to reestablish pecking order twice.  3. So I can keep them contained in their run until the carnage is over and then let the survivors free range for the rest of the day.

    I'm pretty sure that I'd rather deal with the labor of using this plucker vs the struggle of hand plucking.  Of course, I say that now
     
    Jay Angler
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    Mike Haasl wrote:

    I'm pretty sure that I'd rather deal with the labor of using this plucker vs the struggle of hand plucking.  Of course, I say that now.

    I absolutely agree, Mike. We're just warning you it won't be magic. If I had to choose between hand plucking 12 birds or using the loaner, I'd take the loaner. You may find that some parts are better dealt with by hand, but that plucker should get most of the job done. I too would try to get it done in a day - the set up and clean up take a bunch of time. I'm just "gently" suggesting that you don't get so wedded to that plan, that if things are going badly, you don't change the plan *before* you cut/hurt some important part of yourself due to frustration or fatigue.

    I'm hoping you'll report back that it went well - I don't expect perfection and judging from my experience, a wing or two may suffer a mishap, but a chicken tastes perfectly fine with only one wing! Good luck and stay safe.
     
    Mike Haasl
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    Thanks Jay!  Once the chicks are old enough to reveal any cockrels, the day of reckoning will be neigh for their aunties.  I'll give a full report
     
    pollinator
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    I have a whiz bang chicken plucker so it’s a bit different, but it’s ALL about proper temp.  Too hot and you rip skin, too cool and you beat up the chicken and feathers don’t come off easy.

    145-150 degrees is the sweet spot.  But YMMV.  I use a turkey fryer, it will overshoot the temp easy so keep a good eye on temp before dunking the birds.

    I do 4 at a time on killing in cones (I have a set up) and then shut off the heat once it hits the temp, usually o can dunk and defeather the 4 before temps get too low.
     
    pollinator
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    I'd get the wife more involved. My husband kills, scalds and plucks while I gut, wash and package. We do one bird at a time. While I'm doing my thing he's killing and prepping another bird for me. We can do a bird in about 10 minutes.
     
    Mike Haasl
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    I'd like to, trust me!  But the best I can get is to hand her the gutted bird and let her take care of the rest of the process
     
    Jay Angler
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    Not everyone is up to processing. I see it as part of the circle of life. Hubby avoids it unless I insist. It's usually not worth the hassle. He's better at changing the oil in the vehicles, which I genuinely have no interest in doing. I could learn, but I'd rather go and plant a tree!
     
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    I often process chickens myself.  I usually process the rabbits and goats and pigs myself too but I do get an assist for the steers.  I have been processing chickens since I was about 10 years old when my grandma gave me instructions on how to do it. My mom relayed the instructions over the phone.   These days the process is much faster as my husband made me a chicken plucker out of a barrel with a plucker fingers.  I often do 16 to 25 birds in one day.  
    I try to plan ahead and have my chicken tractor near the killing cones  so I don't have to walk back and forth so much. This saves a lot of time. If can't get the chicken tractor near the killing butcher area, I I bring the chickens to the area in a big cage that allows droppings to fall through. This helps keep the chickens clean while they are waiting.

    I clear out a place in the refrigerator the night before so I have a place to chill the birds overnight before freezing. Or set up a cooler with ice for chilling the packaged  birds.

    I set up to or three of my folding plastic tables and bring out the chicken plucker. I have the killing cones mounted on a tree.  I set up the scalding area near the tree. I use an electric hot plate to keep the water at temperature of about 148 to 150 degrees.
    I put the plucker next to the scalding area.  I like to put a cooler close to that so that I can toss plucked birds into cool water to wait for gutting and packaging if I need to.  I have a table that use to gut the birds or lately, I have been hanging the birds by their wings in the wire shackles I made for hanging rabbits to butcher.  IT works pretty good as I can pull the guts out of the bird and have the guts drop into a bucket. I can also hang the birds in the leg shackles by their legs to get any feathers the plucker missed. I have the shackles hanging in the tree by the killing cones.  This lets me skip using a table for gutting.  I can get the gizzard and the liver and heart without laying the bird on a table.  I keep a bowl handy or the bag I am going to put the bird in handy so I can toss the gizzard and stuff in the bowl or the bag when the chicken is ready to package.

    I set up a table for packaging with my vacuum sealer.  I then run my extension cords. I put up each connection between the cords on the top of an overturned bucket.  Sometimes I put the connections in a plastic bag and tape the area so I don't have to worry about water getting in there.  

    I run my hoses out to the area from the hydrant.  Doing set up the day before is a real time saver, but I can get set up in under an hour if I need to.

    Depending on your plucker you might be able to pluck two birds at once. Since my plucker is made from a 55 gallon plastic barrel, I can toss two birds in at a time.

    As someone else has said I don't like to get to many birds killed as I don't like them getting stiff for plucking and gutting. I kill a bird, and let it drain out in the cone. I get another bird and let it drain out while I am scalding the first. When I get two scalded, I toss them in the plucker. IF you have a drum/barrel style plucker make sure it is spinning before you toss in the birds.  I take the bird to the gutting area and gut them.  I spray them off and take the bird over to package them with the vacuum sealer.  I usually have another cooler with cold water or ice water that I toss the packaged birds into. I sometimes put bleach in the water to make sure the packaging is disinfected on the outside.  

    Make sure you have towels or rags or paper towels handy to wipe off your hands as you will get interrupted and have to stop in the middle for something.

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