A customer recently asked me what on farm processing is. What does that really mean? I figured if one customer is interested in the details, others might be interested as well. If you look back in previous blog posts you will find our last processing day was a bit different from this Saturday’s processing. Let’s take a look at how things are planned to go for Saturday.
What is farm direct to consumer?
This simply means that the farmer grows the food. And then processes the food in an acceptable manner for the consumer. In the case of chickens, most consumers aren’t interested in keeping live animals. They probably also don’t want to transport live animals home with them to slaughter them later. Processing on farm means we break the animal down into an acceptable format, a whole chicken as seen in the picture above, and wrap it in a shrink wrap freezer safe bag.
That is the first half of the equation.
The consumer then comes to the farm on processing day to pick up the freshly grown bird(s). This gives them the chance to meet the farmer. See the farm. And ask questions about how the farming operation works. Become more connected with where the food comes from.
If you are eco-conscious, or concerned about animal well being, you would be happy to know that your food is grown locally in a sustainable and friendly fashion. Rather than trucking the chicken across the states, or shipped on a cargo vessel half way around the world, your food is grown locally. As you will see when you pick up your birds, there are no waste ponds on our property. There is no overstocking of animals in a tight cage. All of our animals, not just the chickens, get a safe enclosure that affords them free grazing of fresh grass and forage. They are interacted with several times a day to monitor their well being.
What is the process for processing?
There are several stations involved in processing chickens. I will describe each one here.
- Killing station: All animal processing starts with killing. In the case of chickens they are suspended upside down in what is known as a killing cone. There are many ways to kill a chicken. The most common is the removal of the head. Everyone has heard that if you remove a chickens head, it will flop about and run around. This is true. It is also messy. And it leaves blood remaining in the bird. For that reason we don’t do this! We instead slice the chickens neck with a quick motion. This surprises the bird…but doesn’t freak it out. The bird then slowly goes to sleep, without added stress, as the blood drains from its body. We want to get all the blood out of the chicken as the shelf life is longer, there is no bruising in the meat, and no unsightly veins when cutting into your dinner. This takes 2-4 minutes to complete. We try to do 4 birds at a time.
- Cleaning station: Birds are not generally clean animals…unlike pigs! They lay around in the mud, dirt, poop, etc. And unlike a cat they pay no attention to themselves and never lick their feathers clean. Chickens are actually at their happiest when they can scratch up a patch of dust in which they take a dust batch. They use their wings to throw dust up into the air and on to their backs. This helps them with bugs and other inhabitants of their feathers. As a result, taking them from the killing stations directly to the scalder results in very dirty scald water! We aim to maintain a clean operation. For this reason we give the recently deceased chickens a quick bath prior to sending them into the hot tank. This gets most of the yuck out of the chickens feathers prior to hot dipping them.
- Scalding station: The scalding station is required to loosen up the feathers of the chicken. This is a hot bath maintained at around 140 degrees. A few dips into this allows the birds skin to release the feathers. Once the big feathers release they are released to the next station.
- Plucker station: Our chicken plucker is a blog post by itself. Coming soon. We built the traditional whizbang style drum plucker. This is a device that has 3” rubber fingers, about 150 of them, sticking out from a spinning plat at the bottom of a 55 gallon barrel…and some fingers on the side of the barrel. The bottom plate spins at about 125RPM. You toss a couple of freshly scalded birds into it and the spinning rubber fingers remove all the feathers from the bird in about 20 seconds. Take a look here for a look.
- Head & Feet station: At this point the bird is clean as a babies butt! Time to remove the head and feet. One of the easiest jobs. Some people just pull the head off. I prefer to just slice it off or chop it off. The result is the same. Then you remove the feet at the first joint by slipping your knife around in a quick motion.
- Evisceration station: Now comes the important part. Removing all the internals of the bird. First we remove the oil sack above the tail (taints the flavor of the bird if left on). I prefer the quick pinch and slice method – minimal knife work. This creates a very small opening in the bird with the knife. You are less likely to knick anything inappropriately. You then tear open the birds at the front & back. Reach in and remove everything in one swoop. Then cut around the anus…and you are done. Here is a video describing that process.
- Quality assurance station: With the bird gutted and loosely cleaned, it is time to ensure that the job was done well. The QA stations inspects the bird to ensure that all the pin feathers were removed and that there are no remaining internal bits.
- Packaging station: Once the birds are cleaned they wait in an ice slurry as they await their turn in packaging. The birds move from their ice bath to the drying racks. And then into a shrink wrap bag. They are then weighed and labeled and stored in a refrigerator prior to being handed over to the customer.
Here is great overview of most of the process! (I am a Salatin lover!)