This is not a fiction article, although from the title it might be about a farm beside “Willie Wonka’s Chocolate Factory”. Belize Ag Youth Reporter Nick Roberson*, is fascinated and curious about all aspects of chickens and other domesticated fowl – guineas, turkeys, ducks, geese, he loves them all. Nick is always ready to accompany Belize Ag writers out on any chicken story. So when Ms. Chrissie Tupper announced to a few friends that she acquired a brand new Whiz Bang Chicken Plucker, imported from the USA and ready for assembly at her farm behind the Tuppers’ restaurant, Cheers With a Tropical Twist, at Mile 31 on the George Price Highway, Belize Ag planned to check it out. March 23rd was the big day. Chrissie had completed the plucker assembly and fine tuned it and Nick was on spring break from San Ignacio’s Sacred Heart Primary School; she invited us over for a demonstration.
The first step, of course is to humanely slaughter the birds, accomplished in the “killing cones” on the farm. The next step is to scald the birds in Chrissie’s new scalder, custom-made from a recycled 20 gallon propane hot water heater tank with the top cut off. The scalder has a central core, running from the bottom and rising out of the tub up approximately 36 inches. On this core near the top is a nifty rack called a gondola for hanging 4 birds upside down by their feet (the feathered body dangling down). With a manual lever, the bar is lowered and the chickens are submerged into scalding water, ideally kept at between 140° and 145° F. The birds are scalded until their wingtip feathers can easily be plucked off by hand – approximately 1 minute. If the bird is under-scalded the feathers are difficult to remove. If the bird is over-scalded, by hotter temperature or excessive time, then the skin becomes ultra-fragile, and can easily tear while in the plucker. Chrissie was still trying to adjust her tricky thermostat, which was giving problems, to maintain the steady temperature with less than 4° variance.
Next step is to put the chicken into the wondrous Whiz Bang Chicken Plucker (WBCP), designed by small chicken farmer, Herrick Kimball, who was searching without success for such a device for his own use. He eventually made his own and wrote a book on how to make the plucker and the scalder and now sells kits and parts for the system.
The birds, up to 3 at a time, are placed “loose” into the plucker drum. A ¾ hp electric motor is started and the birds begin to dance. (Neither motor nor drum comes with the WBCP.) The watchful attendant has a hose in hand, to gently rinse the birds as they are bounced around, and the hose water washes the feathers around and eventually out, down the drain at the bottom of the tub, under the raised false bottom. The feathers are used as fertilizer on her farm.
A mere 15– 20 seconds, and the Whiz Bang Chicken Plucker’s rubber “‘fingers” inside the rubber tub (made from half of a 50 gallon drum, (see picture) neatly de-feather the bird. The time for an experienced plucker to manually pluck might be 5 minutes, so this gadget is a great time saver and investment to upgrade a hobby farm to a revenue earner.
After plucking, the birds are gutted, and iced down, ready for cooking or freezing for a later day.
At whizbangplucker.blogspot.com you can access more information on the plucker, scalders and other eclectic poultry-related products and topics. The WBCP kit cost is US$415; the freight from New York to Belize and duty for Chrissie’s totaled BZ$380.
Chrissie’s diverse and growing farm behind Cheers provides all the fresh eggs for use in the restaurant, and an increasing amount of the broiler chicken meat and occasionally pork as well.
Editor’s Note: Yes, Nick Roberson is the grandson of Editor Beth Roberson. Who will be the next Belize Ag youth reporter?