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Mother Earth News Fair

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Chicken Processing for the Uninitiated

I have been to all three of the annual Mother Earth News Fairs that have been held at Seven Springs Resort. I go there not only as a keynote speaker and presenter (‘Working with a Green Architect’ and ‘An Insightful History of Energy Conscious Homes’) but also to learn about things I don’t know about. The range of topics and exhibits at the fair is way outside of my normal zone of architecturally related endeavors.

To save time I had gone through the program and lined up the sessions that I would be attending. This is the fourth year that I have had a good size (250 square foot) backyard vegetable garden and I think I am finally get the hang of it. So a lot of the topics I wanted to hear about had to do with gardening, but there were a few on green building and related subjects.

I arrived on Friday, late in the afternoon. It was my birthday and it was strange not being at home for that. I meet up for a birthday drink with Bryan Welch, the publisher of Ogden Publications of which Mother Earth News is a part, and James Duft, overall superhuman and the key point person for all of the goings on at the fair.

They introduced me to David and Renee Schafer. David is the owner of Featherman Equipment. He asked what I was doing tomorrow morning. I told him I was scheduled to go to a talk on urban versus rural homesteading. David looked me right in the eyes and said I should definitely go his presentation. I asked him what it was on, and he said it was a live display of poultry processing.

David Schafer and Nathan Kipnis 

Unlike what I believe is the vast majority of the fair goers, I don’t fish or hunt. I know that animal food doesn’t come plastic wrapped in nature, but beyond that I haven’t fully connected the dots. And I certainly have never witnessed anything like what he was proposing that I go see.

I thanked him and said, no, I would be going to the seminar on homesteading. He told me the reason you go to a fair is not to stick with the same stuff you know, but to learn about completely new things. I thought about this for a second and then agreed with him. No disrespect to the homesteading session, but I could probably go up on stage cold and give that lecture.

As far as processing poultry goes, I don’t know very much about it except perhaps a cartoon version of Elmer Fudd chasing Bugs Bunny with a hatchet. I gulped and told him I would probably do it.

The next morning I woke up and decided I would in fact go to his presentation. ‘Pluck A Lotta Chickens: A Live Demonstration’ was in the Timberstone Room, which holds several hundred people. I sat second row, center. David had told me that the goriest part of the process would be covered up with a cardboard wrap, and a series of metal cones were wrapped along their bottoms. I trusted him about that.

The set up was crazy! Moving left to right, they had a series of cages, a number of inverted cones, a dunk tank, a defeathering tub, a processing table and several plastic lined large bins. Even though I had never seen this, the linearity of the equipment made the process order very obvious.

David was joined on stage by Joel Salatin. I hadn’t heard of him before, but I think I was the only one in the room that hadn’t. It was clear that if there was a rock star of poultry processing, he was it.

James Duft was also on stage working a handheld video camera that was providing a live feed to the two LCD displays. Frankly, from where I was sitting, I didn’t really need the displays. Between all of the processing equipment and the video equipment, I could tell this was going to be a very unique event. 

David and Joel began and had a great banter going between them. They could easily have a cable show about their work - seriously! David explained what all of the equipment was and how the process was going to go. I was slowly starting to rethink if this was a good idea or not, but it was too late to do anything about that. Sort of like going straight up the initial incline on a roller coaster before it goes screaming down the giant first incline.

David explained the difference between kosher/halal processing and other methods. Without getting into the gory details, it is a more humane way to kill the birds as well as better for the food itself. When I have chicken at home, I only have kosher chicken. This really helped me understand why it is a better choice all the way around.

The joking stopped and both David and Joel got very serious and very respectful discussing the fact that they were about to take a life so we could be nourished by its food. I wasn’t expecting that and it really made the experience more holistically balanced.

Once they started the process, it wasn’t nearly as bizarre as I thought it was going to be. I alternated between being amazed that birds were being killed 6’ from me to seeing how the entire process took only about four minutes start to finish. In one end was a live bird - out at the other end was something that I had cooked a million times on a grill.

It was surreal, enlightening, slightly unnerving, and amazing. This had to be the most difficult presentation that the fair had ever staged, and it went off flawlessly (other than the Featherman dunking machine having some issues with the very large birds). I left thinking that I had made the right decision to take a risk that morning, step out of my comfort zone and expand my knowledge base.

I saw David and Renee later and told them that their presentation had truly changed me. I don’t think I have ever left a presentation with my adrenaline level pumped up like that. I thanked him for talking me into going, and it reaffirmed my notion that the reason you go to a place like the Mother Earth Fair is to really learn about new and different things. I can’t wait to see what they have planned for next year...


Nathan Kipnis presented two workshops at the Seven Springs, Pa. MOTHER EARTH NEWS FAIR.  

Please visit the FAIR website for more information about future FAIRs, June 1-2 in Puyallup, Wash. and Sept. 20-22 in Seven Springs, Pa. You can also get FAIR updates on our Facebook and Twitter pages.