Chicken Processing for the Uninitiated

Reader Contribution by Nathan Kipnis
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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. 

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. 

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

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