The 'dunker' part of the contraption is a counterbalanced
piece of pipe rigged to a geared down electric motor that
dunks the birds eight times per minute. The system is governed
by a timer and an on-off switch that always lifts chickens
out of the hot water before stopping the scalding cycle.
'When Daniel was two,' laughs his father, 'we scalded birds
in a big pot over a campfire. He could barely drag two birds
behind him. And we did 50 birds a day. That was a big day!'
Now, Salatin processes 250 birds a day. He does that four
days every month during the six-month season.
Daniel grabs four birds from the scalder/dunker and plops
them into the feather plucker to his right. He flips a switch
and sprays cold water into the revolving stainless steel drum
as the birds bounce around against dozens of stiff rubber
fingers (8.5 cm long) mounted inside. Fifteen seconds later,
not a feather is left on the four birds. The plucker will
handle up to 400 birds an hour with little or no hand-picking
required. (It is made by PICKWICK Manufacturing Company, 1879
McCloud Place NE, Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52402 USA. Phone: (319)
'I need another crate!' yells Daniel. It's 10:17 a.m. Only
a handful of crates remain to be emptied.
Joel carefully but quickly trims off oil glands from atop
the tails, opens up the carcasses and eviscerates the birds.
Livers, gizzards and hearts go into pots of cold water. Offal
fills plastic buckets underneath the metal workbenches as
the birds are quickly moved down the line.
'How do you do that?' CJ asks in amazement.
Joel pauses. His motions have become so routine over the
years that he has to stop and think for a minute about exactly
where he places his fingers and how he moves his knife and
hands to make cleaning the birds seem almost effortless.
The Salatin children just smile. Like their father, they
have been dressing chickens for so many years that it is all
second nature them. As their father explains the routine --
'I loop my middle finger around the esophagus ... scooping
down ... and pulling back' -- the children keep the line moving.
Daniel removes four more birds from the plucker and deftly
slices off their feet, adding the carcasses to the growing
pile of plucked birds in front of his father. At the other
end of the processing line, Rachel inserts a flushing-type
lung remover (also from Pickwick Co.) into the body cavity
of a bird. The metal comb scraper on the device loosens the
lungs. Then, with the push of a lever on a hose, Rachel releases
a powerful water jet that flushes the lungs and other unwanted
matter out of the body cavity.
'I need another crate!' yells Daniel. It's 10:30 a.m. That's
the last crate.
The chilling tanks at the end of the processing line are
almost full of dressed birds.
'Oh no!' mutters Daniel.
'Doug's here,' Daniel groans as a car comes across the new
bridge over the fast-flowing stream at the entrance to the
It's the delivery driver. He is early -- a whole half an
A Family Affair: The Salatin family clan
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