Ever since we had the idea to start a farm, heritage pastured poultry has been part of the plan. Unlike larger animals such as cows and pigs, most states allow you to process birds (chickens, ducks, turkeys, guineas, etc) at your farm as long as you follow certain guidelines. Over the long term, processing them yourself will save a ton of money since a commercial slaughterhouse will typically charge at least $4 a bird. It also reduces the travel time for a chicken from 1 1/2 hours to 1 minute.
In Maine, a farmer can build two types of processing facilities: an under 1,000 exemption facility or a 20,000 bird facility. The under 1,000 exemption facility allows you to kill, pluck, and scald outdoors, meaning you can get by with a very minimal facility. However, you are limited to only selling whole birds at farmers markets, CSA’s, and on farm sales. In addition, you can only process 1,000 birds a year. Supermarkets, co-ops, and restaurants are off-limits, as are cut-ups.
With the 20,000 bird facility, everything must be done indoors. That means going from a little shed to a 40-60 foot long facility. The advantage is that you can sell to anyone in the state, do cut-ups, and process up to 20,000 birds. While I would have loved to be able to sell cut-ups to retail establishments, I didn’t want to make that big an investment. I also don’t plan on producing over 1,000 broilers a year in my lifetime.
With a UMaine bulletin on building a processing facility as my guide, I started to design the layout. Please note that the bulletin was based on the 2010 Maine poultry law. The 2013 poultry law made the building requirement more lenient, but I would have built it this way regardless.
We chose an 8’X10′ shed from Home Depot for evisceration, quality control, and packing. This was built on top of a concrete slab with drainage underneath that flows into a buried container. The container has a marine pump that moves the processing water into a 300 gallon tank. At the end of a slaughter, we spread the processing water over our fields.
Our poultry inspector suggested we do the killing, plucking, and scalding on a concrete slab as well with a drain in the middle. Considering that our chicken slaughters last year were on grass that got quickly flooded, I jumped on the suggestion and added it to the design.
In the facility, the left side is used for evisceration. We hang the chickens upside down with steel shackles to eviscerate and have found it’s much more efficient and sanitary. You are using gravity to pull out the organs and if you accidentally rip the intestines, you aren’t contaminating a table.
The middle of the facility is used for quality control and packing. I installed a line of PEX tubing here to allow us to have a constant flow of water while we pick out pin feathers and get the birds looking perfect. It takes us half the time since both hands are free to work.
We have used the facility for nine slaughters so far and I am very happy with how it’s turned out. Please feel free to contact me or visit the farm if you are planning your own facility!