I’ve only plucked poultry once. It’s a long story involving a wild turkey and car accident, so I won’t go into it just now, but it taught me that removing feathers from birds is a tedious, time-consuming job. Since we have four turkeys and seven chickens that will eventually need plucking, Kevin has been looking into ways to automate the procedure.
What did we do before the Internet?
There are as many ways to pluck a chicken as there are to skin a cat, and each and every one of them is on YouTube.
After watching hours of video and reading countless forums, Kevin decided that his course was clear. “Honey,” he said. “I’m going to make us a chicken plucker. All I need is a washing machine and some chicken fingers.”
Washing machine? I assumed that was for the motor. But the chicken fingers? Snacks, was best I could figure.
“No, not those chicken fingers,” he said to me. “These chicken fingers.” He held up his computer and showed me a site where you could buy a package of 70 black rubber finger-looking things for $39.99.
And then he showed me the video.
Although home-made chicken pluckers run the gamut, most are a variation on one theme: a rotating drum with black rubber protrusions. Sometimes, the fingers are on the inside and you put the chicken in the drum. Other times, the fingers are on the outside and you hold the bird up to the fingers.
Kevin opted for the fingers-on-the-outside kind, because it looks like the chicken gets a pretty severe beating when it bounces around in the fingers-on-the-inside kind. (Although that’s the kind used by Joel Salatin of Polyface Farm, the encomium to whom is the centerpiece of Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma.)
So, all we needed was a washing machine and some chicken fingers.
What did we do before the Internet?
Kevin went straight to Craigslist, where he found washing machines galore. He had only two criteria: it had to work, and it had to be cheap.
He found one that fit both criteria. Steve Flynn, a real estate broker up in Orleans, listed two washers and two dryers, all of which worked, that he would willingly give to anyone who’d come and cart them away. Kevin called and, as luck would have it, he had one washer left. Perfect.
We schlepped up to Orleans to meet Steve, who turned out to be a very nice guy. When we told him what we were doing with the washer, he seemed genuinely pleased. He told us he hated to throw working appliances away, and he was glad that his washer would have a second life plucking chickens. And, oh by the way, he had some 6×6 lumber he also didn’t need … could we find a use for that as well?
We figured we could, and we loaded washer and wood onto the back of the pick-up.
We had one more stop to make before we headed home.
My parents had invited us over for dinner, and we wanted to pick up a couple bottles of a wine we’d had for the first time a couple days ago. (It was a Leese Fitch cabernet, a wine that’s much better than its price tag indicates.) We’d gotten the wine at a little market called Fancy’s, in a little town called Osterville.
Osterville is one town over from us, but a world apart. It’s a town of plaid pants, BMWs, and oceanfront real estate. Many residents are wealthy, even more are blonde, and all are thin. Kevin relished the idea that we’d pull into the Fancy’s parking lot with our pick-up truck loaded with used lumber and a Reagan-era washing machine. “They’ll think the Clampetts are moving in!” he said with enthusiasm.
We got our wine, and I stood on line behind several blonde, thin women buying Saturday night supplies. Nobody took any notice of me, but they all gave Kevin, with his stained overalls and ratty ponytail, a wide berth.
He didn’t mind. “Trophy wives,” he said, dismissing them with a wave of his hand.
“Hey!” I said. “Watch that!” Since I like to think of myself as a trophy wife, I prefer not to see the group disparaged.
We got home just in time to clean up before we went to my parents’ house.
This morning, Kevin tackled the washing machine. First, he plugged it in and was glad to find that it spun the way it was supposed to, even if it needed a little encouragement from a screwdriver to really get going. All he had to do was get the motor and drum out of the white metal box, and he’d be well on his way.
This proved more difficult than he’d anticipated, and he had to take the radical step of tying one side of the housing to the garage and the other side to the Land Rover and throwing it into reverse. “Either the housing will open or the garage will fall down,” he told me as he started backing up. (Below is yet another in the series of riveting Starving off the Land videos, this one of the housing-opening process.)
Luckily, the housing opened.
As I write, there is, in our driveway, a working motor attached to a spinning drum. To turn it into a bona fide chicken plucker, all we need is a little finish work and some chicken fingers. Ideally, we’ll also find a way to mount it horizontally so the feathers are thrown to the floor, rather than out to the side and all over the property.
If any of you have been doubting our hayseed credentials, I hope this makes up your mind. Making a chicken plucker out of a washing machine is about as Dogpatch as it gets.