Pluck U.

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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.

Why we need a plucker

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.

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Comments

  1. martha in mobile says:

    Goodness! I admire your pluck. We’re too lazy to do it right — we just skin ’em.

  2. ..LOL…not sure which I liked better..your description of Osterville
    or the fact that the people I would miot consider city-folk are
    making a chicken plucker!

    Just to set the record straight..osterville is in the same TOWN as you…
    it’s the next village over..sounds quainter doesn’t it!?

    And clearly NO ONE in osterville has ever made a wash machine chicken plucker,
    Or bought a wash machine off craigslist for that matter!! LOL!

    Almost time to have that drink together!
    Hugs
    B

  3. As always, a great story. And I agree with Beth about your description of Osterville. Or, as I like to call it, the town that single-handedly keeps Walpole Woodworkers in business.

    I have a friend with a weekend home in Southampton, and having never visited the Cape before, he had the opportunity to visit a couple of years ago. In Ostervile. He announced that he really enjoyed his visit, especially being in Osterville, which was kind of a “duh” moment, as I consider Osterville to be the “Southampton” of the Cape.

    Can’t wait to see the Perfect Poultry Plucker.

  4. I have a challenge for Kevin, should he choose accept the it: designing a chicken stunner. Possibly electric. Definitely cheap to make. Humane dispatch qualities essential.

    We’ve been stunning ours with a blow to the head (caveman style) but it’s bruising the meat. Pre-plucking in the washing machine, how do you stun yours before you bleed them?

    How many trophy wives have a doe permit, a pen of turkeys, and a home built plucking machine? They should be so lucky. (Full disclosure: I spent most of my childhood summers in Oyster Harbors, Osterville, though I still don’t know the secret to their perfect hair.)

  5. Oh…is Four Seas Ice Cream still as good as it used to be, all home made with ice crystals in it?!?

  6. Nice work, Tamar and Kevin!

    Though Catherine and I don’t have a plucker (or poultry, for that matter), every time we head to her brother’s place in Jersey, he remarks, “The Clampetts are coming.” If your urban relatives haven’t started saying that yet, it’s only a matter of time.

    Oh, and on my annual weekend Cape trip to fish with my uncle, he and I often stop at Fancy’s for a doughnut and coffee after an early morning outing. On lucky days, we walk in smelling like fish.

  7. Martha — It’s remarkable how often lazy=smart!

    Richard — We’ve seen the kind you use with a drill, and we’re not sold. For a small bird, they may do fine, but if you’re going to use them with a big bird, you need the kind of drill that plugs in, and even then it may not be enough power. The washing machine has oomph to spare.

    Beth — You sound like a petty beaurocrat, with your towns and villages! I know it’s all one happy town. It’s just that they’re so different — I should have said ‘planet.’

    SDQ — You’re right about Walpole! Fences and sheds galore, all of which put our house to shame. But I’ll ‘fess up to actually liking the place. There’s a lot of natural beauty, and one good pub (Wimpy’s).

    Jen — Ah, so you know what I’m talking about! The Four Seas is still there, but they’ve managed to find a way to keep the ice crystals out of the ice cream. Best flavors: mocha chip, mint chip, fresh peach. And I’m floored to find out you spent your summers in Oyster Harbors (an exclusive island reachable only by a private road, for those of you who don’t know the terrain). From there to building your own hurdles, knitting your own sweaters, and inoculating your own sheep. Quite a journey.

    As for the chicken stunner, Kevin’s on it. We’ll see what he comes up with. Only I’m a little afraid he’ll come to me one day and say, “Honey, I’ve got it! All we need is a flag pole and an electric chair.”

    Tovar — We’re not the only Clampetts in the vicinity, I see! But I wish you hadn’t written the bit about going to Fancy’s smelling like fish. Kevin can’t wait to try it.

  8. Wow…a petty bureaucrat …I know how hat high esteem you hold them (grin)….maybe I am now offended.and possibly…we should fight. LOL…

    And if you think 4 seas has good mocha chip..you gotta try cc creamery

    I bring some…when we drink together!

  9. I’m about to say something that will get me escorted to the bridge by a group of elected Cape Cod officials, but eh. On my way out anyways….

    I don’t really get the big deal about 4 Seas. I was actually not fond of their ice cream, no matter how many times I try it.

    I tend to like mine creamier, denser…. more Emack & Bolios or Kate’s…

    What, what? Chicken, you say?

  10. I like your land rover.

    where on the homestead are you guys going to keep this contraption once you get it built?

  11. Tamar – I think I’m what people call ‘downwardly mobile’. Have you got room for one more Clampett?

  12. Hi Tamar..
    Late to the party on this one, but wanted to tell you that we have a guy like Kevin in our community garden…a sort of genius McGiver. Over labor day weekend we enjoyed spit roasted chickens from a rotisserie made from an enamel dishpan, a bike chain, part of a door lock and a wheelchair motor, (abandoned wheelchair found on Avenue B and 12th St…did a miracle occur outside of Back Forty restaurant? We don’t know). AND!! It runs on solar power! Once we found a way to control the sun power, the chickens stopped spinning at a dizzying speed and it took about an hour and a half to cook them. They were great! I wish Ken and Kevin could meet…imagine what they could devise together!

  13. Hey if you need to test it I have to old birds that are on there way out (not my parents) and now that my new birds have started to lay, its almost time! lol

  14. Sam — You have no idea how timely that is! We want to deal. I’m going to send you an e-mail to arrange details.