Processing day wouldn’t have been nearly as nice as it was without the outdoor kitchen we installed. What is an outdoor kitchen you ask? And why do you need one? Let’s take a look at what goes into chicken processing and how that necessitates the need for an outdoor kitchen.
In the post about processing our first pasture raised meat chickens, you will see just how unsophisticated we were that day. We had the traditional 5 gallon turkey fryer for scalding the birds. We had a plucking table (no plucker). And we had an evisceration table. There were three stations in total. Processing birds in this sort of set up was very slow. Plucking a bird took forever. And since we were doing all of the jobs at one cutting table the possibility for overlapping food safety concerns with one another were high. Worst of all, after processing 20 birds, the entire family was soaked and our boots were full of water. I couldn’t imagine processing 100 birds this way with a bunch of outside helpers. So we looked into creating a rough outdoor kitchen.
Having an outdoor kitchen, plumbing and all would help us assure that we stayed dry, and that our food would be as clean and safe to eat as possible. We wanted to support several stations in our kitchen, each station performing a very specific job. These stations are: killing, scrubbing, scalding, plucking, heads and feet, evisceration, QA, drying, and packaging. Here is the layout of our planned outdoor kitchen.
If you are interested in seeing our outdoor kitchen in action feel free to come help out during our next processing day. If you just want to chat about this come by for a farm tour (please call ahead).
Draining water away from the stations
Most of these stations need a continuous flow of water, or some form of on/off spraying water. Also, between several of these stations are cold tanks where the chickens wait as they go from station to station. In order to keep the birds clean at all times, especially once their body cavities are opened, you want a continuous flow of water into the top of the tank, and out of the bottom of the tank. This ensures that the bits of body parts, any dirt, or other floating material, are constantly washed away from the birds.
In order to ensure that all of this water got pushed as far away from the working areas as possible (and didn’t fill our boots) we installed a 2” and 4” main drain line around the entire perimeter of our kitchen. This then ran along a fence line out to one of our front paddock areas and was distributed into the grass.
Unfortunately the corner of the fence where we intended to put our kitchen and hang the plumbing from had to come down and get put back in before any plumbing could be installed. That section of fence was really old and wobbly.
The base of the posts were still in the ground. I didn’t have time to dig them up. This meant that the new posts had to go in right beside them or behind them. Ugg. Looks good from the front.
Conforms to the style that was used for the rest of the fence! Ha ha!
Then we could hang the big pipes to carry the flow of water way from the work area.
I used rubber connectors so that we could take sections away when not processing chickens.
Once the main line was all installed we did a flow test.
Draining water from the stations into the main line
We had various connections from each station to help direct the flow of the water into this drain line. In the case of the cold tanks we drilled a 1-1/8” hole through the side towards the bottom in a 50 gallon plastic trough, just big enough to accept a standard 3/4” bulk head adapter. Then we attached a flow valve to the bulk head adapter so that we would have fine control over just how much water would flow out of the tank. This allowed us to do a quick drain in the case of build up. Or a slow drain in the case that we were just keeping a steady flow moving. From the valve we we installed a PVC to hose fitting so that we could attach a standard garden hose to the outlet of each cold tank. The other end of the hose was then inserted into the drain pipe. This allowed for maximum flexibility for positioning the cold tanks.
We also had some wash basins through out the stations for various wash up jobs (like the scrubbing station). These consisted of small mortar mixing tubs you can get at homedepot for very cheap. They were connected in a similar manner through a home made bulk head adapter and hose connection. The bulk head adapter in this case was in the form of an electrical box pass through. It is a grey male and female end used to pass wire through a metal hole to protect and water proof the water. We added a rubber o-ring around the male part. And cut off the PVC connection on the female part to get the hole closer to the bottom of the tank. More on this later.
For the chicken plucker that we made especially for this day, we connected a square storage bin to the drain lines in order to catch the feathers and water coming out of the plucker. Then we put a bucket from our fodder system with hundreds of holes in it in the square bucket. This inner bucket was to catch the feathers and drain the water. The water then drained out of the square storage bin into the plumbing system. This needs modifications prior to our next processing day. Here is the mod list real quick as this station had drainage issues!
- a chute needs to be connected to the plucker to specifically direct the flow of water and feathers into the bucket
- the bucket needs to have a strap to hold it in place that can be easily moved out of the way to empty the feathers
- the hose that connects the storage bin to the main drain needs to be upgraded to a flexible PEX connection
- the storage bin needs structural reinforcement around the sides so that if it fills with water quicker than it can drain, the water doesn’t pour over the sides but instead waits to drain out the plumbing
Getting water to each of the stations
I had three hose lines that were brought over to the kitchen. When all of these were turned on at maximum capacity we had great water flow from all. It is important to bring several connections from your properties water line instead of branching one hose off into how ever many water inputs you need. In our case I had a 4 way splitter connected to each hose. If I only had one hose brought over to the kitchen, I would have had 12 hose lines coming from that one connection. If all of them were on at the same time I would have had no pressure in the line.
12 hoses in your kitchen!? Yes! Well the potential for 12 any how. Here are all the water inputs we had starting at the first station and working our way around the kitchen.
- Spray nozzle at the scrubbing station
- Water input to the chicken plucker
- Spray nozzle at the chicken plucker
- Cold tank input before the head and feet station
- Spray nozzle at the head and feet station
- Cold tank input between the head and feet station and evisceration stations
- Spray nozzle at the evisceration station
- Cold tank input between between the evisceration station and the QA station
- Spray nozzle at the QA station
We did our best to contain this octopus of hoses by zip tying it to what ever was close.
In the case of the cold tanks we used the hose manifold to control the flow. This worked well enough that we will probably stick with that approach instead of controlling the flow at the hose end.
This guy was awesome for all “clean” stations. …and for clearing out the chicken plucker from time to time.
Here is how the hose connects to the chicken plucker.
And here is a pic of the chicken plucker with the shower turned on.
We stayed dry all day until…
Hindsight is a real pain in the butt. The last time we processed chickens we were soaked. So I promised the family that they would stay totally dry this time. And for the majority of the day they did indeed stay dry. But the weather thought it had a better idea and showed me a flaw in my ways. We put in all this plumbing but decided not to get a bunch of pop up tents. ERROR When the rain finally decided to come down it came down in sheets. Everyone got at least a little wet…if not entirely soaked.
Our nice kitchen went from a tidy camp to an almost empty camp. For those still doing QA (plucking black feathers sucks) we lowered the tent to keep it from blowing away. These folks were troopers. Everyone else moved into the pool house where we drained and bagged the birds.
There was a lot of this by the end of the day:
What would we do differently next time
- Instead of using a hose to connect my cold tanks to the drain lines, or sinks to the drain line, I think I will use PEX to PVC adapters. We found that some of the garden hoses collapsed throughout the drain. This impeded our flow concepts and while it still worked in a so so capacity, PEX would have provided the flexibility I wanted while also keeping us at maximum flow rates as we needed them.
- I need to make a frame to put the storage bin in for catching the water from the plucker. I also need to install a PEX connection from this water catcher to ensure maximum flow out to the drain. And the feather catcher has to be rigged to stay in place. As soon as the feathers started filling up the square tub, it would block the water flow. This eventually caused this tub to overflow. This was the worst part of the plumbing portion of the day….until it rained and then it didn’t matter at all!
- I need to add an overhead cover to all of our stations to keep us dry from the unplanned rain!