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Successful poultry processing needs teamwork across farm and plant

This is the correct way to handle birds by pressing the wings to the body, which prevents flapping and possible trauma.
Written November 30, 2012
Poultry Processing & Slaughter

When the various actions along the production chain from farm to processing are carried out in isolation, the consequences can be reduced yield and quality.

Integrated broiler production is sometimes less integrated than its name may suggest. The coordination and seamless processes that should lead to the production and marketing of as much high-quality poultry meat as possible do not always work as smoothly as they could.

And when processes and procedures do not work as they should, or are missing, then the final yield is lower than what it could be. When systems are not implemented as they should be, there can be a need for each of those responsible for them to change their way of thinking and to take greater account of the process as a whole, rather than simply attending to specific areas of responsibility. 

In addition to ensuring that birds have reached the desired weight for slaughter, the following activities must be carried out to ensure smooth slaughter and processing.

Feed withdrawal  

If this is not properly carried out, birds will arrive at the processing plant with the digestive tract full of feed and fecal material. The following should be carefully reviewed:

Withdrawal period . The feed withdrawal period should be for some 8-12 hours preslaughter.

Water . Adequate supplies of water must be available in drinkers. Facilitating drinking not only helps to moisten food, aiding its passage through the digestive tract and expulsion, but also keeps birds hydrated. 

Movement . Birds should be active and not static to help with the passage and expulsion of the digestive tract's contents.

Capture . Catching birds should be carried out after 5:00 p.m. to allow the full passage of food through the digestive tract.

Environment . Some environmental conditions encourage birds to eat. When these occur, capture should be delayed by three hours.

Quantity . Irrespective of the number of birds to be sent to slaughter, feed withdrawal should be staggered to prevent the problems that arise with an overly long feed withdrawal period -- in excess of 12 hours. 

Communication . Those responsible for preslaughter duties must be in regular contact with the processing plant, passing on information about the quality of feed withdrawal of incoming birds.

Care at capture  

The aim of this stage is to capture and cage the birds that will be transported to the plant, ensuring that they experience as little bruising as possible. A number of points are worth considering: 

Trapping procedure.  It has been shown that the best way to handle birds is to hold them by the body with the wings pressed gently to it. This way, the birds cannot flap their wings and harm each other. 

Condition of cages.  Cages must be in a good state to avoid harming the birds. Broken cages should not be used, and cage doors must function properly so that they do not fall inwards or open on their own. 

Quantity of birds.  The number of birds per cage should depend on their size and weight. On the whole, only one size of cage tends to be used for transporting chickens, be they under 2.4 kg or over 3 kg. When birds are larger than normal, the result is often that they are forced into cages with insufficient space for the journey to the slaughter plant. 

Transport to the plant  

Chickens should be transported in comfort, so as to reduce to a minimum that the number that die from heat stress. There should be sufficient airflow, and the following points are worth considering:

  • The design and placing of the cages must allow continuous airflow to dissipate heat and prevent suffocation
  • In hot climates, birds need to be protected from the sun. Failing to ensure this can result in suffocation increasing the number of dead on arrival.
  • Birds should only be loaded onto Lorries once all the cages are full. While waiting to be loaded and during loading, fans in the poultry houses should remain on to keep the birds cool.

At the slaughterhouse  

At the final stage of the process, a number of factors need careful consideration to ensure that there is no loss of yield or quality.

If birds are not to die from heat stress, the waiting area should have the necessary infrastructure to ensure the removal of heat that is generated by the filled cages. 

There must also be an adequate circulation of air at the reception area to ensure that birds remain calm prior to slaughter. In addition, ensuring a smooth work flow at this stage is essential to prevent birds from remaining there for an overly long period resulting in an extended feed withdrawal. 

Equipment must be properly adjusted to ensure that birds do not become agitated. For example, the hanging area must be kept dark, and if there are fans they should be as quiet as possible to not disturb the birds.

The breast comforter should be stable and aligned with the shackles to ensure proper contact with the hung birds and to discourage flapping, which increases the blood flow to the breast and wings. If this does not happen, then following bleeding, there will be blood residues in those parts of the carcass making it less attractive.

The time between hanging and arrival at the stunner should not exceed 30 seconds to prevent the build-up of blood in the neck and wings.

Bleeding time should not be more than three and a half minutes to avoid the onset of rigor mortis or muscle tightening, which would require an increase in the temperature of the water in the scalder. 

Scalding and plucking operations must be synchronized. One of the factors that leads to successful plucking is conserving the heat in the carcass that has resulted from scalding.

Given that feed withdrawal can never be perfect, use of warm water is recommended when peeling the gizzard to reduce adhesion, which can reduce its quality and yield. 

To ensure that all the above are properly met, both staff on the farm and at the processing plant must work together in real time. Acting in isolation can have a negative impact on yield and quality and should be discouraged for the benefit of all. 

The correct alignment of the breast comforter will reduce stress and flapping and prevent blood being pumped to the breast and wings, which can result in blood spotting.
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