When deciding to raise chickens for meat, a number of considerations need to be made. “How many do we need?” “Where will they live?” “What will we feed them?” Perhaps the most difficult question in an aspiring poultry farmer’s future, though, is, “How will we process them?” When processing a chicken (or any other form of poultry, for that matter), the most difficult part, and often the most time consuming, involves feather removal. That's where the Whizbang Chicken Plucker comes in. Anyone who has plucked a bird or two knows just how much work this is – and it’s tedious work at that. Some time ago, I had a mind to fill my freezer with fresh poultry, but the prospect of plucking all those birds by hand struck me as daunting, if not impossible.
Fortunately, the mechanized feather plucker was invented decades ago. Several types are available, but the Cadillac of pluckers is the tub variety. These machines hold dozens of rubber plucking fingers. Some of these fingers are in the rotating “featherplate” at the bottom of the machine, and the rest are stationary in the tub surrounding it. After turning the machine on, all the operator needs to do is drop in a scalded bird carcass or two, wait about 15 seconds, and the birds will be clean. Having read about the plucking efficiency of these machines, I knew they were the answer I was looking for, but when I looked for machines, I was dismayed. The cheapest one was priced at more than $700.
Then I came across the Whizbang Chicken Plucker. This machine is a tub-style plucker, but with major advantages – you can build it yourself, and many of the parts are cheap or easily salvaged. Internet videos of the Whizbang in action were impressive, and reviews were entirely positive. After reading as many details about the machine as I could to see if it was feasible for me, I found no reason why I could not build it, so I ordered the instruction book.
When the book arrived, I was immediately impressed by its quality. Not only were the building instructions clear, they were also accompanied by helpful illustrations. Sections on safety, the author’s personal experiences, and poultry processing in general were included as well. Additionally, the book highlights information on alternate methods for building the plucker and where to find some of its vital parts. And to top it off, the book came autographed by author, illustrator and publisher Herrick Kimball.
Armed with the book, I set out to find the materials needed to build my machine. I needed an electric motor to power the plucker. Fortunately, I was able to scavenge a farm-duty motor from a long-abandoned grain auger. Since this had the potential to be my biggest individual expense, I was happy to eliminate that purchase entirely. The tub of the plucker is made from a section of a plastic barrel, and I was able to find a used barrel through an online classified website. The barrel came from a company that could use them only once before they had to dispose of them, so rather than throw the barrels away, they cleaned them and sold them cheaply.
The “featherplate” was the next hurdle. This disc had to be waterproof and sturdy enough to hold a pair of bouncing broilers. The book recommends a sheet of ¼-inch aluminum, and Kimball now sells high-density polyethylene prefabricated plates complete with a driveshaft. In the interest of economy, though, I decided to use a piece of ⅛-inch galvanized steel from a grain bin lid. Who knew bins could be the source of so many parts for a chicken plucker?
I still needed the plucker fingers. Nothing really substitutes for these, and they are the only things that actually touch the birds. With that in mind, I ordered plucker fingers online. Plucker fingers can be purchased from Kimball’s son on the same website that sells the Whizbang Chicken Plucker plans. I sourced the rest of the parts at local farm stores and lumberyards. Wood for the frame, hardware for the moving parts and a bit of wiring for the switch completed my shopping list.
Construction of the Whizbang Plucker went well; it actually took less time than I expected. I consider myself to be fairly mechanically inclined, but I don’t think you need to be to build this machine. Everything that needs to be done is spelled out in the book. I found nothing left to guesswork.
On to processing
When the time came to process the chickens, I was actually excited. Typically, I dread the idea, but the prospect of using my new plucker changed that. After scalding the first pair of bird carcasses, I flipped the switch on the plucker, dropped in the broilers, and watched as they jammed between the featherplate and the tub, stopping the machine entirely. My heart sank as it quickly became clear that I would be hand plucking at least two more birds in my lifetime.
What went wrong? Closer examination of the situation showed that the featherplate, that piece of galvanized bin lid, was too flimsy to hold the weight of the birds. I could tell the featherplate was flexible, but I didn’t think it would be too light to hold a chicken. To reinforce it, I cut a piece of plywood to match, then bolted it to the featherplate. When I re-read the plans, I saw that a featherplate of exactly this construction is an option; a useful bit of information I apparently overlooked in my initial perusal.
With the featherplate fixed, I went back to work. This time I prepared just one bird, in case I ran into more problems. I turned on the machine, crossed my fingers, and put in the chicken. Amazing! The chicken bounced around, feathers flying. Upon turning the plucker off 15 seconds later, I found a bird that had been denuded of all but a couple of the larger wing and tail feathers; even the pinfeathers were gone. I believe it was at this point, while thrusting my fist toward the sky, that I shouted, “Whizbang!”
I’ve processed about 200 birds so far using the Whizbang. I’ve had to adjust the tension on the idler arm a couple of times, as the belt began to slip, making the plucker run too slowly to do good work. Other than that, I have had few problems with the plucker. I have found it can pluck two birds at a time just as easily as it does one, and it now takes me less time to pluck the birds than it does to catch them.
I have run into one problem when using this plucker. Occasionally a chicken leg will get stuck in the gap between the featherplate and the tub. This gap is there to allow the loose feathers to be discharged (with the help of a spray of water from a garden hose) down to the ground. The gap on my machine may be a little too large. While the problem may be unavoidable, I recommend keeping the gap at only about an inch to minimize the likelihood of this happening.
The Whizbang Plucker makes sense for anyone who processes more than a few birds per year and possesses a few tools and some general handiness. Even if all the parts of the plucker had to be purchased new, the finished machine could probably be put together for less than what a new one would cost. Where this machine really shines is in the fact that so many of its parts can be found at little to no cost.
Thanks to the Whizbang Chicken Plucker, I have kept my freezer full of homegrown chicken for two years. I have yet to try it with any other type of poultry, but turkeys, geese and ducks are supposed to be no problem for the machine, and I can’t imagine why they would be.
Without the Whizbang, I would probably still be eating supermarket chicken. Fortunately, I’m not, and the taste and quality of the homegrown stuff has hooked me. I have no doubt that my Whizbang Plucker will help me to keep my freezer loaded for a long time to come.