Bringing local back to kosher: A new pathway for sustainable poultry processing
In Massachusetts and New England, the absence of local kosher poultry processors is a significant problem with market demand rising for sustainably raised, locally produced kosher meat. The problem is compounded by the question of cost effectiveness that small-scale commercial producers might face in accessing local kosher processing.
As owner of Robariah Farms, we proposed a new approach to address this regional issue. Leveraging existing local poultry processing models and integrating required elements of traditional kosher processing, we hired an on-site independent kosher certification agency, including a shochet (ritual slaughter) and mashgiach (supervisor), to pilot a model of kosher poultry processing conducted locally in Western Massachusetts that supports small-scale commercial volumes. Our technical advisor, an experienced manager of a local mobile processing unit owned by New England Small Farm Institute (NESFE), managed the processing and worked in conjunction with the kosher agency.
In 2016 additional processing was conducted at a new non-local, regional, larger-scale kosher poultry processing facility. No additional local processing was conducted. As a result, the following information from our 2015 end of year report has been modified in a few specific areas.
We collected data at several points throughout processing and across multiple processing batches to analyze production efficiency and cost effectiveness. We are comparing results against data from two control groups: two non-local, kosher facilities and a local, non-kosher unit.
We have shared our experience and preliminary analyses with the local and regional community via panels and presentations. Our final report will present an overall case study that we will circulate for publication with UMass Extension Center for Agriculture and NESFE, along with involvement in Northeast Organic Farming Association, to provide opportunity for information to reach key stakeholders, including poultry producers, processors, and consumers.
In 2015, we adapted state-certified local poultry processing facilities to integrate traditional kosher slaughtering practices and equipment. We conducted a total of seven separate processing days. We processed about 50 birds on the first two days, about 100 birds on the third and fourth days, and 150 on the fifth and sixth days, totaling about 600 chickens total. In addition, we processed 28 turkeys on a seventh processing day. For each processing day, we hired the same independent kosher certification agency, which included a shochet (ritual slaughter) and mashgiach (supervisor), to oversee processing and ensure that strict kosher techniques were applied.
Specific kosher techniques includes the following: shochet conducted the kill using a specific technique with specialized knives to minimize animal pain; scalding is prohibited, thus requiring use of specialized dry pluckers and increased human labor to remove feathers; evisceration was supervised by shochet to ensure proper internal inspections; and kashering of the carcasses was conducted, a process in which meat was salted soak for 30 minutes, salted for 60 minutes, and triple-rinsed to ensure depletion of blood (traditionally considered the source of life). A total of four different commercial-scale dry plucking pieces of equipment were tried to explore the production efficiency, cost, and plucking quality each provided.
In 2015, we conducted a total of seven separate local processing days, ramping up the volumes with each subsequent day. We used an outdoor mobile poultry processing unit (MPPU) for the first six of seven days. Because the MPPU can usually support the non-kosher processing of about 200 chickens in a manageable work day, we decided to work up towards that amount as a goal. We processed about 50 birds on the first two days, about 100 birds on the third and fourth days, and 150 on the fifth and sixth days, totaling about 600 chickens total. In addition, we processed 28 turkeys on a seventh processing day at a different local state-certified poultry processing facility.
In 2016, we conducted one day of processing at a non-local, regional processing facility. This was a different facility than the one used in 2014 and previous years. This provides us with a larger data pool to compare the local processing to multiple non-local, larger-scale facilities. In 2016 we processed about 500 chickens at the facility, which will be analyzed in our final report.
The limitation is processing kosher poultry is the plucking, due to the prohibition of scalding. We experimented with four different dry plucking methods, all of which still required some hand plucking to remove the final 5-20% of feathers (especially on the wings). 1) a heavy duty machine with a four-inch square window where replaceable discs rotated quickly to strip feathers. This machine proved costly ($4000+), dangerous (discs were hard and would easily injure you if touched), and ineffective in its plucking. 2) Two Fowl Plucker machines proved safe (rubber fingers are soft to touch when spinning), cost-effective ($745 each), and reliable, though plucking took about 4 minutes per bird. 3) standard rotating tub/drum with water sprayer and interior rubber fingers. This proved convenient because it is used during non-kosher plucking, efficient in terms of being able to do 2-3 birds simultaneously without a person holding them; however it required at least some pre-soaking in cold water and the end result was at best a 75% plucked chicken, requiring increased human labor to complete the plucking. 4) Ashley Manual Plucker Model #15 (21 inch) proved most effective in terms of removing most feathers in least amount of time (about 95% of feathers in 4 min per bird), relatively safe (if you touched the rotating fingers it would hurt, but not injure you) and affordable (approximately $3000 new or $500 used) given its merits.
Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes
Through this work we have successfully collected a complete set of data to begin assessing the cost effectiveness and production efficiency as compared to both non-kosher processing at a local level and kosher processing at multiple large-scale facilities. Preliminary analysis suggests that kosher processing requires about twice as much time and increased human labor when using local small-scale poultry processing facilities. The key bottleneck in this limited production efficiency model is the plucking. This is compounded by an additional 90 minutes of processing time that is mandatory in kosher processing for soaking and salting the meat before packaging. Costs are further exacerbated by the additional expenses of hiring kosher supervision to conduct the slaughter and oversee the processing.
As we finalize our data analyses, we are able to begin assessing other processing facilities in our region that may provide more capacity or may be willing to invest in a collaborative relationship around the purchase of a higher capacity dry plucker.
State Licensed Poultry Slaughterer
New England Small Farm Institute
1 Depot Road
Leverett, MA 01054
Office Phone: 7817752090