Waxing means fewer pluckers needed for Christmas turkeys

It is six years since Kelly Turkeys introduced wax plucking of turkeys at its processing plant in Essex.

Speaking at the recent Anglian Turkey Association’s technical meeting at Feering, Essex, planning manager Stuart Beaumont explained that it was faster, needed fewer pluckers and opened up a market for wing-tips.

“At Kelly’s we can pluck about 300 birds an hour with 60 people,” he said. To reach this speed with hand plucking we would need 100 plus, if we could find them. Time-wise we are not any quicker. The main advantage is that we have fewer people on site, 30 instead of 60, and it puts less pressure on facilities.

“Our main problem has been training staff to make sure they keep a close eye on the whole process – from mixing and melting wax through to reclaiming it. Once they get the hang of it, the system runs very efficiently and the customers seem to like the finish,” he added

The waxing team includes two people dipping the bird for five seconds, one to record the temperature, three to melt and reclaim wax and one monitoring the line. Wax was a costly item at £1500/t, so reclamation is vital and almost total with 90% of the 2008 wax back in action for 2009.

If the temperature drops below the magic 58C, the wax thickens into a paste that doesn’t work, too high and the bird is scalded and becomes a reject.

The Kelly investment in wax plucking has been around £50,000 with the essentials being a tank to hold wax for dipping at 58C, a second tank in which to melt the wax and a reclaimer tank for heating and separating wax from feathers. All the equipment used for dry plucking, apart from shackles, is still used – Bayle pluckers, flighting machine and stunner.

To those thinking of a move to wax he said: “To justify any serious investment you would need to be doing 5000 or more a year. But if you can find some reasonably priced small system, it could be cost effective with just 500 a year.”

He added that those who had suggested six years ago that wax plucking could damage the image of traditional farm fresh turkeys had been proved wrong.