How to Pluck Chickens: The Guide for Beginners

Plucking a chicken is something that can gross people out a little. The wet feathers on the skin is an icky job.

It’s not the preferred job of some, and many would rather gut a chicken than pluck it! (my husband being one of them)

It is an essential skill for anyone looking to raise and process their own chickens. After dispatching, it’s the first step towards having homegrown chicken in the freezer or in the oven!

While I prefer plucking chickens with a chicken plucker, learning to pluck chickens by hand is a useful and surprisingly straightforward task

The process involves removing all the feathers to reveal the bird’s skin. This is the first step in preparation for the pot.

Knowing how to pluck chickens will take out some of the frustration of trying to get a clean bird.

Scalding is one of the most important parts of plucking, and the right temperature can make all the difference from a clean bird to a dirty bird.

Patience is key. I sometimes try to do it too quickly, and miss some feathers. This just makes the washing process more difficult.

Preparing for Plucking

Before you start plucking chickens, making sure you have the right tools and a properly set up workspace will prove to be very helpful. It will help you be more efficient, and keep a dirty task somewhat clean.

Tools and Supplies You Need Before You Start

  • Scalding Tank: Heat water in a scalding tank to between 145°F and 150°F. This range helps to loosen feathers without cooking the skin.
  • Plucking Machine (optional): For large batches, consider a mechanical plucker. It saves time but is not necessary for small-scale operations.
  • Baking Soda and Dishwashing Detergent: Add it to your scalding water so help remove the feathers.
  • Gloves: Wear durable gloves to protect your hands and improve grip. There have been incidences of people scalding their hands, not realizing how hot it was.
  • Sharp Knife: Used for removing the feet and neck, if necessary. You will need a sharp knife for the process anyway.
  • Large Buckets: Have one for clean water for rinsing and one for discarded feathers.

Setting Up the Work Area

  • Surface: A clean and sturdy table is a must. Cover it with a disposable plastic sheet for easy cleaning.
  • Waste Disposal: Place a bin nearby for feathers and offal to maintain a clean space. We usually use five gallon pails that are common on the farm.
  • Lighting: Lighting is crucial. You need to see what you are doing to pluck efficiently and thoroughly.
  • Warm, soapy water: You’re going to want to wash your hands periodically.

Step #1: Dispatch and kill the chicken. We usually cut off the head with a sharp knife and let it bleed for several minutes.

Step #2: Scald the Chicken.

Step #3: Pluck the Chicken.

Plucking Techniques

In short, plucking is removing the feathers. But, the right plucking technique will help give you a clean, presentable bird. There are two types of plucking that most people use.

Dry Plucking

Dry plucking is a method favored by many for retaining the skin’s quality. To start:

  1. Ensure the bird is properly dispatched and cleaned from any debris.
  2. Grasp the feathers between your thumb and index finger, pulling firmly and close to the skin to avoid tearing.

Make sure you pluck soon after dispatch to take advantage of the ease of feather removal before rigor mortis sets in.

You must be quick with this, because it only take a couple minutes for a bird to become stiff. We usually do wet plucking, as we are doing several birds at once.

And, I also find that it’s really difficult to pluck wing feathers with dry plucking.

Wet Plucking

Wet plucking can be quicker and is great for processing several chickens at a time:

  • First, submerge the bird’s feet in hot water (around 65-70°C) for 30 to 90 seconds. Then, flip the bird and dip the rest of it. Test on the wing feathers to see if you can pull those out. Sometimes it takes a couple tries to get it right. I try to count how many times I dip the bird. Sometimes its 3 times for the perfect pluck.
  • Then, remove and begin plucking, as the hot water helps loosen the feathers making them easier to pull out.

It’s important not to oversoak the bird, as this can damage the skin. Too long in the water will result in a cooked bird. Too little time will result in a hard plucking job.

In short, scald the bird until wing or tail feathers can be pulled.

The ideal temperature will mean you can remove the feathers, but the skin has not been cooked.

This can be a challenge to accomplish, but will take an experienced hand. And the only way to gain experience is through action.

the only way to gain experience is through action.

-High Country Farms

Finishing Touches

After the majority of feathers are removed, go over for fine tuning.

  • Use tweezers or a small paring knife for any small and hard-to-pull pin feathers.
  • Once the chicken skin is dry, a small blowtorch can be lightly passed over the skin to singe off fine hairs.

Next is the wash pot. I recommend washing the bird is warm, soapy water before gutting. Include some baking soda in this water as well.

I don’t know the science behind baking soda, but it helps to clean the skin well. Wash it with a dish scrubber. Then back onto the table for gutting.

Gutting is best learnt with someone who already knows how it must be done.

As a last resort I suggest watching a youtube video on how to gut a chicken. I can tell you how to pluck chickens, but gutting is one skill that needs to be watched and guided hands on for best results.

Raising your own meat birds is a rewarding challenge. From buying chicks or incubating your own, raising chickens is a homesteaders dream.