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Friends team up to build mobile chicken processor

May 17, 2012 - By Emily Etheredge, Staff Writer

Birds of a feather flock together. Riverton friends Kathleen O'Leary and Steve Doyle have created a mobile poultry processor in hopes of having the community flock together as they bring healthy foods to Riverton's dinner tables.

Both O'Leary and Doyle think people need to take control of their food and become more informed about what they are eating. Most of the birds farmers grow in Wyoming are free-range, running about eating bugs and scratching the earth for sprouts. They get plenty of exercise and sunshine and they are healthy, but not many of them end up on the local dinner table.

O'Leary said her late husband, Dave Phillips, had a vision for healthier poultry from his days working on organic farms in Vermont. When driving around farmlands in Fremont County, he saw hen houses that were falling to the ground and filled with junk. She said he wanted to see the hen houses repopulated.

"He felt certain that if processing chickens was made easier, many farmers would consider raising birds," O'Leary said. "Dave bought the key pieces of equipment in 2009, and Steve and I have been processing chickens about a dozen times a year since then."

The mobile processing unit is designed to be a labor-saving piece of equipment by cleaning and plucking the chicken rapidly. The processor also has stations set up on wheels. Doyle and O'Leary will rent the units for $75 the first day and $50 each additional day.

"Many hands make light work," Doyle said. "Young children often help by catching birds or whatever they feel comfortable doing. Also, a pot-luck lunch is usually served. We've also met some wonderful folks from town who have back yard flocks, and we are more than happy to help with the work."

The two displayed the poultry processor during the food fair March 10 at Central Wyoming College. O'Leary and Doyle said many people showed an interest in raising their own chickens and processing them with the help of O'Leary and Doyle and their processing unit.

"Lots of seniors talked with O'Leary during the local food fair and reminisced about the good ol' days of slaughtering chickens with a stump and a hatchet," Doyle said. "Thirty birds would have been a good day's work, the plucking eating up lots of time. With our processing unit, five people should be able to process 150 to 180 chickens in a morning."

"We have all become concerned about the source of our food, and the impact that this food is having on our health," Doyle said. "Chicken might even top the worry list."

The two said their processor provides farmers and backyard poultry raisers a viable alternative to the "frankenchicks" filling the grocery stores. Doyle said that in the whole state of Wyoming, there is not a single commercial poultry processing facility.

"Two generations ago, Fremont County had 1,014 farms that produced chickens as a commercial venture," Doyle said. "Now there are none. You have to question what this loss means to Fremont County in terms of economy and in terms of healthful food for our citizens and in terms of food security and community. We think that taking control back over our food supply is going to be a bumpy road but it is going to happen."

O'Leary and Doyle said they invite anyone tired of corporate-raised chickens to contact them and enjoy the experience of homegrown poultry.

"I think a lot of people don't realize that the healthier the birds, then the healthier they will be," Doyle said.

For more information on the mobile poultry processor, call Steve Doyle at 857-7090 or Kathleen O'Leary at 856-1957.

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