Prestage Farms builds a reference turkey plant

End-to-end Marel automation, including unique air chilling

Turkey Processing Line Chilling

US turkey processor Prestage Farms is building a state-of-the-art greenfield plant for 100 turkeys per minute [6,000 tph]. Expectations are that completion of the project in Kershaw County, South Carolina, should happen by the end of 2022. It will feature an end-to-end Marel set-up with multiple lines, from defeathering to air chilling and from cut-up to inspection. Using the very latest technologies and the highest levels of automation, the Prestage Farms processing plant will be the new reference for turkey processing.

Focus on automation

The USA accounts for almost half of global turkey production. The market is stable, showing some growth. Automation is a high priority for turkey processors striving to increase yields, be more efficient and less dependent on labor. It is therefore no wonder that Prestage Farms focused initially on automation for its new greenfield plant. Choosing Marel automated solutions was entirely logical, as experience has shown these to be leaders and the best in their class in the turkey industry.

From the labor-saving perspective, Prestage Farms will only need about 300 people to run its new 100 tpm [6,000 tph] turkey plant. This number is relatively low, because the company's end products are mostly bulk turkey cuts, not needing any manual further processing or packing operations.

Ron Prestage Larry Campbell

Larry Campbell (Marel VP Sales Poultry USA) and Ron Prestage (President of Prestage Farms South Carolina)

The Prestage Farms process

Prestage Farms will process 100 turkeys per minute [6,000 tph], divided over two 50 tpm processing lines. The whole primary process is double. Only male turkeys (toms) are processed, as the US turkey market concentrates on cut-up products coming from male turkeys for all of the year except Thanksgiving, when the focus is on whole hens. US toms weigh about 45 lbs [22 kilos], whereas hens weigh approximately 14 lbs [6 kilos].

Defeathering

Prestage Farms uses Marel's specialized turkey immersion scalder to prepare products for the plucking process. Four different techniques are combined in the plucking line, including counter-rotation, typical for turkey defeathering. This made-to-measure Marel configuration leads to a great plucking result.
Defeathering complete, products are transferred to the evisceration line.

Venting and cropping

Prestage Farms' evisceration department features two fully automated lines. Marel recently overhauled its turkey evisceration portfolio and now offers a program tailored to the market, which really makes a difference. A Marel fully automated evisceration department offers high performance, labor savings and optimal ergonomics.

Apart from the automatic eviscerator, the vent cutter and the cropper are two important machines for turkey evisceration. Marel's vent cutter is highly rated for its excellent performance. It comes with a unique vacuum system that cleans part of the intestines, minimizing cross-contamination.

Cropping used to be a labor-intensive operation in turkey evisceration. At 2x 50 tpm, a manual cropping operation would take about 14 people. They would have to do a physically very demanding job. The Marel neck cropper now automates this job, boasting an outstanding performance record on heavy toms.

The Marel evisceration lines also include the new turkey vent opener, the three-point suspension system and the neck cracker.

Turkey evisceration department

No turkey lifting needed

At the end of each evisceration line, products are unloaded from their shackles and positioned on a conveyor belt. Operators then place legs in the chilling shackle without any lifting being necessary. Marel has thereby eliminated the tough manual job of lifting 100 toms per minute, weighing 45 lbs.
Once hung in the chilling shackles, the products first pass through a SmartWeigher. Thanks to data received from it and Innova PDS XL software in the chilling tunnels, the production planner already knows one day in advance the weight distribution of the flocks entering the cut-up and filleting departments the next day. There is now plenty of time to distribute product over the three cut-up lines for light, medium or heavy turkeys, matching them to incoming customer orders.

End-to-end traceability

Marel's Innova PDS software and the Traceability module go hand in hand and are part of the digital layer in the Prestage Farms turkey plant. The end-to-end track and trace functionality covers the entire plant from live bird shackling hang to dispatch. This is only possible thanks to the complete configuration being inline. Right from the start of the process, flock switches transmit flock information downstream through the factory. Data accumulated along the line stays with products until the end of the process. In this way, tracing a product becomes easy.

Turkey FHF XT

48,000 turkeys

Prestage Farms' chilling process is the largest inline air chilling tunnel for turkeys in the US and is based on Marel's in-depth knowledge of turkey air chilling. This unique configuration was one of the main reasons why President Dr. Ron Prestage decided to partner with Marel.
Following the double primary lines, there are as many as six state-of-the-art DownFlow+ chilling tunnels. During the day, each primary line fills up three chilling tunnels one after another until the 8,000 shackles per tunnel are filled with turkeys. Once the first tunnel is full, the conveyor line continues to fill the next tunnel. At the end of a day's production, the six tunnels can contain 48,000 turkeys. Obviously, it takes quite some time for cold air to reach the core of such large carcasses. Except for the use of sprays to prevent dry-out, no water is added to the products. Air chilling is known to improve the taste, tenderness and presentation of turkey end products. For the processor, it also brings product data connected end-to-end.

Bone-in and deboned

After chilling overnight, turkeys are distributed by weight to three ACM-T systems. Prestage Farms' end products are mainly bulk bone-in cut pieces, supplied to further processing, food service or QSR customers. At the end of the cut-up lines, combos are filled with bone-in thighs and drumsticks, while the remaining front halves continue in their carriers suspended from the overhead conveyor. They then proceed to three FHF-XT front half filleting lines for the harvesting of scapula meat, tenderloins and fillets.

Food safety

Fillets are positioned on three conveyor belts and are inspected for remaining bones or hard contaminants by three SensorX machines. On a fourth conveyor belt, another SensorX inspects tenderloins harvested separately from the fillets.
These SensorX X-ray solutions are not the only measures Prestage Farms takes to ensure food safety in the new turkey plant. Multiple overarching systems and general plant-wide procedures ensure optimum hygiene.

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About Prestage Farms

In 1983, Bill Prestage founded his own company, Prestage Farms. The family purchased a feed mill and turkey production operation in Harrells, North Carolina, and produced eight million pounds of turkey in their first year. A pork production division would soon follow. In 1984, the company's corporate headquarters moved to its current location in Clinton, NC. Ron Prestage joined his father and two brothers in the company business after 12 years as a practicing equine practitioner and is president of the South Carolina division while Bill Prestage serves as president of Prestage North Carolina. Ron is lead on the new facility Prestage is opening in Camden, South Carolina.
Today, Prestage Farms is a large vertically integrated company with many affiliates, recognized throughout the nation as one of the leading producers of quality turkeys. Producing over 425 million pounds of turkey annually, the company employs over 3,000 associates and has contracts with over 450 farm families.

Company website: Prestagefarms.com



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