Lula man builds quail processors used across the country, world
BY JUSTIN POOLE
Lula residents have an international businessman right in their back yard.
On first look, Thurston Dodd’s shop off of Moccasin Gap Road appears to be a run of the mill welding shop but it is more than the average welding shop. The building is also a shop where Dodd builds poultry processing machines, specifically quail processing machines.
The machines that Dodd recently completed will be shipped to a processing plant in Australia. Australia has a growing demand for the birds, which are only available in restaurants.
When asked exactly how he got into the business of making quail processing equipment, Dodd said it was “a long story.”
Starting in the mid-sixties, Dodd said he began researching poultry processing equipment after working for other machine companies.
“In 1965, I started working on some research and development on some new equipment,” said Thurston. “I wound up with four patents on machines.”
Then about 12 years ago, Dodd received a call, from a man in Greensboro, Ga., wanting him to come down and take a look at his processing plant where everything was being done by hand.
“I came back [after visiting the plant] and drew a blueprint out and started on his stuff and got him fully automated,” Dodd said. “Before I got through with that plant, people were beginning to find out about me from all over the country. They found out about me in South Carolina and a man came down to visit me and stayed about four hours watching videos I had of the machines running and then said he wanted me to visit his plant in Colombia, S.C.”
After automating the plant in South Carolina, Dodd continued to work to develop better machines for processing chicken and other poultry, which has taken him all over the United States, South America, Greece and Italy.
“I still work on processing for chickens, but the big thing now is quail equipment,” he said. “I was working on different things when this guy in Sydney, Australia, contacted me. He found out about me from the University of Georgia. How the university found out about me I don’t know.”
After talking for a month with the Australian, who Dodd didn’t want identify for business reasons, the Lula man traveled to Sydney to visit the plant where everything was still being done by hand.
After seeing the operation, Dodd created a set of blueprints and returned home to start work building the equipment including one that removes the crop (windpipe), another that vacuums out the lungs and the final machine washes the birds inside and out. It took two to three months to complete each of the three machines being sent to Australia.
The machines are predominately stainless steel with some minor parts being aluminum. Dodd has designed every aspect of the machines without any electrical motors. The machines are operated by an overhead drive while the birds enter and exit on a conveyor system. Dodd also built the drive unit and gearbox that the plant can attach to their motor to operate his machines and existing machines.
“The ideal thing is for [the Australian plant] to get fully automated,” said Dodd. “Instead of running two days a week, and killing 3,500 birds, they can run just one day and kill all their birds. They are increasing their bird size and will need to run more and more.”
Once the machines are shipped and set up in Sydney, the processing plant can go fully automated, processing up to 5,000 quail per hour using Dodd’s machines.
“The machines are easy to clean,” said Dodd. “The USDA requires that they be easy to clean and Australia has similar regulations. Another thing about these machines is that they will work exactly like I say they will.”
The machines are made completely on location at Dodd’s shop. According to Dodd, he uses raw materials and does all the cutting, machine work and fabrication on site including building necessary parts and accessory parts like shackles.
“It is a real good business,” Dodd said. “We have to stock parts, what works on one machine won’t work on another machine.”
Shackles that hold the birds as they go through the machines will also be sent to Australia. The shackle is about a foot long and looks like an upside down Y. All the shackles are hand bent to shape from a rod of stainless steel. Dodd’s son, Michael, said that they had tried using a machine to bend the shackles but when you have to have them bent in such a shape, by hand is the only feasible way.
The quail processing equipment is four times smaller than chicken processing equipment. Some of Dodd’s chicken processing machines in operation in the states can operate over 7,000 birds an hour.
The quail machines were wrapped in plastic to protect the parts during the trip, which will take over two months to reach the final destination. Once the machines go online, Dodd doesn’t think it will be long before he starts getting contacted for more of the machines from other companies.
“The phone stays busy with people contacting me asking for this or that,” Dodd said. “We stay busy.”