From the outside, it looks like just another storefront below an apartment or office in Flushing. However, as soon as you walk through the doors – the sights, sounds and smells immediately let you know you are in a unique place.
Feathers from many different types of birds cover the floor as the livestock are kept in more than a dozen cages. You can hear the squawking, cackling and crowing from the cages, which are stacked four-high on one side of the store. The smell of more than 200 birds contained in such a confined space takes you aback if you are entering this type of store for the first time.
This place is Ildaro Livestock on Fowler Avenue in Flushing – just one of many slaughterhouses throughout the borough.
“A customer comes in and picks a bird; then, we kill it and clean it for them,” David Ustav, the manager of Ildaro livestock, said in a rather matter of fact, monotonous tone.
It’s actually a little more complicated than that, however, the whole process usually takes between five and ten minutes.
When a customer walks into the store, they see cages filled with birds ranging from chickens to red pullets, to ducks to roosters and, yes, even pigeons. The customer walks up to the cages, which have containers on the side with bird feed and water for the birds to consume during the day, and looks to see what bird they want. Then, one of nearly a half dozen employees at Ildaro opens the cage and takes the selected birds out of the change.
When The Courier was at the store, one customer wanted four roosters from the same cage. So, when the man reached in to grab the four birds, one fell to the floor and started walking around the store.
“That happens sometimes,” Ustav said, and no one else in the store seemed to flinch. Then, the birds are tied up and dropped on a scale, which will determine how much it costs.
After that, the birds are brought back to the “slaughter room” – a room located in the back of the store on the first floor – where the killing and cleaning process begins.
First, the bird’s neck is cut and broken in order to drain the blood out of the animal. Then, the bird is thrown into a “plucking” machine that takes all of the feathers off the bird.
“Then we have to clean up the inside and take the guts out,” Ustav said. “Sometimes we cut off the head, but some people like it with the head.”
The workers in the slaughter room, which the manager only let The Courier take a quick look at, were dressed in aprons and wore gloves while the cleaning process was taking place. After the guts are cleaned and the bird completely washed off, all that is left is to put the bird in a bag for the customer.
Ustav has been running Ildaro Livestock for the past five years. The majority of the livestock in the store is raised on a farm in Pennsylvania. There, the animals’ blood is tested and checked for disease before shipping them to a warehouse in Brooklyn – the last stop before they get to the store in Flushing, according to Ustav.
For many people, having chicken for dinner usually consists of buying it in the supermarket and cooking or else just ordering it off a menu at a restaurant. However, Ustav said his store caters to a lot of ethnic customers.
“They like to eat it fresh; they don’t like to keep it in the freezer,” Ustav said.