Description and function
Since broilers are not kept in cages, some method is required to catch the chickens. The traditional hand method was to corral the birds, catch them, grab them by the feet, five per hand (typically), and then drop the animals into crates. This is a backbreaking job, said to be "the worst in the poultry industry".
The machine, by contrast, uses mechanical grabbers that deposit the chickens onto a conveyor belt which then moves them into a temporary holding area on the machine. From there, the chickens are placed in holding crates or containers, to transfer them to subsequent processing. Chicken harvesters can harvest up to 200 chickens every 30 seconds, and around 8,000 per hour.
Studies have demonstrated that the use of chicken harvesters may be less stressful to the birds compared to being hand-wrangled by humans. The use of the machines has also been demonstrated to reduce injuries to chickens compared to those that occur from hand-wrangling, especially in wings and legs. In addition, while the machine does not reduce the number of man hours required to process the animals, it is said to be easier on the workers. A British study found that a mechanical catcher reduced some injuries by as much as 50%. Other studies indicated more modest improvements of 9.5%
Paul S. Berry of the British Silsoe Research Institute is credited with the development of the machine, starting in the 1980s. The British government provided $200,000 a year to design the machine, with hopes of reducing livestock suffering.  Earlier mechanical machines used a vacuum method.
Use in the industry
In 2003, about 5% of U.S. birds were caught mechanically. 
The company Bright Coop makes the E-Z Catch Chicken Harvester, capable of handling 5000 birds per hour.
The Lewis/Mola Company manufactures the PH2000-model chicken harvester, said to be one of the more popular models, and able to clean 24,000 birds in 3 1/2 hours. In 2003, a typical machine might cost around $200,000, and was described as 9 tons and 42 feet long.Tyson Foods began using the PH2000 in 2001, but discontinued their use in 2009 due to high maintenance costs for the machines. In addition, labor costs in the poultry industry went down in the first decade of the 21st century, making manual processing relatively cheaper.
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