So, our farm is fairly new but one thing we are known for is Herman, our big tom turkey that hangs around and is strangely social. Everyone asks if he’s going to be supper and they usually look a bit sick when they ask. We cheerfully say “No, he’s a pet” and they look relieved. We love our turkey but, man, they are an adventure!!
So, we have the farm and space. We raised a couple of batches of meat chickens and think, hmm, maybe I could raise a couple of turkeys. I don’t ever want an animal that I can’t deal with on my own. Thankfully a friend asked me to come over to help her process her turkeys. This is great because I get a free class and she gets free labor, win-win! We go to her turkey pen at the end of her driveway, me holding a large pink towel and she’s holding a big knife. The plan is to “do the deed’ at the pen and take back to her house to finish processing them where the hot water and hose are. Sounds like a plan. We go into the pen, corner one, throw the towel over it, secure it’s legs and carry it out so she can cut it’s neck while I’m holding it. Everything is going great, we do one, I loose a wing and get slapped around a bit. The next one is the same but on the last one, we are sort of in our zone trying to get this done and we look up to see the FedEx truck pull up. We look down at ourselves! I’m holding a bloody pink bath towel wrapped around a bleeding body, she’s holding a big bloody knife, and we’re both sort of…splattered. This does not look good! How fast can we talk them out of not calling the police? We start praying, please don’t stop here, please don’t stop here! Thankfully, they went to the neighbors!
We got 3 last year to see if we could actually raise turkeys for Thanksgiving. Herman, who is a broadbreasted bronze, Whiskey, who was a bourbon red, and “Thanksgiving” who was also a broadbreasted. We raised those 3 for (now I know) WAY too long! “Thanksgiving” was eaten for Thanksgiving, a dubious honor awarded for being mean. We were going to keep Whiskey and get him a girlfriend to have a laying pair but he turned out to be a mean turkey and he was dispatched in the winter. Herman, however, is the nicest turkey. He’s only ever injured my 8 year old when he had food in his hand and accidentally caught his hand with the food. If we are outside throwing the football or just sitting around talking, Herman is part of the conversation, strutting his stuff.
Thanksgiving was raised for way too long. Six months later and we had a 28 pound turkey! It would not fit into my roasting pan and took forever to cook! But it tasted amazing and I had a pleasant experience growing them out so, fast forward to this year and… let’s see if I can grow out a few more a sell them since I know they taste good and I know how well they are treated!
Yeah, problem is, I had this brilliant thought AT THE END OF AUGUST! We ordered 10 white broadbreasted turkeys from Meyer’s Hatchery. * The average bird comes to it’s preferred butchering weight at around 12 weeks of age. I received these birds August 23rd. I knew these guys would be grown down to the wire! I gave them all the food they wanted to fatten them up! I moved them constantly and sweet-talked to them to get them to grow! Talking to a friend, we planned to butcher the Monday before Thanksgiving! Last minute! (It’s amazing all the things I get done in that last minute!)
I’ve helped with many, many chickens, sometimes 30-50 in one day. No problemo. I had only 9 turkeys and my friend had 4. Piece of cake, right?
If you are wondering the difference between doing a chicken and a turkey…lemme ‘splain. Most of the time spent butchering a chicken is spent eviscerating and cleaning it. “Doing the deed”, scalding and plucking is fairly minimal. A regular size turkey fryer pot is all you need to scald and a cone made out of a bucket will assist in “doing the deed”. You cut their neck, they flop a bit in the cone but you can hold their feet and all is good, they die quickly and as humanely as possible.
In your head, you know turkeys are bigger, but they are still a bird, right? How hard can this be? Famous last words! Our live turkeys were 18-22 pounds walking around. They do not fit in the cleverly made cone I have. I had to cut a hole in a 2×8 board and screw it to my trailer just to give us somewhere to rest it while we cut their neck. So now we have the place to do the deed. This isn’t the worst part of it. Remember the flapping around that chickens do when they die? Turkeys do it also! Have you ever been hit in the head, shin, forearm or any body part with a baseball bat? Honestly, that’s I believe this feels like! Not even joking! One flopped so violently, it broke it’s own wing! Several places recommended using a feed sack. I HIGHLY recommend this because this was the best thing we did. We couldn’t have done it any other way. If someone could sew up a turkey straight jacket, I might buy it!
The first one was uneventful, My awesome teen held it upside down in the
feed sack while I cut it’s neck then he held/hugged it while it flopped it’s last…flops. It’s extremely disconcerting to cut it’s neck and hold it when it’s violently flopping 6 inches from your head. Of course, it was nothing compared to my teen holding it and saying, “I sure hope he doesn’t poop!”, as I see its feet resting against his neck. There was one time, it was flopping around and we hear the bag rip, that was a scary sound right next to our heads!
So, the first one is done, time to scald…
WELL….when you get your turkey fryer full of water ready and you’re feeling all good about yourself, getting the water to the perfect temperature and…the first turkey you plunge in displaces most of the water you spent so much propane to heat up, spilling out and possible putting out the fire in the burner. Well, heck.
So, thankfully my friend had a huge one we borrowed. Got the water to the right temperature. My awesome nephew Jacob had this job. It was tough because these things were heavy, and when their feathers are full of water, they get even heavier! And he did an amazing job! This is tough because you have to have the water at 145-150 degrees. Too low and the feathers won’t come off, too high and the skin cooks and rips in the plucker. He did such a good job, not a single turkey had ripped skin! Thanks Jacob!!
So now on to the plucker, Jonathan’s job. Chicken feathers are nice and soft and fairly small. Turkey’s are like a huge bird covered in McDonald’s straws! They are thick, tough, and clog the heck out of the plucker! Since they are the diameter of a No. 2 pencil, they jam up the works. At about the 5th one, my friend suggests plucking the wing and tail feathers first before throwing it in the plucker! Awesomeness! Still a mess but it’s not getting clogged anymore.
I had 2 amazing friends over to do the eviscerating! You know you have wonderful friends if they are willing to come over and pull the guts out of a turkey for you! Thanks Pam, Crystal and Cyndi!!!
This part if fairly easy. With chickens, sometimes they are kinda small and getting your hands in there to clean them can be a hassle. Not with turkeys. You can practically climb in and clean then out! All the organs are big and easy to identify! We weren’t sure if people wanted the giblets so we put them in a zip lock bad and stuffed them back inside.
So, something I learned this time. Every time I had cooked a turkey, the little triangular butt was left on. I always cut it off because my mom thought it was gross, just the thought of it. Actually, the poop chute is a seperate part that, when you clean it, comes off the bottom, poop doesn’t even come out of the “parson’s nose” as I’ve heard someone call it. I may not cut it off in the future but it’s not going to be my favorite part of a turkey. Into the stock pot it will go.
So, we have cleaned turkeys. I’m usually fine with the last minute but it bit me in the butt because, all the turkey shrink bags were sold out! I had to get really big ones. They worked and I’m grateful for what I had so I’m definitely thinking ahead with these.
After the 5th one, we were getting tired! Seriously, this was tough work and
I’m sore the next day because of it! After 13, we were done and wore slap out! Our shoulders were sore, feet hurt, and we smelled really bad. The best showers always after days like this!
I made the mistake of saying we could go to Subway and get turkey subs. I wasn’t thinking about what I was saying because I always get a turkey sub. Oh my gosh the eruption that came from that. “I AM NOT eating turkey today!!!”. Jeez, fine, sorry. heehee.
Finally, they are all in the fridge and cooling down. Such a great feeling to be done. We are exhausted and sore but finished for the year. No more moving the turkey tractor, no more wrestling them away from the feeder to feed them, no more waking up at night hearing Dolly bark worrying if they are being attacked. We are done!
Oh! But then my husband, no lie, brings home a book called “Turkey’s All Year. from his trip to the library. All YEAR? I think next time we will schedule processing day so he can help, sweetie!
I’m pretty sure I’ll grow some out next year again and yes, maybe a few during the year…grumble-grumble. It wasn’t a bad experience, only one died and it was a runt that just wasn’t growing and got trampled. They were all healthy and will hopefully taste great! The tractor was easy to move and I have my “Turkey Track” planned out.
But I have to say, this was a humbling experience! This was so much harder than I thought it would be, both physically and mentally! Everyone did wonderful at their jobs, whether it was hugging a flapping turkey, quality control and bagging, or scalding. Dang, I am surrounded by amazing people all the time. How did I get so blessed! I’m getting a bit misty! I have a supportive husband who goes along with my crazy ideas and helps me be successful at them! I have great kids that help me! I have amazing friends who teach me so much, support me and tell me they are proud of me. Darn it, getting misty again, someone must be cutting onions..
Thanks for reading. I hope you learned a little and I hope everyone has a wonderful and safe Thanksgiving!!
Have fun and be safe!
* I love this site because they give a great feeding schedule, how much feed you’ll need to get the size bird you want, super helpful!! They have been healthy birds and I contacted them and they do not vaccinate before shipping!