Look how much Joe's turkeys grew since May, when they arrived as fuzzy chicks in a box at the post office. In just six months those little puff balls grew to be big beautiful birds.
These photos of them in their transport cage were the last I took of them while they were still alive. I knew from the beginning that these turkeys were destined for the Thanksgiving table. While I didn't get to spend much time with them, I did get to see them as they grew up, and because they are such curious and vocal birds it was easy to appreciate them as interesting animals in just a few visits, so I sort of understand how hard it must have been for Joe to kill them on Saturday. He seemed to be dreading the job more than when we butchered his chickens, and mentioned that he may prefer to raise only white turkeys from now on, just so he can't tell them apart as easily as he could with this mix of heritage breeds.
We used the same technique to kill the turkeys as we used with the big batch of chickens. There is one difference though - all of the turkeys were so big they stuck up out of the killing cones, and the two biggest, shown above, were more out of the cone than in. The cones still worked fine though.
The last time we had a chicken butchering party, we used a rented scalder/plucker, which worked great. This time, since we only had ten turkeys and eight chickens to process, we saved the expense of the rented equipment an did the scalding in big pots set on gas stoves, and Jamie and Brandon plucked them all by hand. This also worked great, especially since I wasn't on the plucking crew!
The long plastic aprons are genius. The chickens we harvested were some of the white cornish rock cross birds that were too small to harvest last time, but had grown into monster sized chickens, some weighing in at more than nine pounds! When dealing with such big chickens, and even bigger turkeys, it was great that the plucking crew could rest the birds on their knees while they worked, and the apron kept them clean and dry, and is easy to wash off.
Ashley and I manned the gutting table. What can I say, I'm good with guts!
The two black male turkeys were the biggest of the lot, weighing over twenty pounds with their feathers, and over sixteen pounds when they were finished. In exchange for our labor, Joe gave me the second largest bird. I have to say, this may be the most appreciative I've ever been for the holiday turkey. There's something to be said for watching turkeys grow and hearing about the trials and successes of raising them and keeping them happy, then watching one die for my plate. Normally, all my metal energies concerning the Thanksgiving turkey would be directed at the cooking and eating of the bird, and the only sense of accomplishment that would come with the turkey would be from getting the darn thing to thaw out on time and hopefully get some praise on my seasoning. Not this year. I'm proud of this turkey already, for reasons I've never considered before, and it's still frozen. Imagine how excited I'll be if it tastes good too.
Joe ordered turkey sized shrink wrap bags, and we put the heart, gizzard, liver, and neck in the body cavity so they will be handy for making stock for dressing and gravy. Mmm... gravy...
I think we are all getting accustomed the the process of making birds ready for cooking. The things that were gross, smelly, and weird are becoming less so. I can see how, over time, the work of removing feathers and guts, and cleaning up the meat so it looks appetizing can become a normal part of cooking. Because I'm learning to accept this as a new norm, I decided to intentionally pay more attention to the part of the process that so far I've mostly avoided to see if I can get used to it too. The part that involves a knife to the throat of a living animal. Not that I want to become desensitized, or less empathetic, but I do want to understand that part of being a carnivore. So, I stood and watched some turkeys die and I payed attention to the sequence of my thoughts and emotions while it was happening. It's difficult to explain, but my first emotions were distress as I empathized with what the turkey could be feeling as it was bleeding. I had a thought that wouldn't it be better to skip the roasted turkey and just eat the dressing and mashed potatoes, and not do this to the turkey and to myself? But, I'm glad I didn't turn away and end the experience with that thought and those frightening emotions because I know that dressing and potatoes come with their fair share of death too. Nothing lives without something else dying. We are connected that way. I don't want to get too deep here, but as the turkey's eyes were closing and it's blood flow was slowing, I was thinking about circle of life stuff, and getting a glimpse of how I fit into that, and I felt grateful. Grateful to the turkey for sure, but also for the opportunity to get to serve a turkey that until just a few minutes ago was as happy as a turkey raised to be eaten can be. I was also grateful to get to participate in my friends farming adventure, and grateful that when I closely examine the meat eating practice I've participated in my whole life, I find it acceptable, even the frightening part, especially under these conditions. Good to know. Thank you, turkey.