In case you’re nervous opening this post, you should know that there are no actual pictures of butchering turkeys included. Also, this post is not meant to discuss the ethics of eating meat or incite debate over such topics. Read on, friend. 🙂
Turkeys cost a lot of money. Organic/free-range/otherwise healthier turkeys are even more expensive. Last year I was lucky enough to win a photo contest- and consequently, a free Thanksgiving turkey for our family from a local farm. But I knew I couldn’t win every year!
I was somewhat unhappy about having to source our turkey this year, and a little hesitant about how much it might cost. We have contemplated raising our own Thanksgiving turkeys, but I was terrified to try butchering solo until we shadowed someone who knew what they were doing.
This year, we asked friends of ours who raised their own turkeys if they would be willing to sell us one. After they said yes, we took it a step further… could we come help you butcher so we could learn how to do it? They cheerfully agreed to this arrangement.
All week I was both thrilled for the opportunity and slightly nervous about how it would go. I’ve never seen anything killed besides a fish, and somehow a turkey just seems like a bigger mental hurdle to get over. But I’m also a firm believer in knowing where my food comes from and obtaining it at a reasonable cost. If you’re an omnivore, that might mean raising and processing your own meat.
Saturday morning we got to watch and participate in processing three big turkeys- one tom and two hens. Working one by one, my hubby and our “teacher,” Mr. B, caught the turkeys and put them in a homemade killing cone (except for the tom, who was too large to fit). Mr. B slit the throats and let the birds bleed out. Next, we scalded the birds in 150 degree water and hung them up to pluck the feathers. We held the birds in a tub of cold water until we were ready to dress all of them at once. Finally, Mr. B taught my husband how to remove the feet, head, neck, and innards from each bird.
The entire ordeal took about 2-3 hours in total, and most everything went smoothly. The turkey we brought home- one of the hens- was 27 lbs, and the tom pictured above weighed in at 43 lbs! These were definitely some big, happy birds.
What surprised me about the process was how much I took away from it- besides just the meat. While it wasn’t enjoyable to watch the turkeys die, it wasn’t nearly as upsetting as I thought it might be. In fact, I found the whole event to be rather powerful and thought-provoking. This would quickly become a rather lengthy post for me to expound on everything, so let it suffice to mention a few lessons learned.
- We are sorely separated from most of the meat we eat. The lumpy package of red stuff in the grocery store is merely ground beef to us- not a cow that was born, raised, fed, lived its life, and then was slaughtered and butchered to feed us. (And no, this isn’t to make you feel squeamish or guilty. It’s just the reality of the situation.)
- It actually wasn’t all that difficult. (Granted, my husband did more of the work than I did, but he would agree.) Yes, it was a learning curve because we were unfamiliar with it, but it was doable.
- Most of us don’t know what goes into most of our meat, and what is involved in the processing. Raising and/or butchering the meat exposes the ugly parts of the food industry we don’t usually think about. It also makes us more conscientious of what we’re putting in our bodies.
- This made me more grateful for my meat. Wasting it seems so much more grievous now that I know how much goes into getting it on my plate.
No, this didn’t turn me into a vegetarian. It made me inspired to be more hands on with the food we eat, and more thankful for it. I’m hoping that perhaps next year we really could raise our own meat birds- birds that are happy and healthy, and that can be a beautiful provision for our family.
Here’s a good read on DIY meat poultry. I love what the author says about caring for chickens: “Strangely, it’s only because I have life-long affection for chickens that I can kill them at all. If I didn’t care about them, I would just eat store-bought chicken. I only eat meat once or twice a week — but it’s important to me that the animal lived well and died humanely, with barely a blink between life and death. I nurture them in exchange for their nurturing me.”