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Monday, November 20, 2006

Butchering your Turkey

We will need to back track just a bit, to the night before. It was a wonderfully cool late evening, I was playing around on the computer while the rest of the house slept. Suddenly I heard my little pitbull mix puppy yipping in pain. I peeked out of the window to see to large adult dogs harassing her. I grabbed a single pump Daisy off the shelf. {yes a BB gun} Burst out the back door and attempted to put a steel pellet in the harassing dog's rear. They ran off into the darkness. I went back to playing on the computer. An hour passed and I heard the yipping again, and once again I grabbed the Daisy rifle and headed out the door. I shot at the dogs, and pulled the lever down and my hand slipped, my right hand held onto the stock, in the way of the mishandled lever. It slammed down on my hand. I screamed, the dogs ran. I whimpered into the house, and left the rifle. I had stupidly broken my middle finger. To answer your question abbagirl, I have been given my husband "the bird."

We separated the Turkey from the rest of the birds three days ago. We have set up a dog run with housing for this purpose. The goal to separating the animal, is to cut off food, but not water, and to make it easier to get a hold of. I consulted the various homesteading books I have around my house, trying to determine the best way of going about this. There were all kinds of different helpful suggestions, de-braining seems to be the popular method. I informed my husband of this, and he dared question my wisdom! He thought it best to go the way of the previous poultry.

Several days before, my husband went to the farm equipment store and bought a 20 gallon metal trash can. It turns out this is the only thing available to scald a large bird in. We need to build a fire underneath the trash can and a way to lower the turkey into it. I did not foresee myself lifting this bird by the feet and swirling it about in the trash can. I suggested some type of pully system, but that would require us building the fire under a tree. No good. The wind was down, under the burn limit of 15 mph, so we used the trash as our kindling, and set the burn pile ablaze.We used the railing from an old metal bunk bed to stabilize the can, and filled it up half way. It would take time to get this much water up to the appropriate heat. There is some small flames and hot coals in the picture above. It turns out that the water heated much quicker than we thought it would. So we had to keep it going while we prepared for the turkey.

The turkey gobbled patiently in his run. Our neighbor was out working his horses, when he spotted us. He wasn't real happy with what we were doing, he informed us he enjoyed listening to him gobble, oh but could he have a few feathers? We went into the run and gathered up the bird.Once we had the bird in hand, we needed to bind his feet. That was up to me. Umm ok. . . My husband proceeded to explain how I should do this in a husband type way, as if I should know how to do this, I ended up doing it my own way.With his feet bound, my husband carried him out to the block. The bird was a little heavy and my husband had to take a breather while deciding how best to do this. One would think you would have figured that out before carrying out a very powerful bird. But that's not how we do things here at the Homesteading Neophyte. My husband pushed the turkeys neck between the two nails that stuck out of the block, I had the honor of holding the bird's feet. Oh the joy. My husband used the machete, the same one he has used on the previous executions, and brought it down. The turkey fought hard and kick me away. The neck had not been cut away. He jerked about the yard, his death was too slow. I screamed at my husband to finish it, this was just too much, he wasn't suppose to suffer. Between my broken finger and my badly healed shoulder, I dragged the bird back to the block, where my husband tried again. I do not suggest beheading a turkey, there necks are just too tough. My husband got him again, hitting an artery, and the turkey died quicky, neck still intact. My feet binding technique is sorely lacking, at some point in the struggle, it had come undone. I was scolded and lectured about how one must bind. I neglected to point out the if he had killed the turkey on his first blow, that the binding would have held just fine. With the feet bound again, he was hung from our tree to bleed out. Again there is no one able to tell me how long it will take for a certain bird to bleed out. We just had to watch and wait.

Once the bird was up, the neighbor that had been out working his horses came over with his family. He received a few dry picked feathers, and awed about the size of our turkey. The sorrow of the impeding event had disappeared once it had been done. He congratulated us on his size.


We did foresee one minor problem. With the bird hanging upside down, his wings were on perfect display. With rigor mortis setting in, there was no way that we would be able to get him into the can. I held the wings close to the body while my husband went for something to bind them with. Oh the smell! Not the smell of death or blood, but the smell of turkey musk. It is gaggingly repulsive. And, of course, my husband took his time finding the rope.
I was not thrilled with the idea of sitting on the ground to de-feather this very large bird. I convinced my husband to help me bring one of his shop work tables out to the tree. We placed it near the hose and barn, tilting it so that the water could shed off easily. I covered it with a tarp that the Kansas wind had stolen from someone else and wrapped up in our trees. A gift from nature. It was in wonderful condition, only a speckle or two of purple paint on one side.Between checking the water and checking the bird, time moved too slowly. We also needed to find away to dunk the bird into the scalding water. My husband came up with the ingenious plan of threading a metal pole between the bound feet and using the both of us to carry it.

Once the bird had bleed out, we proceeded to carry it back out to the burn pile.
He didn't fit! This was the biggest container we could find and the bird was too big. My husband pushed and dunked until the turkey muscles relaxed from the heat, the water barely came up to it's ankles. Not good. We dunked for a count of thirty, but to be honest, it was longer because of the way we were finagling the bird into the water. We lifted him out and allowed the water to drain from him, before carrying him back out to the table. The musk smell had worsen. I know I complained of it before with the ducks, but the ducks were no where near this strong. I gagged more then once before getting use to it.

I began pulling the feathers out, starting with the tail and then moving onto the wings. The wings had been scalded longer than the tail, but it was still difficult to get them out. I ended up using a pair of pliers to pull them cleanly away.This was the only problem I had with the de-feathering. I am getting better at it. One thing did crop up, not so much of a problem, but an annoyance. We caught him at molt, and there were all these tiny emerging feathers that had to be dealt with, like a pimple. After a few hundred of them, the squeezing, rubbing and pulling technique became easier.

The next step was to clean him out. I removed his tail first. The tails of turkey have an oil gland just like water fowl. With those new field scissors, that I got for my birthday, worked wonderfully. And the tail was removed quickly, and cleanly.

Loud cursing now ensued as I cut about the turkey's rear. Oh dear god! Had I cut into the intestines? I hadn't, but the smell that followed the incision was so strong and rancid, I thought I was going to vomit. Nasty bird. The few days of no food had not cleaned out his system. He was still rather full.

The technique of pulling the intestines out as one, still doesn't work for me. Somewhere along the way, it ripped apart, luckily nothing had spilled out into the cavity of the bird. I have got to find a better way of doing that. It is very nasty. Once the intestines were free, I reached in the grab the next organ. It was the gizzard. The gizzard is very large and hard, full of rocks. I pulled it away from where it was attached, but the opening of the "pelvic" wasn't large enough, my hand hurt from trying to get it out. "It's like giving birth!" I called out to no one. It took a few minutes before pulling it free. My hand was bright red from the effort. The rest came out smoothly, though I was literally up to my elbow in turkey.

I ended up doing a hack job on the neck. It did not wish to be separated from the body. This took the longest to accomplish. Even my new field knife had a hard time with it. The turkey's neck is the same size as my wrist. We will make a lot of gravy with it.

Now it was just the matter of washing out the inside of the carcass
I ended up flooding the chicken's area as you can see. I think some french drains are in order for next year. My husband helped by taking some photos, many of which I will not be posting here, but a friend is wanting them because he plans on doing this himself next year.

I brought out the roasting pan to carry the bird into the house. He is bigger than the pan! Once inside we placed him in a garbage bag, and then in the fridge where he will brine with apple juice until Wednesday evening. He will take a long time to bake.

I need to go buy a scale today so I can get an official weigh in. Currently he is heavier than our two year old that weighs slightly over 35 lbs.

We didn't make as many stupid mistakes with the turkey as we had with the other birds. We did however learn a few lessons. I am sore this morning. I feel like I wrestled with a large turkey yesterday. My finger is swollen and burns again, and my shoulder is scolding me.

24 comments:

Last Minute Lyn said...

I never plucked a turkey but I have plucked ducks and they do smell pretty bad.
We used to put parafin in the water and the feathers would stick together making plucking easier.

Some people still to pluck without the wax but I liked the wax method.

The Fool said...

There are many stories of field dressings that go untold. Thank you for sharing yours. You write well. I have tears in my eyes from laughing. Your experience is entirely too real...any can relate. I have a story about getting a sandhill crane to the Thanksgiving table, but it pales in comparison to yours. That bird is sure going to taste good though...

The Fool said...

...and that should be "many can relate." I think your article would be a real eye-opener for the folks that think turkeys only come shrink-wrapped. ;)

~cupcake~ said...

Thank you for the vivid descriptions. You have definitely reinforced my decision to have a veggie Thanksgiving this year, and probably many more to come. ;o) Cheers,
~cupcake~

abbagirl74 said...

Holy smokes girl! That bird was HUGE. I would have loved to see the other pictures. Well, you will definitely have some good eating in the next days ahead.

BurdockBoy said...

Finally a post that makes me glad to not be celebrating Thanksgiving-I don't think I have the backbone to kill and then dress an animal. In fact I have been thinking about becoming a vegetarian that eats fish and eggs once again. This reinforces that decision as I can't stand to feel something struggle.

I admire your strength though.

Phelan said...

Last minute lyn, I have heard of the use of wax, but I don't know if it would have helped here.

the fool, thanks

cupcake, I don't miss being a vegan. Have a great thankveggie day!

abbagirl, the turkey grew much larger than we thought he would. I am looking forward to all the meals.

Burdockboy, even if this wasn't for Thanksgiving, it still would have been done. Granted it would have been much sooner than this. I was a vegan for many years. It takes a lot of effort to keep that way of life. Who knows if I would have never became pregnant, I might still be one. Good luck with your future dicisions.

UKBob said...

Wow! I think you are a hero in this world of tasteless food. You might have had lots of hard work and turned a few stomachs of lesser people but at the end of the day you are going to be the one with the most pleasure. Enjoy your Thanksgiving dinner. By the way, what’s your husband having for Thanksgiving dinner? Ha ha, just kidding!

Sassafras said...

I'm glad I found your blog, and this post. I'm going to re-read it for pointers. Thanks for sharing.

Pamela said...

Wow!! Great job on the turkey. I know you and your family will enjoy many meals from Tom!!
Update us about how you cooked the bird!

teripittman said...

We have to put off butchering ours as construction has priority at this point. (We're putting up a porch for a wood heater to supply heat to our trailer.)We did not have a problem like that with the broadbreasted hen that we butchered last year. Your husband needs to sharpen that machete next time. We used to butcher goat kids with a machete.

When we plucked the turkey, I dry plucked it. I used water only on things like the wings and I could do that with a blue enamel canner. Dry plucking is not hard if the bird is still warm and you are quick about it. It's not nearly as messy.

PARLANCHEQ said...

Yikes! I am pretty sure I would not have handled all that as well as you did. I can barely handle cooking a bird that came all ready to cook form the store.

Amy Leaton (amyleaton) said...

I know, it is just denial, but I don't think I could eat an animal I had to butcher myself. Not just the butchering, but the smell you described... yuck! That one pic of it defeathered on the table he looks like a baby getting it's diaper changed! haha Anyway, glad it turned out okay. You are a braver woman than I am!

The Pocknalls said...

Wow. We don't celebrate Thanksgiving etc. and am glad we don't kill turkeys. Amazing though. All I can say is 'Wow'.

Turkey Raiser said...

If you kill the turkey by putting a knife through the brain instead of chopping it's head off, it makes the feathers come out way easier. When you chop it's head off it hold's all of its pin feathers in making in alot tougher to get them out. The other way they don't tighten them up and they come out way easier.

Julia in Las Vegas said...

Your story was particularly funny since My Daughter..39, Mom..93 and I (age..er..um...well somewhere between the other two)just butchered and dressed 4 big turkeys today and I could picture every move you made! Next time, for sure, we are gonna tie the wings to the body somehow cuz they can beat you to pieces..even headless! Anyway, thanks for the laughs...

deconstructingVenus said...

wow, i love this stuff! i am so nervous/excited about our first animal harvest, and its fantastic to read a candid experience of another novice. for starters, that bird was HUGE!!!! i had no idea they got that big. i mean, when it won't fit in a trash can you got a problem! i had no idea that birds stank when u process them. good to know. i wonder why nobody has ever mentioned that? so what tools would you say are absolutely necessary for a butchering? have you tried any other methods than cutting the heads off? i don't think i could ever get my husband to kill another one if it was just wounded and i was sobbing in the background. hehe.

Phelan said...

DCV, I too had no idea they could get that large. I was told 20-25 lbs at the most. Starting Monday, I will be doing a series of posts on just tools, one will include butchering tools. Unfortunatly we have been having problems with 2 legged predators, and this years turkeys were stolen. So I have not been able to try out another method. This spring we will be getting new turkeys, two for breeding and one for eating. I will be able to tell you more then.

chris'chicks said...

Thank you so much we have a huge tom turkey that has to go. He's so big he can barely walk .No one wants to kill him My son came home from the army and says he's up for it.O.K. now I have to fit him in the freezer. Thanks for the instructions I'll let you know how it goes.The kids wanna take pictures we'll see about that.

mommyx3girls said...

I am getting ready to butcher our spring hens and they are at least 25lbs.. I could only imagine if they were toms. Well I guess I best get out there with my girls and do this job. We had so much fun raising them for the past 6-7 months but its that time. Hopefully it goes good and quickly concidering I am 8 months pregnant.Thank you so much for sharing your story with us.

Thomas said...

A machete is too light to hack off a turkey's neck. Get yourself a decent ax, or, what's on my check list of wants, is a "killing cone" you nail it to a wall, drop the turkey in the wide end, his head comes out the other end and you cut his artery with a very sharp knife...
I found your sight because I just plucked a turkey and was trying to figure out how much wing to leave on the stupid thing. Your incident was better than mine. I got the head in one fell swoop with my broad axe, but it started thrashing (I was by myself) and sprayed blood EVERYWHERE. I look like a chain saw massacrer...

Oh well one down four more to go.. Did you find that they ate a disproportionate amount of food compared to other animals their size?

Farmfresh said...

Next time add some citrus scented dish soap to the scald water. It helps the feathers quickly saturate with water, cleans the bird's skin and smells SO much better!

Check out my homesteading website at heep://www.uBuilderPlans.com

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Bob K. said...

Thanks for your detailed story, and thanks to those who provided useful suggestions. I have to feel that someone, somewhere, must have written a book on the topics of the butchering of turkeys, ducks, etc. and captured the wisdom of the ages. for instance, there must be something you can use like ex-lax for birds so the smell isn't so bad. There's got to be some optimal restraints, and strategies for a knife to the brain, and ways to try to keep the blood-spatter to a minimum.I hope that you or I find such a book before I get my farm and start to handle thee tasks.

I have never killed an animal, but I feel that in order to be connected with nature and the source of my meal, I must be able to do so. One should be able to embrace the fact that easting an animal requires its death and a rather distasteful butchering process, otherwise one is practicing self-deception. I am a vegetarian now for that reason.

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