A Day of Killing

Sunday was a day of killing. Like last weekend, we killed and butchered birds we raised to feed us. Last weekend it was the Cornish Cross chickens. Yesterday we processed the broad breasted white turkeys, two older roosters, and a drake Khaki Campbell x Fawn and White Indian Runner duck. We intentionally raise turkeys for meat. The older roosters are from the first Buff Bantam Silkies that started our flock. They were older, four and a half years old, with spurs that curled completely around and started the circle again, this time starting to embed themselves in flesh.  There’s a new rooster, hatched in the spring, that takes their place. Extra males serve no purpose other than meat.

That’s a lot of turkey!

Thanksgiving, the largest of the turkeys, will be the guest of honor on Thanksgiving. Kristin, Taylor and Dad each get a turkey, and that leaves three for us. One will be frozen whole, one in pieces, and one ground for sausage. I have five backs to make soup from, something that excites me. I can’t wait to share the how-t0 and why with you. As soon as we’re ready to eat turkey after yesterday’s events, soup will be the first meal I’ll make.

An Unpleasant Day

It was an unpleasant day. Thanksgiving, also known as You Jerk, was overly friendly. He was pushy and unusually curious even for a turkey. Without hands, birds have few resources for exploring items. Thanksgiving liked to check things out up close and with his beak, and sometimes he hurt me. I won’t miss having a spot of dirt on my butt being pecked hard by a turkey I didn’t know was behind me. At the same time, I’m not happy he’s dead. We provide our meat in specific ways out of respect for the animals and their lives. We respect them whether we like their personality or not.

Vague Details of the Process

We work together efficiently on a day of killing after 15 years and hundreds of turkeys. We disinfect coolers and fill them full of cold well water. Steve lugs 20 gallons of hot water to the high tunnel where we do the butchering and puts half of it in the lobster pot over the propane burner. When the water is 145° he kills the first bird, dips it and we pluck together. When the wing feathers that hurt my arthritic hands are out he goes for the next bird while I do the fine plucking of tiny feathers.
a day of killing, plucking a turkey
a day of killing, pin feathers, turkey, broad breasted whiteWhile I finish plucking the second bird he guts the first. While he guts the second I wash the first and put it in cold water to chill. I tend to the second bird while he gets and kills bird three. And the cycle starts again.

Half way through he takes a break to give his back a rest (tall man, low table) while I clean the table. I give my back a break while he goes for the next bird, kills it, lets it bleed out, and dips it. Then we start together again. It’s important to iron out the details and work peacefully on a day of killing.


The majority of my part in this process happens today. I do all of the packaging. Whole turkeys are wrapped in plastic wrap first and frozen in heavy plastic bags. I haven’t found vacuum bags large enough for 12 to 25 pound birds. The pieces are vacuum sealed to avoid freezer burn and save space in the freezers. I packaged up the five extra necks, and all of the hearts, livers and gizzards for Dad. I’ve cut and sealed one end of the vacuum bags for the backs but wasn’t sure of how large or small I need the rest. I will work off and on during the day and evening on this job. Water doesn’t shut down the sealer when the pieces are frozen; I freeze them for a few hours first.

Five months of work ends in three hours of killing and butchering and a few hours of packaging. It’s a lot of work but it’s well worth the effort. Healthy turkeys raised on pasture, in and out of shelter as they want during the day and closed in for their safety at night. They live a good life.