Monday, October 10, 2011

How we had my Father-In-Law for Thanksgiving

(This is a rather graphic story of the end of one of our turkeys, so if that sort of story doesn't interest you, you're not going to want to read on).

This all started last Wednesday night, our farmer stopped by to check on his old cows and for a quick visit. Got some good tips on how we needed to get our butts in gear to get things organised for sending them to freezer camp. Because we were all chatting in the barn I happened to notice one of the turkeys hiding out in there, and returned him to the coop.

That is pretty odd behaviour for one of the turkey, they always return to the coop at dark. However, I did notice he looked a little beaten, so figured Lenny was being an a## again and thought nothing of it. When I went to let them out again Thursday morning it was pretty clear the turkey was in a bit of distress.

Now I have to go back a few months to when we purchased the turkeys. We decided to name them after the holidays we planned to eat them at, plus my Father in Law named one after himself. So we had Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter and Greg.

It was Greg that wasn't feeling well Thursday morning. Thanksgiving dinner weighing heavily on my mind, I decided to do the logical thing. Turkey not doing to well, a meal in need of a turkey, and Greg was looking mighty tasty.

The next thing you need to know is that I've never killed anything larger then a mosquito in my life. I'm a city girl born and raised. Raising meat birds brings you closer to your food, and I think it's a great thing just to raise up your own animals in a humane way.  If you don't want to complete the cycle, that's just fine with me.

I have heard it postulated, that in order to eat meat you should first be courageous enough to come face to face with your dinner and be part of the end of it's life. I had been considering learning to butcher the chickens ourselves, both to save money, and make sure they finished their life in the most humane was possible (they certainly lived a good one!). I wasn't really prepared that I might be making this decision early on a Thursday morning without any training.

Thank humanity for you tube!!

I'd made myself aware of the process before, so it took only a quick review before I was ready to carry out the deed. Greg was still feeling well enough he put up a bit of a fight, but once you've got them upside down, like chickens, they settle right down.

So I hung him from the crab-tree in the yard.
Not sure why but the ducks were
fascinated about what was going on.

Next I thought I would attempt the relatively painless appearing method of sliting the turkeys throat. Two problems with this idea. One is that I have no practical knowledge for where the carotid artery is on a Turkey, and this is not an easy thing to locate when flustered. Two is that, even a very good and sharp kitchen knife, if not applied with enough force, can't cut the thick skin of a turkey.

So I had to get the Ax.

It was quick, I hope relatively painless, although difficult mentally on me, I really don't think Greg suffered. I thanked him for meal he was going to provide us. He was still fairly immobilised from having hung upside down, it was easy enough to lay him on the chopping block and swing like I never have in my life.

So now there is a dead turkey hanging in my yard.

Photography by the 3 year old again
Always gets my good side.

Having Greg dispatched, and bleeding out into a bucket, I headed back in to YouTube and to boil some water. We had some food-grade buckets in the garage, so I had to track them down, and fill them with boiling water. The problem was that Greg was not a small turkey, it took every pot in the house boiling to fill up the bucket enough, and I'm still not sure I got the water quite as hot as you're supposed to.

Either way the feathers came out quite easily.

I did spend 2 hours outside on the same chopping block diligently removing all the feathers from the warm bird. The wing feathers were the hardest to remove, and I later removed the wing tips and skinned part of the rest of the wing to pretty it up. The downiest parts were easiest, although I learned as I went along that you must hold down the skin while you pull, and pull one at a time or you will rip the skin. I have some lovely feathers from his tail and I'm going to keep them for awhile (and hopefully think of something to do with them) as a souvenir. I have some more pin-feathers that didn't get removed so I'll have to do a quick candle or some more plucking once he's defrosted.

Now the part I had been dreading.

Actually first I had to run to the store to get gloves because I couldn't face this bare-handed, and relate to the feedstore ladies what had happened ("You sure are turning into a Country Girl QUICK!") before it was time. Evisceration. I had been eager enough to be the volunteer to cut open the fetal pig in grade 10 biology, but still this was not something I wanted to do. I have to say, once I started and was able to mentally get past what I was doing it wasn't bad.

I'm pleased to report Greg was a very healthy bird.

I'm not sure why he was feeling poorly Thursday morning, maybe it was Lenny, maybe because it was cold. He is skinny so that could have been it too. I want to remind everyone who purchases a grocery store turkey, there is no guarantee they were bouncing around before they were off-ed either. In fact Greg would have been in perfect acceptable condition at the processor, I don't think he was actually "sick" with any disease, all of his internal organs were in lovely condition.

He's a small bird, 8lbs or so.

Really in a very healthy state, nice lean carcass, which leads me to believe we really need to lock Christmas up with a bag of potato chips and the TV remote. Hopefully he will be making it to the processor.

I had to stick Greg in the freezer as fresh turkey is only good for a day or two before you cook it and we've still got a few to go. So after a very thorough rinse he got a nice cold ice bath then into the freezer.

The kids were great about the whole thing. I distracted them with cartoons while I dispatched Greg so they didn't watch. After only a few months they've really started to grasp the life and death of the animals on the farm. My 3 year old is full of questions as always "Turkeys miss (Greg)?", but is now very excited to eat the turkey.

I think we should all be excited, our first non-BBW turkey ever. The in-laws have been buying farm-fresh for a few years now and they are always delicious birds.

All in all, it wasn't the worst thing I've ever had to do. I'm glad that our holiday meal this year was raised with kindness and with the freedom to roam and eat bugs and grasses. Also that he meet a swift and humane end; and that he will serve his final purpose of gracing our table.

And, by the way, my in-laws will be joining us. So Greg the man will have a chance to sample Greg the turkey. 

Happy Turkey Day! 

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