Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Notes on Turkey Processing

 I remember being about eight or ten years old, on a camping and fishing trip with my family. My father, like any good and decent father, decided he was not going to raise a young lady who was incapable of gutting fish. And like any reasonable little girl, I reacted with hysterics.

It was a really bad day. I'm still not sure I've forgiven him.
Based on my past history, I suppose it's rather surprising that I now willingly take part in the butchering of animals at home.

Today was T-Day. Our turkeys, which we raised up from day-old poults, were starting to get too big to keep around. We raised a broad-breasted white tom and two broad-breasted bronze hens. (We'll get into the ethics of meat breeds some other day.)

I should warn you now that if you're a vegetarian, or if you're happier not knowing how your meat makes it to your table, you should stop here. Go find a blog about puppies or butterflies or something. You'll be much happier.

I think I'm going to divide this blog up into three parts, since I have discovered butchering turkeys in this fashion is a multi-faceted endeavor. (This means that you, the reader, get to read about dying turkeys for three days! I knew you'd be excited.)

Before we went out to take care of business, I found this blog by Braided Bower Farm and was immensely grateful that they had taken the time to write it. It's honest, to the point, and pretty well covers the whole process from beginning to end for the average home butchers. So if you're here looking for info on butchering a turkey, I encourage you to head that direction. The rest of this blog will be the notes I would add to it.

*We read the way Braided Bower Farm accomplished their killing, tried it, then improvised a bit. I think it's worth mentioning. We laced a rope through the rafters in the barn and hung a 5 gallon bucket from it. In the bottom of that five gallon bucket, hubby cut a turkey-head sized hole. Putting the turkey headfirst into the bucket, with the head coming out of the hole, worked something like an extra large killing cone, keeping the bird from flapping wildly as it bleeds out.

*Another five gallon bucket was placed beneath the bird-bucket to catch the blood. The amount of blood kind of surprised me. I was expecting a slow dribble. In reality, when the neck was slit, it sounded like someone turned a garden hose on in the bucket.

*Yes, sounded. I didn't watch. I'm a weenie. I held the rope keeping the bird suspended, but I closed my eyes for the actual slitting of the throat. I raised these birds from day-old poults! I felt kind of terrible. But only kind of.

*If you can find somewhere indoors to work, it's worth it. Yellow jackets in the fall are desperate for meat, which is what you are working with. Best not to risk being stung while you cut and slice with sharp knives. There are also flies, which are generally nasty. We used the shop. With the windows open. Because butchering anything doesn't smell very good.

*In the toolbox: a broad-bladed skinning knife, a narrow boning knife, and a sharpener; some needle nosed pliers and/or tweezers for removing bits of feathers; bandaids and triple-antibiotic ointment in case your husband slices his finger open (oops.); a bucket or other disposal method for guts, feathers, skin, and other bits that you won't be keeping to eat; a large trash bag to cover the table and keep clean-up simple.

*We didn't boil/scald the bird to pluck it. If you've ever plucked geese before, plucking turkeys is a breeze. With two of us working, it took less than half an hour to have the bird plucked clean.

*Determine whether it is really worth the effort to pluck. Obviously, if you want a roasted Thanksgiving turkey, you'll want the skin on. But if you'd just as soon bake a breast now and then, or cut up the thigh to use in soups or pot pies, skinning the bird might make more sense. We did both. It's also easier to find freezer space for pieces of a turkey than whole turkeys.

*I wrapped the meat first in plastic wrap, then in a double layer of freezer paper. I feel pretty confident this will work. For the whole bird, which weighed 20 pounds dressed out, I wrapped with about fourteen layers of plastic wrap, then a double layer of freezer paper. This was akin to wrapping a Christmas present with absolutely no rhyme or reason to its shape. It wasn't pretty. But it was well-wrapped, and will hopefully taste great on our Thanksgiving table.

*From the 40 pound tom, we ended up with 20 pounds of meat once he was dressed out and the meat removed from the carcass. The breasts weighed 6 pounds each. From the 25 pound hen, we ended up with about 12 pounds of meat. It's safe to assume that you'll end up eating about 50 percent of the bird's live weight.

*I saved the carcasses, necks, and wings from the cut-up birds to make broth.

*We also saved the feet for the dogs, who were thrilled with the treat.

I suppose that's about all I have to add for notes. Next to come will be processing meat with children around, and the ethics and morals behind it all. Stay tuned... you know you want to. ;o)

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