Growing and preparing turkey for Thanksgiving

This spring we decided to grow our food – not only in the way of plants, but animals.  Edible pets so to speak – as Novella Carpenter puts it.  We grew two turkeys which would be ready for the annual celebration of Thanksgiving this November 25th 2010 which also happens to be my husbands birthday. From April to November we have been blessed with 2 enormous, interesting birds on our little farm who will now provide nourishing food for our family and friends.

a day in the life of our turkeys

Why?  We have the room and we have the means and we feel it is best to teach our children where their food comes from while having a hand in helping to raise their food. We didn’t want to buy a plastic wrapped bird from the pile in the grocery store not knowing where it came from, how long it has been bagged or frozen and how it was raised.  Even most of the “free range” or “organic” birds are mass produced in factory farms and why not raise the birds on our family farm?  We have yet to “harvest” our chickens as they are valuable garden helpers and provide food without slaughter, but we are not exactly strangers to harvesting meat.  We harvest fish and shellfish in both fresh and salt water on an annual basis.   My first experience of seeing a large animal butchered was around 7 years old.  Our neighbors raised a calf to butcher and I had no idea that its fate would hang before me as dinner, not understanding that was where my hamburgers came from. The end of that cow’s life -his name was Jackson by the way,  left me slightly traumatized because no one explained the process to me, nor did I expect it to happen.  I was actually vegetarian for many years  – until my first pregnancy.. when some strange primal instinct made me crave meat to the point where I thought I would die, and I haven’t gone back.  I completely respect the conviction and lifestyle of choosing not to eat meat or animal by products – I’d say half the people I know and love are vegetarian, vegan or raw.  We love animals and they are a huge part our lives – I choose to eat meat, but want to know that the animal was treated with respect and didn’t suffer during their lives – our turkeys were treated life royal poultry.
Before the slaughter, I did my research and made sure that we’d do it in the most humane and quick way possible.  Blogs like this one, and videos like this were  and helpful and graphic in seeing the process before hand.  There are several homesteading blogs out there with stories of how they did it wrong and the animal suffered, which is awful.  We have a great guy, Fernando helping us who is the experienced son of a butcher and for that he will keep one of the birds. We wanted to learn how to do it a)correctly and b)as quick and humanely as possible, and hope to learn how to do it on our own for next year.  It went very quickly and the birds weren’t scared at all, which was important to me.
I am an emotional creature and always cry, happy or sad.  I have even been known to cry when evaluating a hazardous tree that must come down – as an arborist, I try to be as professional as possible but haven’t become insensitive and heartless with any life – woody or flesh.  We use plants and animals for many reasons and these turkeys were raised with the intention of being our food.  I am so grateful for them and what we learned – their lives were not in vain and they lived amazing lives for turkeys – always eating, frolicking in the pasture with other animals, or mating.  Yes – they were always busy getting it on!
Some things we learned are this:
  • Turkeys are beautiful and interesting animals – but don’t have nearly as much personality as other animals we keep on the farm.  The female was sweet and the male was… well, typical I guess for what you’d expect from a large male bird.  Many people were afraid of him.
  • Turkeys take just as much work as chickens but need more room (in the pasture) with bigger, stinkier manure
  • Turkeys are LOUD and their gobbles and singing could be heard way down the street.  Our neighbors actually grumbled about it last week.
  • There is no cost savings in raising turkeys compared to buying it from the grocery store – infact it costs much more, they were pretty expensive to feed.  Our estimate is they cost about $100-150 each to raise.
  • Butchering and dressing the turkeys was a lot of work.  It took four of us about 3 hours, but would have probably been easier if it wasn’t 20 degrees outside.
  • The male was THIRTY pounds – that is a lot of bird! We had to buy new cooking apparatus and it takes two people to handle. Next time – we will have a better diet plan and maybe monitor their weight.

    Our 30 lb turkey barely fits in the pan or the oven

I’m looking forward to the difference in taste – our bird was never frozen, we brined him overnight in an herb recipe and then into the oven to cook for nearly 6 hours at 325 degrees.  In the meantime we are preparing the rest of the meal with some food from our garden, and even some from a member of the urban farm co-op in Seattle – the mashed potatoes are being cooked with heirloom Ozark potatoes.

Happy Thanksgiving!