Tag Archives: butchering chickens and turkeys

Butchering days are over!

Three of the four turkeys I butchered yesterday.

Three of the four turkeys I butchered yesterday out and about on their final free range day. They were checking out the Christmas lights hubby had put on the barn.

Yesterday, with the help of my friend Clarence, I finished butchering the last of my turkeys. Clarence, who grew up on a farm and has continued to keep animals his whole 83 years of life, had never seen, let alone tried, a poultry plucker. When I told him about the one I’d borrowed, and what a great time I was having with it, he asked me to let him know the next time I was butchering so he could come over, lend a helping hand, and give it a whirl at the same time. Having learned so much from Clarence over the past couple of years, I was thrilled to be able to pass on some knowledge to him, for a change.

Before I lit the fire yesterday, I left him a message on his answering machine letting him know I was butchering today. I had just gotten the scalding water temperature up to where I wanted it, had hung and was cutting my first turkey, when Clarence appeared at my gate. “Don’t you just have the perfect timing!” I called out when I saw him, quickly finished the cuts on the turkey’s neck, rinsed my hands and, wiping them dry on my pants, made my way over to greet him.

Clarence never brings his truck into the yard but prefers to stop at my gate and walk in. He talks to all the critters on his way towards the house, calling out as he goes, ‘Hello goats, hey there duckies, how ya doing doggy,’ meeting and greeting his way up the driveway. There is often a chorus of replies: ‘mmm-baaaa, quack-quack-quack, gobble-gobble’. What is always absent is Tui the dog’s bark, which impresses Clarence to no end.  He takes this to show how intelligent she is. “You know my dear, she never barks at me,” he happily reports as if for the first time on nearly every one of his visits. “She knows me… you know… knows my voice.” He rounds out the thought with a final affirmative “Mm-hmm.”

Today, he had brought a big beef rib bone for Tui. He’d already given it to her when I’d spotted him, and she was happily trotting back down the driveway, head cocked to one side with the weight of the bone, balancing herself as she made her way back to her spot on the grass where she flopped down and started to work greedily. The bone must have been about twenty inches long. With the prize between her teeth and her paws, her Christmas had come early.

As I drew closer to him I was not greeted by the usual, ‘Hello my dear,’ but “Are your hands bloody?” Well, that’s not a question I’d ever thought I’d hear aimed at me, I thought, and stuck my freshly rinsed hands out for him to inspect. His eyes cast down searching for the answer instead of waiting for my reply. Then, clutching my hands in his and looking them over with care, he triumphantly declared, “Yep, they’re bloody,” pointing to a spot of blood on my ring finger that I’d missed. “OK, I’m satisfied,” he said, dropping my hands and continuing his march towards the barn where I had my butchering station set up.

Then, out of the corner of his eye, spotting something that he couldn’t ignore, he veered quickly off course towards the hung turkey: “Oh, my dear, you haven’t got him… her, cut well enough on the right.” Without pause, he took out his knife and expertly finished the job that I had rushed through in order to meet him a few moments before. I was surprised at how good his eyesight still is at his age, and impressed at how quickly he judged the situation and worked deftly to rectify it. One thing I’ve learned about Clarence is that he hates to see an animal suffer. While he is happy to teach these difficult skills, he’s also quick to finish the job if it is not done right soon enough.

For the rest of the day, we worked steadily together, taking turns at catching the turkeys and scalding them. He asked that I show him how to use the plucker with the first turkey. Suitably impressed and eager to try it out, he did the next one. “Wow, this sure works, my dear!” he called out over the whir of the plucker as he laid his first bird on the rubber spokes, his eyes widening in surprise as he watched the feathers fly off the bird. I looked over to see the result of his newly learned skill, and, in a momentary lapse of concentration–so excited about communicating his wonder at the job the plucker was doing–he nearly lost the bird to the grip of the plucker. “Wow, you see that?” he said, quickly turning to catch hold of the fluttering bird and recover his grip. As he regained his composure he laughed, “You ever drop one of these?” (For those of you who want the answer, click Poultry in motion.)

I let him do all the plucking today, as I could see he was interested in the machine. “Did anyone tell you that I’m taking you for lunch today?” he asked, one hand on the neck and the other on the feet of the turkey, the wet corpse sagging heavily between them still steaming from the scalding water, mist rising up around Clarence like a scene in a B horror movie.   “No,” I replied, looking over at him as the mist evaporated: ‘Elmer Fudd butchers his first turkey,’ I thought to myself.

It’s what I love about Clarence. He’s is such a character, he is almost a living caricature of himself: red and white quilted plaid jacket, buttoned down shirt, blue-jeans, Gortex hunting boots, completed by his green, Elmer Fudd hunting hat–replete with permanent cougar teeth marks from his attack 10 years ago. It’s his ‘Signature Collection’ line of clothing. You could take a photo of him today and, by digitally changing the background scenery, make it true for any season: here’s Clarence in the winter, here’s Clarence in the spring, here’s Clarence in the summer, and here’s Clarence in the fall. The only thing that would be altered to indicate the changing season is what he is wielding in his hands: in spring a seed catalogue, in summer a shovel or pitchfork, in fall a rifle, and in winter a snow-shovel. Yet Clarence’s simple taste is enchanting (the more so because he is unaware of it): underneath he is real, unassuming, and one of the most humble people I’ve ever met–not a pretentious bone in his body.

Having cut and plucked our way through the four turkeys, I ask him if he would mind if I added a couple of roosters. “No better time than now, my dear,” he hand-gestured to all the butchering paraphernalia about us. I’d been keeping the extra roosters partly because they are really pretty, but primarily because I like to let my hens (and thus my flock) ‘do their thing’ when the desire suits them to go broody (the technical term for motherly). For a lot of my time here at the farm, I have relied mostly on the hens to increase the numbers in my flock, supplemented occasionally by my feeble attempts at incubating eggs. It was only this past summer, after a miserable hatch rate (both mine and the hens’),  that I resorted to buying in some stock.

With the four turkeys done and on the table cooling, I looked at the roosters and began mentally weighing them. I want to cull out the smallest and keep the heaviest for breeding stock. I’m trying to develop my flock into good, all-purpose egg and meat birds–those who watch their figures get the knife around here. I spotted the two I thought were the smallest, caught them with my fishing net and brought them over to the hanging tree.

“Can you do this one, Clarence?” I asked, holding up one of the most beautiful roosters I have for him to see. “He’s just too pretty, I can’t do it.” I had been wanting to keep the reamining roosters: the Magnificent Seven I called them. I had grown quite fond of them and these two even had individual names. I still struggle with the ones that have names. Of course, once they were cut I was fine and did the rest of the processing, minus the plucker step, which Clarence was pretty thrilled with operating at this stage. I was also concerned that my knife wouldn’t do a quick enough job of the roosters. These ones in particular had glorious manes and, after doing in a bunch of turkeys that have no feathers on the neck, I knew my knife wasn’t sharp enough to get through all those feathers. I was relieved when Clarence obliged me.

Finally, as we were doing the final clean-up of the area, he touched my arm gently and said, “Awe, I’m glad you got all that work behind you.”  Throwing the last of the feathers on the fire he asked, “You ready to go for lunch now?” I rinsed the table-top and cutting board with soap and water, covered the blood up deep with sawdust, stacked the buckets and other items away in their place and carried the birds over to the garage. Clarence tipped out the scalding water and tidied up the fire and plucker mess. Once done, we headed into town for a hot lunch. It was a lot closer to dinner time than lunch by the time we were done, but it tasted good nonetheless! It is amazing how good a hot meal feels after a day out working in the cold weather, and I said so as I thanked Clarence for lunch.

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Notice: turkey plucking photos added to Poultry in motion

I’ve added a couple of new photos to the Poultry in motion post. They are of me using the turkey plucker if you are interested in seeing them, click here.

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Notice: More details added to turkey butchering post.

I’ve added some more photos and more detailed description about certain parts of the procedure that I thought were missing from yesterday’s post on butchering turkeys. These additions should be helpful to those ‘not in the know’.

Butchering Turkeys, a photo documentary

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Filed under Animal issues, Chickens, Food Security, How to..., Preserving the harvest, Turkeys

Butchering day: turkeys (graphic photo documentary)

Warning: If you are not seriously interested in learning about turkey butchering, seeing the process documented in photos, then I suggest you do not read or look any further.

Hot water ready for scalding birds.

Hot water ready for scalding birds.

I have, up until today, learned most of what I know about farming, animal husbandry, animal veterinary care, and butchering from a book. When you have been raised in the city, don’t have a farming background nor access to someone knowledgeable to teach you, this becomes the only way to learn.

My friend Clarence was butchering his turkeys today, and upon hearing his technique, my ears perked up and I asked him if I could help. Not only was it a chance for me to learn by doing, but also it was a chance for me to get behind the camera and document the process!

We had discussed the various ways of killing a turkey and when he asked me how I did it, I told him we cut the heads off. ‘That’s how we did it on the farm’ he told me. ‘I don’t do it that way anymore’. A long time ago, an old Jewish Rabbi taught Clarence how to butcher turkeys the kosher way. Since learning from the Rabbi, Clarence has never looked back. ‘You sever the jugular’ he said, gesturing to his neck  with a slicing motion, then telling me how this technique keeps the bird from flapping around, risking hurting itself and/or you in the merry dance. ‘They only flap a bit at the very end of their life this way’ he told me.

Until today, I had only read about this technique. This not only sounded like a much better way than I had been doing, but also it was the way that Joel Salatin described dispatching chickens and turkeys in his books. According to Salatin, it is the most humane and effective way to do it; the animals fall unconscious and die, but their heart works until the end to pump all the blood from the body and veins. Thus, the animal is clean for the rest of the proces; the part that makes it kosher I imagine.

I have been thinking about attempting the process of Salatin’s description since reading about it. However, I have previously had terrible experiences with attempting to slaughter animals by following a book’s description and had tried all sorts of ways to kill chickens. I found that there is technique involved in each form that simply does not get translated well, or I didn’t understand clearly. Finally, after putting several chickens through misery in my attempts to dispatch them ‘ethically’ and ‘bloodlessly’, I decided I would simply cut the heads off, and keep the suffering to a minimum. At least that way, I reasoned, they are dispatched quickly. It might not be very artful, but it was effective.

However, here was an opportunity to learn first-hand a better way under the guidance of someone well versed in the art; so I leaped at it.

Photo documentary: The slaughtering process (graphic photos included)

NOTE: this documentary and step by step will work for turkeys, chickens, and ducks (and their wild equivalents).

Step one: catch the bird by the legs and tie it up from its feet, high enough over the ground so its head is up off of it by about 6 inches (see fifth photo below). When catching the bird, grab it by one leg, then the other, being careful not to get hurt by the wings. Most turkeys are pretty benign once you get a hold of them by the feet, but you should be cautious during the process of catching them because their wings are powerful and the claws on their their feet are sharp.

Locating the jugular vein on either side of wind-pipe.

Locating the jugular vein on either side of wind-pipe.

Holding the head, cut the jugular veins on either side of the neck.

Holding the head, cut the jugular veins on either side of the neck.

Step two: grab the bird by the head and sever the jugular vein, do this on both sides of the neck. The jugular is on either side of the wind pipe which runs along the centre of the neck, below the beak. Be sure to cut deep enough to have the blood flowing fast, not a slow drip. You will know that you have cut the jugular when the blood-flow is strong. It may even spurt a little. Once the jugular is severed on both sides, step away from the bird, out of the reach of the wings. During the bird’s  ‘last gasp’ they will flap their wings several times and you don’t want to be in the way. You could be hurt, or they could break a wing.

Cutting into the jugular vein.

Cutting into the jugular vein.

A good steady flow of blood lets you know you've cut into the jugular vein correctly.

A good steady flow of blood lets you know you have cut into the jugular vein correctly.

Hung by his feet, cut and bled, and performing his 'last gasp' flapping.

Hung by his feet, cut and bled, this Tom is in the 'throws' of death.

Step three: place the bird in hot, nearly boiling water for about 10-15 seconds. Be certain the bird is dead. He will have his eyes closed and there will be no more movement from him. Carefully take him out of the half-hitch knot and place him in 180 F degree water, not boiling; you don’t want to scaled the skin or meat. Be sure to completely dunk his body for 15 or so seconds (Clarence says 10, but he counts slow!).

Dunking the Tom in hot water to make the feather plucking easier.

Dunking the Tom in hot water to make the feather plucking easier.

Step four: remove the feathers and the pin-feathers (re-dunk the bird if the feathers do not come off easily).

Let the plucking begin.

Let the plucking begin.

De-feathering, a close-up shot.

De-feathering, a close-up shot.

Step five: Remove the head and neck. To do this, you want to cut the skin around the neck and pull the beard back over the head. Then, find the aorta and windpipe, get your fingers under them. Then, cut into the chest wall, careful not to rupture the stomach and spill the content. Cut through the layers of skin, and then rip the fat with your hands, pulling it gently away from the stomach which will be located behind a wall of fat. Once you have located the stomach, pull gently on it and get it out of the chest cavity. Then hold  the aorta and wind-pipe and and cut them off as deep into the chest as you can get. Then, peel it all back over the head, turn the head gently to find the joint where it attaches to the neck and cut between the head and neck joint. This will sever the head without having to cut through bone.

Cut skin all the way around the neck, below the beard in case of a Tom.

Cut skin all the way around the neck, below the beard in case of a Tom.

Locating the wind-pipe and aorta.

Locating the wind-pipe and aorta.

Gently pull stomach away from chest wall and out towards head.

Gently pull stomach away from chest wall and out towards head.

Stomach, head and neck, ready for severing.

Stomach being pulled out of chest cavity.

Sever head (and stomach, wind-pipe, aorta) from the neck at the joint where the head meets the neck.

Sever head (and stomach, wind-pipe, aorta) from the neck at the joint where the head meets the neck.

Wind-pipe, aorta, stomach and neck off the bird.

Wind-pipe, aorta, stomach and neck off the bird.

Cutting off the neck.

Cutting off the neck.

Step six: Remove the lower legs. To do this, cut between the joint and sever the cartilage. This way, you don’t cut through any bone and the leg comes away easily.

Cut between the joint, through the cartiledge and sever the lower leg.

Cut between the joint, through the cartiledge and sever the lower leg.

Within minutes of his death, the Tom begins to look a lot like Thanksgiving dinner.

Step seven: remove the oil sac. At the base of the bird, just above the tail is the oil sac. It is under the skin. Cut the skin, and gently pull away the skin and the oil sac as you go.

At the base of the tail is the oil sac, remove this first.

At the base of the tail is the oil sac, remove this first.

Step eight: remove the anus, being careful not to cut through the colon. To do this, cut the skin on either side of and around the anus. At this point, Clarence tells me that it comes in handy not having his left thumb and index finger tip, ‘I can use it to remove the stomach contents and not worry about my nails rupturing the contents!’ Incidentally, he did not lose them to the butchering process, but to a dynamite mishap as a young child.

Cutting around the anus, careful not to sever the colon and spill its contents.

Cutting around the anus, careful not to sever the colon and spill its contents.

Anus and colon tube.

Anus removed and colon tube exposed.

Step nine: Remove the innards. To do this, reach into the cavity with your hand. Roll your hand to one side, detaching the innards from the chest wall. Repeat towards the other direction. You should then be able to feel the heart and lungs. Take hold of these and gently pull your hand out from the belly cavity, pulling the contents with you.

Carefully removing the innards from the turkey.

Carefully removing the innards from the turkey.

Step ten: Once the innards have been removed, carefully cut out the heart, liver, and gizzard. Slice the heart in half (butterfly) and rinse of blood. Cut the liver away from the gall, careful not to spill the gall bladder contents, rinse. Cut the gizzard away and then carefully butterfly the meat, being sure not to cut into the  crop and spill the contents, rinse. Put these items to one side with the neck. These pieces are kept for cooking and are cut up small and used to make the stuffing.

Carefully cut through meat surrounding the gizzard.

Carefully cut through meat surrounding the gizzard.

Behind the meat is the gizzard, a small pouch-like stomach full of grinding stones and undigested feed.

Behind the meat is the gizzard, a small pouch-like stomach full of grinding stones and undigested feed.

Carefully cut the liver away from the gall bladder, then rinse it clean.

Carefully cut the liver away from the gall bladder, then rinse it clean.

Neck in two pieces, liver between neck, heart, and gizzard.

Neck in two pieces, liver between neck, then heart, and gizzard.

Step ten: cool the bird. Place the bird in cool water to chill the meat completely and give it a final rinsing.

The final dunk, cooling the meat.

The final dunk, cooling the meat.

Finally, you have your turkey ready for the table or the freezer!

Three Tom turkeys now ready for the table.

Three Tom turkeys now ready for the table.

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Filed under Animal issues, Chickens, Ducks, Educational, Ethical farming, How to..., personal food sovereignty, Turkeys