Six Months of Turkeys

My friends and I have raised two turkeys from chickhood. Now Thanksgiving is here.

  1. Update: 11/27/11: Thanksgiving has come and gone, but after all this, I'd be remiss not to tell you how our birds actually tasted. They were prepared in two very different ways: The across-the-street members of the turkey crew killed theirs (Stripes) about a week out, and let it rest, guts in and feathers on, in a cooler of ice. We killed our bird (Tires) just a few days before, plucked and eviscerated it, and then let it rest on ice. I'll cut to the chase and tell you that both birds were delicious--really complex flavors and tender, succulent texture. But they really tasted quite different from one another. Stripes was much gamier, and tasted much meatier to me. Tires was buttery and lighter.

    I didn't even get a picture of Stripes, since all the meat was gone about a minute after the neighbors brought him over (we had a really big crowd). But here's Tires right after we took him out of the oven:
  2. But as good as the birds tasted, the really was incredible part was to be able to share our birds with all our friends. I had so many interesting conversations--people came up to me and asked me what the birds were like. Some of them shared stories about wild turkeys they had seen up in the hills or out in the suburbs. Others told me about their own memories of raising (and slaughtering) animals. We got lots of questions, too: How were we feeling about the whole thing? Would we do it again next year?

    And I tried to answer honestly. I'm feeling thankful to have had this experience, and deeply moved by my birds' lives. And I'd do it again in a heartbeat.
  3. UPDATE 11/23/11: And that's a wrap. The turkey is in the bag. Literally. We'll keep it in a cooler of ice till we're ready to cook it. (We do Thanksgiving on Friday.) Cooking (and eating) pictures coming then.

    I read the poem "Green Fields" by W.S. Merwin right before the slaughter. Here are the first few lines:

    By this part of the century few are left who believe
         in the animals for they are not there in the carved parts
    of them served on plates and the pleas from the slatted trucks
         are sounds of shadows that possess no future
    there is still game for the pleasure of killing
         and there are pets for the children but the lives that followed
    courses of their own other than ours and older
         have been migrating before us

    Read the rest here.

    Meanwhile, the chickens don't quite know what to make of the whole scene. They're awfully quiet. Christoph told them, "See you guys? You better start laying!"
  4. The evisceration has happened. I'll spare you the photos of the organs, but it's really kind of amazing (and, well, unsettling) how similar turkey guts are to our guts. 
  5. Teamwork!
  6. The plucking has begun. This could take a while. Under the showy tail feathers are a layer of fluffy insulation feathers. Lots of them.

  7. "Maybe now I'll only eat meat that I kill," said Casey.

    "Yeah," said Ariel, "the problem with killing all your meat is that it is just so much work."

    I'll say.
  8. So far, this slaughter is much quieter than the last. No neighborhood kids. Just us turkey farmers. One of us held Tires upside down, and another cut her throat. We lowered her into the cone and watched as she bled out. Once she stopped twitching she spread her tail feathers.
  9. UPDATE 11/23/11: This morning we're going to slaughter turkey #2, Tires. I took this picture a few minutes ago. I'll be blogging as I go. Well, as much as I can, anyway. I'm told that before I got outside she tried to steal Christoph's cigarette. 
  10. We weren't planning to slaughter either of the birds this weekend. But this past Sunday afternoon, the across-the-street members of the turkey crew decided they wanted to try DeWolf's method (see last entry), which meant letting the meat rest as long as possible. So I took a deep breath, gathered up some treats for the turkeys, and let both birds out to run around the yard. We decided to slaughter Stripes, the smaller of the two turkeys:
  11. As I was feeding the birds some raisins, a neighborhood 7-year-old, whom I'll call John, wandered into the yard. He'd heard that the killing was imminent, and he had a lot of questions. "Did they ever bite you?" "Did you bleed?" "Is that why you're killing them?" We talked about the birds for a while and chased them around the yard.

    I guess word had gotten out around the neighborhood, because pretty soon a few more kids showed up. "When are you gonna do it?" Asked one kid on a scooter. "Oooh, don't let him bite me, I'm gonna get him!" squealed another, skittering away from Stripes, who had found some onion greens to nibble on. The kids' mix of fascination and nervousness about what was about to go down was palpable.

    And frankly, it was a little too chaotic for my taste. This was not the respectful and poignant scene I had imagined for the last few minutes of Stripes' life.
  12. But then, one little girl, about 12 I'd guess, shyly sidled up to me as I was trying to keep Stripes calm. I could live with this, I decided. Somber and ceremonial the mood was not. But there was something really touching about watching the kids take it all in. Morbid curiosity was part of the draw for sure. ("This is gonna be sick!") But there was something else, too.

    "Those feathers are pretty," said the girl. "What do they feel like?"

    "They're soft," I said. "You want to touch them?"

    So she gingerly reached out and patted Stripes. "They ARE soft."
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