22 November 2010

Turkey Day 2 of 3: Processing the Birds

Saturday I helped Greenbranch with the slaughter and processing of their 157 turkeys. As I mentioned in my previous post, one of these birds will be going home with me and will be the centerpiece of Thanksgiving this year. One of my goals has been to 'meet my meat' and I am honored to have been able to help out and extremely satisfied to have learned so much.

The farmers eyeing the flock
I arrived at 8am and helped get everything set up. The process basically involved catching a bird and placing in a cone, killing and letting them bleed out, steeping in a scalder, placing in a de-feathering device, evisceration, soaking in cold water, and then bagging. I managed to participate in each of these steps throughout the day. Here are my experiences and thoughts with each.

Catching The Bird
In the begining with so many birds it was easy to catch them, but as the day went on they had more room to run. Or maybe we selected the slower birds and in the end had all the speed demons that had escaped capture thus far. Usually a lunge for a foot was enough to snag one. I eventually stopped this part of the process as I realized I am not quite as quick with my knee as it is. Anyway, this is a great workout.

A Spanish Black Turkey

A Narragansett Turkey
The Kill
Once caught, the birds would be placed upside down in metal cones. Their heads would stick out of the bottom where they would be killed with a knife and bleed into a bucket. I have participated in this part of the process before with chickens, so other than everything being bigger, the kill process is the same. There are many ways to cut the throat and the one I have found to be the quickest was the stick method. In the morning when we had fewer people I did most of the killing... I was titled The Executioner. It was in the morning that we did all of the heritage birds and they definitely felt different than their white cousins. Around noon we took a break, which I desparately needed. I was able to kill many without incident, but one of the last heritage birds got to me. I cannot really explain it, not sure if it was a moral dilemma or what, but I had to stop. In the afternoon and into the night there were more people so I was able to move on to other sections. At the end of the night I went back to this part and did both the killing and the foot holding.

Heritage birds in the cones

As the bird dies you had to hold the feet

Bled out
The Rest
Once the bird has been bled out, it then goes into the scalder for about 40 seconds. The feathers can mostly be pulled out by hand at this point, but there is a device that does it far quicker. After all the feathers are gone it is then eviscerated. It was this step that I was most curious to learn but at the same time most afraid to try. A part of cleaning the birds is to keep them presentable, and the last thing I wanted to do was mangle several of the birds as I learned. After a few examples, I feel I picked it up quickly. It was this process and the killing that I spent most of the day doing. The basic process involved cutting off the head and feet, cutting off the neck and an oil gland near the tail, and pulling out the guts, keeping the liver and heart. I feel that with each bird I got better and better and overall it was this part that I felt the most satisfation and walked away much more confident. I feel like I could gut a deer now with no problems. Once clean, the birds went into an ice bath before bagging and being weighed.

Feather Removal
After 10 hours at the farm I drove home both physically and mentally wiped, not to mention covered in blood. The dogs thought I was the best thing ever... like one big blood popcicle. As I mentioned above, I was extremely honored I got to help and definitely feel I could check off that I met my meat. It was an amazing experience and I will gladly help out next year if they need me. And I have to mention that as a way of saying thanks, each one of the helpers was given a bird. And where I stayed the entire day I was told that my heritage bird would be free! That was so awesome of them. So, as I say often, and will continue to say: go meet your farmers. Volunteering and helping out has its perks. It is events like this where farmers could use an extra hand and if you are lucky, you will walk away feeling closer to your food, learned a lot, and get some goodies. And, if you are especially lucky like me, you will make some amazing friends in the process. In addition to the bird, I took many of the heads and feet for dog food. When I bagged them all up to put in my chest freezer I calculated that it provides me with a month of food for both dogs. Combined with the venison I received recently, I will not have to buy food for the dogs in a long time. Needless to say, I went to bed and slept like a baby.

Taking a break after killing
One of the helpers caught red handed
For dog food and/or voodoo