Turkey Processing

As we move forward on our journey toward peace and self-sufficiency here at The Welcome Homestead we take on projects that we find out later we were not properly prepared for. Turkeys were something that fit this category nicely. To be more specific, the butchering of turkeys was what turned out to be the real challenge. It was not only the actual processing procedure but the size of the kitchen itself. Oh to have a large processing kitchen with lots of counter space, cutting, grinding and vacuum packaging ability on a large scale and refrigerators and freezers big enough to contain all Nature’s bounty. The turkeys this year greatly exceeded our weight estimations which is both good and bad. It’s good because we ended up with a lot more meat than anticipated but bad because it pointed out the lack of proper processing facilities.

The procedure starts off with “bagging” the birds with a feed bag by cutting a corner off the bag and slipping it over the body with the head sticking out of the bag, thus containing the wings from flapping wildly at the time of the kill. This worked out fine for the hens which were noticeably smaller than the toms but when it came time to process the first big guy the bag would not fit over the body. This left the unpleasant option of holding the large bird down by hand which turned out to be rather… unpleasant. With my neighbor’s help we were able to actually get the bags over the second two birds but it took the two of us and a bit of a struggle to do so. They are dispatched with a pellet pistol then hung upside down and the throat cut to bleed out then the head is removed prior to dipping in the hot water.

Water is heated up to about 150-160 degrees and the bird is dipped in this for a minute or so until the large feathers pull out easily. This is done primarily for ease of feather removal as it is a lot more difficult to dry pluck. A metal garbage can was purchased for this as the birds wouldn’t fit in the big pot that is used for the chickens. Again, this wasn’t too bad for the lighter hens but when it came to the toms it presented a real challenge. They butchered out to 41-44 pounds table weight so their live weight had to be upwards of 50-55 pounds. Lifting a bird that big into a garbage can full of hot water that was waist high was no picnic and I was sure glad to have my neighbor here to help with the second two. Lifting it out of the water was even more of a challenge because now it weighed a couple of pounds more with water in the feathers and was hot! The problem of lifting it up to hang for plucking was solved with the purchase of a small winch that is meant for the front of a boat trailer, just a small 1000lb hand crank winch that works great.

After plucking the bird is laid out on a table and the legs cut off at the knees. Then the crop is removed from the upper chest through the neck opening. The bird is then turned around, a cut is made around the tail and the anus, making sure to get the oil gland on top of the tail and the entrails are removed from the bottom end, hopefully without nicking the bowel or intestines. Everything usually comes out pretty clean with only the lungs needing to be scraped from the inside of the rib cage. The body cavity is rinsed out with cold water and the carcass is put into a container of cold water to cool down as quickly as possible.

Packaging was another unforeseen challenge. The vacuum packager that is used for the rabbits was entirely too small for the turkeys and it was difficult to find actual bags big enough for a whole bird. The hens had the wings, legs and neck removed and packaged separately and were actually packaged in the small vacuum packer. The body was put in it’s own bag. The big toms also had legs, wings and neck removed and the breast meat was either cut into steakettes or ground and frozen in individual bags. Turkey bags were ordered from Amazon which turned out to be too small so goose bags were ordered from the same company and proved big enough for the job. However, they were too big for the vacuum packer so a search was on and, thanks to YouTube, a solution was found using the household vacuum cleaner to suck the air out of the bags then they were twisted and sealed with a zip tie. This is a picture with one of the hens after it was vacuum packed.

Here is a picture of the first tom after processing.

The turkeys have been quite entertaining although not the brightest bulbs in the box. They usually hang about in a group and can be quite curious when they feel they’re not in danger. Once they got to be adults their peck could be quite painful if they got you on a sensitive area such as the back or the back of the leg. Their gobbling laughing sounds were hilarious and they would all break out in a chorus if a motorbike went by. Over all, they have been a great addition to the Homesteading journey and we look forward to getting more in the Spring.

Week in Review: Oct 25/15

As fall gets colder and Winter waits impatiently around the corner The Welcome Homestead is well into preparations for Winter’s arrival. The gardens were all cleared out this past week and all the plants were put into the compost bins. The final carrots and beets were pulled out of the ground, the sunflower stalks were dug out and piled on top of the compost bins for drying which will make it easier to cut into pieces for composting. This coming week the compost from the finished bins will be spread out on the gardens in preparation for the Spring planting.

Andre and the other remaining two chicks were put out into the coop this week so there are no more chicks in the basement. They were a little young to be introduced to the flock but there are quite a few younger birds out there and they seem to be doing ok so they should eventually be able to find their place in the flock and be fine. One hen was found dead in the nest box, cause of death unknown, but it happens from time to time so she is now resting comfortably in the compost which is the final resting place for anything organic here.

Three turkeys were processed here this week and the butcher weight greatly passed our expectations. The final processed weight of the three were 44, 41 and 44 pounds respectively. The legs on these turkeysauruses weighed about 5 lbs 10 oz and each breast weighed about eight pounds. Most of the meat on these big birds will be ground or cut into small steaks and frozen. There easily should be enough meat to last the rest of the year until next year’s turkeys are processed. The turkey project was very successful and we look forward to doing it all over again next year.

Egg production has fallen as anticipated but a little lower than expected. It has fallen quickly in the last couple of weeks from a high of around 19 a day at the beginning of August to an average of 12 a day currently. There were only nine eggs gathered on Thursday. Shorter days and lower temperatures will affect a laying hen as Nature determines it’s not very wise to hatch and raise a chick in the harsh effects of Winter. The lights in the chicken coop are currently being left on until about 9pm to give the chickens the illusion of longer daylight but whether they are buying it doesn’t seem likely in light of the drop in egg production. There has been an influx of young chicks into the flock so that might have something to do with it. We pretty much doubled the flock here at The Homestead this summer with nearly 20 chicks hatched between the laying hens and the incubator. It was a bonus when the eggs from the refrigerator hatched although only seven out of 36 hatched, which is to be expected. A few of the new chicks are roosters so they will be invited for dinner at some point which will reduce the flock a little. Currently they are eating like food will go out of style tomorrow so a reduction in mouths to feed will be a good thing.

We wish peace and prosperity to all and hope everyone has a good week!


Week in Review Oct 18/15

It wasn’t an overly exciting week at The Welcome Homestead but with Summer winding down and Autumn taking over there is a lot of work to do to prepare for winter’s coming wrath. There have been many conflicting forecasts for this winter due to an extra powerful El Niño and the forecasters seem to be at a loss as to which way the weather will go. Forecasts range from a long, cold, snowy winter to a short, warm winter as predicted within the last couple of days. The Homestead would, of course, prefer the latter which would make the Grumpy Truck Driver’s chores a lot easier but we would be prudent to prepare for the worst while hoping for the best.

Today the air conditioners were removed from the windows and the storm windows installed. The yard was cleaned up and water barrels emptied so the valves won’t freeze. The outside water tap was closed from the inside and the outside valve left open so the tap outside would not have water in it. Garden hoses will have to be blown out to make sure they’re clear and the gas cans filled so there is fuel for the snow blower.

Pidgey was put into the coop on Thursday, along with the seven chicks who were hatched from the refrigerated eggs and the chick that was found with it’s head caught between a nest box and the side of the coop who, happily, made a full recovery and seems fine. They have been having a terribly hard time of it since then which seems to be standard procedure when introducing new birds to an established flock. After a few days they will sort it all out and, aside from some constant pecking reminders, will have found their place in the coop. It’s called a pecking order for a reason! The first night some of the younger chicks had to be retrieved from under the coop and put inside but the last two nights all were inside by dark so that relieves the Grumpy Truck Driver from crawling about in the chicken poo under the coop. This leaves Andre and two other chicks in the basement for another couple of weeks until they’re a bit bigger and then it’s their turn to run the gauntlet as their initiation into the flock. Here’s Pidgey looking kind of forlorn on the INSIDE of the fence:

RATS! Yup, still catching them. Rat number seven was caught this week in the feed shed. This is the first year since moving here 11 years ago that rats have been part of the equation and that’s not a good thing. From all accounts they are difficult to completely eradicate so some more intense effort may have to be made to take care of the problem. Maybe a doggie would be part of some future plan.

The rabbits are not behaving like… well, rabbits. Lucille started off with back to back litters of 11 last Spring, then another litter of 11 of which only five survived due to her apparent negligence in the first couple of days then a few weeks ago she had a litter of three of which two survived, the runt only lasting a couple of days. Last week she was due for another, pulled fur and built a nest but no babies. Fingers crossed and hoping something will happen in the next few weeks or other plans may have to be made. There is still a black doe available but hasn’t been bred due to her having chewed up babies but, with the addition of the rats the possibility is that it was the rats that chewed the babies and not her. She may yet get another chance.

We wish everyone a safe and happy week and hope everyone can get out to watch the Fall colours explode in their fiery glory as Nature prepares the land for the sleep of Winter. The days get shorter as the shadows lengthen, gripping the countryside with their long dark fingers and the trees lay a colourful leafy blanket on the ground in preparation for Winter’s snowy comforter. The land will rest from a busy summer bringing forth Nature’s bounty and wake again in the Spring, refreshed and ready to give life to the land once again.


Week in Review: Oct 12/15

This Week in Review is late due to the amazing Thanksgiving turkey dinner last night which, by all accounts, was a raging success. It was described many times as the best turkey dinner we’ve ever had and it absolutely was delicious. The turkey was brined in salt water for 12 hours and the breast meat turned out to be very moist and tender. Turkeys are definitely in the plans again for next year! There are still six out back waiting to board the bus to Freezer Camp and will likely be done before the snow hits.

We passed the 1500 egg mark since keeping official records on July 10. Egg production is starting to vary wildly these days, from a peak of around 17-18 eggs a day back in July to anywhere from 10-16 eggs a day now in October, not unexpected with the shorter days and colder temperatures. There is one hen that went broody more than three weeks ago who still insists on sitting in an empty nest. She changes from one of two nests that are side by side, likely if there are eggs laid in that particular nest, but any eggs she happens to be sitting on are taken out from under her. It’s a bit late in the year to be hatching chicks out in the coop as they would still be very small when the snow and freezing temperatures hit. Hopefully her broodiness will break at some point or more drastic steps will have to be taken.

Rats are new to The Homestead this year, not the kind that are raised inside and make good pets but the wild ones that live outside and apparently have the feed shed under siege. This is not a good development as rats can carry disease and will eat baby rabbits and likely eggs and small chicks, not to mention the mess they’re making with the torn open feed bags. Rat traps are used here, exactly the same as the snap mouse traps but about three times the size. They also catch the odd unlucky chipmunk that happens to have the misfortune to wander into the shed. Chipmunks are generally welcome here but we can’t have them getting into the feed. There are plans in the future to secure all the feed in bins instead of the bags and maybe build a cage wire protection area for them so the traps may not be necessary but, for the time being, traps will have to be the way to go. At that point live traps may be used so there is a choice about which critters to release or destroy. It’s always a disappointment to see a chipmunk in the trap but quite satisfying when another rat is eliminated.

We had a large mountain ash tree fall on Wednesday, it fell over the north fence and into the field which, fortunately, already had the crop of soybeans harvested a couple of days before. It’s not the best wood in the world but it will be cut up and stacked and will make great wood for the fire pit out back next year.

All the animals are doing fine although the rabbits seem to be having difficulty breeding. Lucille built what looked like the beginnings of a nest, pulling some fur and digging out a hollow in the straw inside a nest box but no kits next. It’s quite puzzling because she started off with two litters of 11 back in the winter, followed by one of nine and then a litter of three of which only two survived. Hopefully she can get back into solid production soon.

Hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving!

Week in Review: Oct 4/15

Well, I suppose that since this is the very first Week in Review for The Homestead we’ll have to go back a bit. This was a pretty good summer for the chickens. There were about 19 chicks hatched in the coop of which four had to be raised in the house. In addition to that seven were hatched in the incubator from spare eggs that had been in the fridge far a couple of weeks. There were 36 eggs put in the incubator with the expectation that perhaps none would hatch but if some did the hatch rate would be very low. These were eggs that would have been scrambled and fed to the birds anyway so there was no loss if none hatched. Those that didn’t germinate at all would be scrambled and fed to the birds anyway and those that germinated but did not hatch would go in the compost.
Pidgey is starting to turn into a chicken. It’s looking more like it’s a hen so it will now be referred to as “she”.

We reached that 1000 egg mark on September 5 after starting to keep official track of them on July 10. The hens have been laying well this summer although the numbers have dropped off a bit lately which is to be expected with the shorter days and cooler temperatures.
The rabbits have tailed off production this year for some reason. Fred and Lucille started off running with back to back litters of 11, then one of 9 followed by one litter of three, one of which didn’t make it. Hopefully she has a litter pending. Fred turned seven years old in August and looking a little tired lately but is getting around fine and still siring litters.
The turkeys have done well and grown past expectation. The weights will have to be monitored closer next year as the hens have a processed weight of 24-28 lbs. The tom’s weight is anybody’s guess at the moment as none have been processed yet. The turkey flock this year ended up with four toms and eight hens. Luck of the draw.
This week was a bit of a down week with the discovery of a chick with wry neck. It was put on strict chick feed and vitamin E was put in it’s water but there was no improvement and the decision was made Saturday to put it down. Later on Saturday a chick was found with it’s head wedged in between a nestbox and the side of the coop. It was a sibling of the chick with wry neck and it was in rough shape, very little movement and weak peeps. It was brought inside and took a little water from an eye dropper but looked pretty bad with it’s head drooping down. It was more alert in the morning and ate a bit of food but seemed to have a bit of trouble getting it down. It’s possible there may be some neck damage but we’ll keep an eye on it. Currently it is standing, alert and somewhat feisty and resides with the chicks from the refrigerated eggs who are still in the basement and roughly the same age.
The compost bins have all been turned over this week and there are now three empty for the winter. At least two bins are needed to take the waste from the rabbits and chickens as the full bins freeze rock solid and can’t be turned. The final bin is full to the top with some beautiful black compost that will be spread on the garden once the garden is cleared out for the winter.
As for the garden itself, it was more or less a bust this year. The tomatoes got blight again this year and the corn wasn’t very sweet. The sunflowers grow far past expectation, reaching eight or nine feet tall. The heads are currently in the house drying and we’ll see what the final amount of seeds we get. Plans are in the works to plant a lot more sunflowers next year.
Well, onward and upward. Hope everyone has a good week coming up.