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.