The Turkey Harvest

The Turkey Harvest

I spent a lot of time outside with all the animals on the property on Saturday.

I walked, I sat, I took pictures, I prayed, I thanked them all for the various roles they play in our lives.

I sat with Tom the Turkey for a very long time as he rested his overgrown and tired body. He let me sit close, take pictures, and chat him up about my gratitude for his being, his gorgeousness, and his sacrifice for our family.

I talked to E about how the turkeys would be gone the next day, how we wouldn’t have them anymore, and while I’m sure she didn’t understand fully, she thoroughly enjoyed her last day with them.

She did some walking, sitting, and chatting of her own.

(I did’t use the word “kill” with her, both for her innocence and my necessity.)

I put them all to bed as the sun set and said “Goodnight Turkey Lurkies” for the last time and I was so sad.

Sunday started as any Sunday would.

We got up, let out the animals, got ready, had some breakfast.

We got a text from 1/3 of our Cull Team reporting a stomach bug and announcing their absence from the day.

Bummer for them and us as the sickest was to have helped watch E inside the house while we took care of business outside. So, Kim and I decided we would just tag-team her throughout the day.

Because 1/3 of our team would be missing, the other 1/3 picked up their supplies and headed out a bit later than anticipated, making our (foolish) goal of being done by lunch time disappear into thin air.

This would be an all day affair.

And so when our team arrived, it was almost lunch time, so we started with food (frito pies!) and made a game plan for the afternoon.

Alex would take the main role, catching, culling, and gutting the turkeys.

Becky, Kim, and I would play support, pluck, help gut, etc. as needed and instructed.

The tables, buckets, plucker, hoses, and knives and were set up.

We had water heating up inside in stock pots to bring outside for each plunge.

We had beers in the cooler for when the edge needed to be taken off.

And so it began.

Each turkey was done one at a time with a moment taken before to ground, to thank, to say a silent prayer.

I did my best to hold the space and keep the energy of the day, of us, and of each turkey as calm as possible.

Everything went amazingly smoothly.

E even took a nap right as things got a little intense which allowed us to put the baby monitor on and not worry about her for a couple of straight hours. Magic.

We did Tom last.

Because of his size, we needed a plan.

I’d told Alex he was massive, but he hadn’t seen him for himself in a couple of months, so he didn’t really believe me.

But he was massive and there was no way he’d fit in the cone the others had been done in.

So we decided to hang him by his feet from a tree and wrap a towel around to help control his trashing.

And so it took three of us to get him up there and get him ready.

I stood next to him, closed my eyes, thanked him one last time, and listened for the cut.

I’d like to tell you that the towel stayed on him, but he was stronger than we were.

I won’t go into details, but this was the cull that got blood on everyone’s hands.

You just can’t put a turkey down that’s as large as he was without a bit of a commotion and while Alex’s cut was perfect, that tom’s strength was immense.

It took a few minutes for him to drain out, with all of us standing in awe of him even after his body had settled. His size, his strength, his beauty, his gift…all phenomenal.

Broad Breasted Bronze Tom

Once all of the turkeys were culled, we dressed them all out, weighed them, divvied them up, and put them in bags and on ice to rest before The Big Day or before heading off to Freezer Camp.

We originally thought Tom would be on our Thanksgiving table, but decided he was too massive for the eight of us, so Alex pieced him out instead. It turns out he will feed us for many meals in the months to come, which seems fitting, and I’ve already made 14 quarts of stock just from his carcass alone.

Truly amazing.

We cleaned everything up and packed it all away just as the sun was setting.

Then, we all went inside, cracked open some beers, chatted about the day, the process, farming in general, and ate a bit of turkey.  Just a taste, sauteed up with a bit of butter and a few spices.

It was divine.

And so it was done.

I don’t think there is any going back from this.  Our steady progression from subtle awareness about the challenges with our food systems to slowly producing more and more of our own food while doing our best to make conscious choices about where the food we eat comes from, who raised it, and how it was raised to raising our first turkeys intentionally from chick to table…I don’t think I’ll ever be able to eat any kind of meat again without really thinking about the life it lived, how it died, and how it came to be on my table.

We have a long way to go on this journey of ours to being more self-sufficient, but the journey has just taken on a whole new level of intention and understanding.

I love Thanksgiving.  It’s always been my favorite holiday with all of it’s glorious food and a perfect excuse to get everyone around the table to share in the bounty and silently count our blessings. But this year holds a whole new level of gratitude and awareness and I am,  really and truly, so grateful to be on this journey with such a phenomenal team (friends and family) beside me.

 

 

:::

 

Below are the final weights (after dressing/ready for the oven) and a couple of galleries of pictures taken the day before the cull, during the cull, and after.  If you’re squeamish, and don’t want to see any part of the cull process don’t look at the second gallery. You’ve been warned.

Final Weights

Broad Breasted Bronze Turkeys:

  • 21 pounds (hen)
  • 22.5 pounds (hen)
  • 26 pounds (hen)
  • 44 pounds (Tom) Yes, you read that correctly. He was massive.

Bourbon Red Turkeys:

  • 8 pounds (hen)
  • 11 pounds (tom)
  • 14.5 pounds (tom)
  • 14.5 pounds (tom)
  • 15.75 pounds (tom)

Total weight: 177.25 pounds

Warning…

Big thanks to Alex and Becky for all of their help with this process!  Becky took most of the cull process pictures with her phone 🙂

 

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Written by Melissa @ Ever Growing Farm

4 Comments

  1. Nooce Miller

    This is an amazing post, start to finish. I talk a good game about wanting to have a farm and my grandparents were farmers, and bla bla bla, and I must face the fact that I’m really full of it. The process obviously is taxing physically and emotionally, but the result is something you can feel good about because you are providing the very best food for your family that you can.

    I know my grandmother did this all her life, every week (Sunday chicken dinner). When I was very small and visiting for weekends, she was still doing this all by herself, one or two birds at a time. But she never did it in front of us since we were suburban children. When I was eight or so, they sold the farm and moved to a smaller house and raising livestock was over with, and all their knowledge died with them years ago.

    It’s interesting to consider that only a few short generations ago, this was normal American life for the majority of people. Kudos to you for trying (and accomplishing) a different, healthier lifestyle for your family.
    Nooce Miller recently posted…December, the Busiest Month: Weekend Coffee ShareMy Profile

    1. Melissa @ Ever Growing Farm

      Thank you so much for your kind words, Nooce. It really is amazing how times have changed and how our connection to our food sources has virtually been erased. I don’t, unfortunately, have a history of farmers in my family, nor does Kim (not as far back as anyone could remember, at least), so we’re kind of flying by the seat of our pants and learning as we go. It’s quite the ride, but am really grateful for it, all that it’s teaching me about our food, our environment, and (really and truly) about myself <3

  2. Jessie

    We have raised turkeys and chickens for ourselves and to sell. People often want to know how we raise them. I like to say that we raise animals that had a good happy life, all the way to the bitter end. That to me is more important than any other label they can have. I think your turkeys and anything else you may choose to raise up will have the same. Nice work! 🙂
    Jessie recently posted…A Tiny Pepper Win!My Profile

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