Another Thanksgiving holiday season is behind us and as I continue to reflect on my many thanks, a certain feathered figure sticks out in my mind – the turkey.
It started in March of this year when I put in an order for turkeys, 16 to be exact. I chose four breeds as I wanted to see a variety – these included Bourbon Reds, Royal Palms, Standard Bronze and Broad Breasted Bronze. At the time we lived in town but with the feasibility of living on some acreage more real in our minds than in practicality, it seemed that was sufficient enough for proper planning. Fast forward two months and by the grace of God we found ourselves a foot on 18 acres. The timing worked out very well as I had my order of 16 turkeys scheduled to arrive in late June.
Having raised chickens, I was fairly comfortable with the idea of raising turkeys but quiet honestly I didn’t know completely what to expect. What does a newly hatched turkey look like? How fast do they grow? I could have read a ton of books or asked around among the experts, but with the busyness of the season I didn’t take the time. I think more of it was that I wanted to experience the nuances of the journey first hand, unhindered or influenced by others perceptions and ideas. Really, as I think about it more, I wouldn’t change a thing about that approach.
As I watched the turkeys grow and learned some of their different personalities, it was fun to identity the “leaders” of the group. I know in a previous post I posted how I developed a cue of sorts with them through a unique whistle that let them know I was coming. For the size they would get to be, I was very surprised at how gentle the turkeys were to be around. While chickens are an iconic site to a farm, to see my turkeys walking around eating grass with the sun setting behind them offered a whole new level to the beauty of the summer and fall.
With Thanksgiving’s arrival, the time to harvest the Broadbreasted Bronze turkeys was upon us. All of my Broadbreasted bronze turkeys were females but they still offered what I expected to be sufficient table meals. My two largest tipped the scales at 20 pounds live weight. While these were a little underweight than what I was expecting (later reading the averages are around 20 pounds at 20 weeks – mine were 23 weeks), the weights certainly were within what I should have expected. Just weighing the turkeys was a funny chore in itself.
Putting the turkeys down was a….an…hmm….what is the word… organic or wholesome experience I guess is the way to put it. A quick cut to the jugular was given as I had my hand over their eyes and held the body tight. As I felt the last contractions of their pulse I placed them in a cone so the carcass could fully drain. When it came time for plucking one thing I learned was the high importance of correct water temperature for scalding. The first turkey we dipped was in water that was not nearly hot enough. We paid dearly as the plucking time was a duration I do not care to recall. The subsequent scaldings were done at a a correct temperature and the features literally came off in clumps at the touch of the hand.
We kept one turkey for ourselves and gave out a few more for others to enjoy. As I sat at the tables of the various meals we shared, fat and happy as a stuffed pig, I had a great, new found appreciation for the food in front of us. I remembered the many days my turkeys enjoyed out in the fresh air, scratching around in the grass and pasture, extending their wings, occasionally being chased by the ornery golden retriever, and responding to an affectionate whistle that signaled the daily meal.
During the weekend a friend stated, “I just don’t think I could eat something that I raised myself.” I immediately saw visuals of crowded turkey houses, turkeys that didn’t know what grass felt like or knew the warmth of the sun, turkeys crammed on trucks passing me on Interstate 35 and the mechanical processing that takes place. My question remains, “How can you possibly eat something that you didn’t raise yourself?”
I look forward to further self sufficiency and my family is making great strides towards it. This isn’t necessarily out of fear or absolute discontent but because we can and it suits us best. Was it work? Yes, and it never felt more rewarding. Of course, this process of enjoying the turkeys from hatch day to consumption took some planning. The first thing you need to do is order the turkeys. Here is to what was a happy Thanksgiving in 2014 and a to a new experienced Thanksgiving, through your personally raised turkeys, in 2015.