Sunday, November 20, 2011

Getting the Turkey to the Table

Hello there gang, drop on down and let`s shoot the breeze!

Today Mister and I got our Thanksgiving turkeys done. It`s been a few years since we dressed a meat turkey but it`s kind of like riding a bike as they say. Since it`s that time of year and folks seem to be interested in home butchering more and more, I thought I would share with y`all how we did our bird for the big day this Thursday. We started out with two, one white and one bronze broad-breasted tom.

Mister has decided to keep two bronze hens and one tom for breeding. We`ll see how that goes since the only way these broad-breasted turkeys successfully reproduce is with human help. Due to humans breeding for huge breasts, the toms are now too large to allow them to copulate with the hens well. Mister and I are still going around about helping the turkeys. I won`t go into vivid detail, but I can think of better ways to spend my time then pleasuring a tom turkey, if you get my drift.

Anydoodles, the sex lives of our turkeys aside; this is a squiky post, so anyone who has a sensitive tummy about the butchering process may not wish to read any further. It`s also a pretty image heavy post but hopefully it will be informative.

Okay, onward we`ll go with how we yodeling goatherders butcher and dress a meat turkey. Let me apologize for the photo quality now. Some of the images are a tad blurry. I did ask Santa for a new camera this year, so we`ll see if I’ve been good enough!

First off, these are the butchering tools we used –

-A good sharpening stone for the knives, a lung scraper and a propane torch. Make sure your knives are as sharp as you can get them. The lung scraper is a handy gizmo that we bought for chickens but rarely use for turkeys, who have larger chest cavities, but they`re a nice little thing to have on hand. The torch is for singeing the hairs after plucking.

Also, we have this book (One of many on raising and butchering livestock) on our homesteading bookshelf.

It`s a very comprehensive book and one I recommend to anyone thinking of raising turkeys. The author`s name is Leonard S. Mercia, in case you can`t read his name well. As you can see, ours is pretty dog-eared from lots of use over the years.

The night before you butcher any bird, it`s recommended that you remove their feed. This will help make sure the bird’s crop is empty. I`ll not show the beheading process, that`s even a tad too ugly for me. We don`t use a chopping block for meat turkeys like we do for chickens. We`ve found over the years that too much damage is done when we use a block and axe. Plus, the meat turkeys are so large I can`t handle them while Mister chops.

How we begin things is by gathering the bird, arms around their wings please because they will flog you into a coma if a wing gets loose, and then hang them by their feet upside-down on our swing-set. Now it`s time for that very sharp knife. Mister quickly and cleanly cuts their heads off. Then we allow them to hang for a bit to bleed out and stop flapping. This system works well for us. The birds don`t do any damage to themselves in terms of bruising of the meat or possible broken wings from flopping around on the ground.

While the turkey is hanging we`re busy with getting things situated for scalding. This is our set-up -

-A twenty-five gallon galvanized trash can atop a propane turkey fryer base. The water has to be at 140 degrees. You don`t want a boil. We place a thermometer in the water and when it`s at temperature we then remove the turkey from its foot-holds and dunk.

You really want to work the bird up and down well in the scald water for thirty seconds. Make sure you get the legs and tail well immersed. If you go longer than thirty seconds you`ll begin to cook the skin. After the scald we begin plucking and picking! Ye-Haw!

The best suggestion I can give folks is to take your time with plucking. Don`t grab too big of a handful of feathers or you might rip the skin, which is what I did here on the bronze bird I was working on. Oops!

I have the most trouble with wing feathers which can be quite stubborn. Those I have to sometimes use pliers to remove one by one. Most generally we can get a bird pretty cleanly plucked in fifteen minutes.

Okay, so we`ll move along and now the turkey is feather-free.

We then singe the bird lightly, to remove hair-like feathers.

Don`t apply the torch to the carcass or the skin will get scorched. Once the singeing is complete we move onto cleaning the bird out. Mister removes the feet at the knee joint while they`re still hanging, so he doesn`t have to fight with the ropes. If you have really large bird, you may wish to get some help getting the turkey down from the ropes. Then he cuts out the oil gland found on the tail of the bird and tosses it into the scrap pile. Mister slits the skin on the back of the neck then cuts the neck off and places it aside for giblets.

Then he reaches into the cavity and removes the crop, which hopefully is empty. He carefully cuts below the crop to remove it and into the scrap pile it goes.

Then we flip the bird around and start at the rear. This is the vent (Anus) of the turkey.

Mister carefully cuts around the vent to loosen it, ties it closed to ensure no fecal matter escapes and then makes an incision about two inches above the vent.

With one hand he reaches inside and pushes the organs up and out of the cut above the vent.

Be careful while cutting not to slice the intestines. Then he lifts the viscera up and out of the slice and disposes of what he does not want to keep. I`m no fan of giblets but my husband is, so he always keeps the heart, liver, neck and gizzard. The gizzard is kind of tricky to cut, take care not to cut into the inner sac or lining of the gizzard.

This is the gizzard and how Mister begins his slice.

The gizzard contains grit that the bird picks up to grind up their food.

Turkeys do not have teeth, although, rumor has it that hens do but they are very rare. Sorry, I couldn`t resist. *Giggles like a loon*

After the bird is dressed out we then wash it thoroughly with cold water from a hose. Sometimes we truss them and sometimes we don`t. After we wash the carcass as well as we can, we then double bag it and place it in the fridge. I bought clear, unscented thirteen gallon trash bags but you can order specially made freezer bags online that work really well, but are pretty costly.

Also, the giblets are washed and bagged for someone (Not me) to eat.

Place the bird into the refrigerator as quickly as possible to get that body temperature as low as you can as fast as you can. Then you can freeze it, if you wish. We`re not freezing ours for Thanksgiving, but are simply refrigerating it until Thursday since we prefer them unfrozen if possible.

And there you have it! The Yodeling Goatherder way to have a farm-raised, free-range turkey for your Thanksgiving platter! The two toms we butchered today weighed in at thirty-five pounds for the white and forty for the bronze! I`m roasting the bronze for Thanksgiving and am seriously wondering if it will fit into the roasting bags I bought.

I foresee many hot turkey sandwiches and pots of turkey soup on the menu for a week or so after Thanksgiving!


Charlotte said...

Looking at your pictures, I found that I could smell the process. About 3 years ago when I first got chickens, my dear husband said I should buy some turkeys to raise too. I didn't, because I grew up killing chickens and turkeys for dinner. Then last spring I asked him if he was still interested in raising one for Thanksgiving; for some reason he has changed his mind. I'm glad, but I know homegrown is by far the best.

phylliso said...

I can vaguely remember having done this before,but now we let it to the farmers who do it best,looks like a good turkey,happy Thanksgiving to you & your family,& may I say too,wow,that is a big bear your hubby got with a bow too!phyllis

Willard said...

As is often the case, your post brings back a lot of memories. We used to do this a lot back on the farm, but I haven't did this in years or thought about it. About the only thing we did differently is that they singed them either over an open fire or over a gas cooking range.

Carol............. said...

Lots of work but so worth it when it comes to the taste buds.

As far as the bear goes I'm envious...especially if you turn the meat into summer's the best!

Happy Thanksgiving!

V.L. Locey said...

It was a lot of work, but I`m sure all worth it when we sit down to eat this afternoon.

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