We like to raise a few turkeys every year; it’s one of our standard go-to meats for dinner use (along with chicken and beef [and eggs, if you count those] – we do very little fish, and even less pork).
Last year we ordered six, and in early June we enjoyed the first sunny/warm day.. It happened to be a sunday when we all spent the first part of the day at church. In a tragic set of circumstances, the weeks-old turkeys didn’t survive. Either they got too warm in their greenhouse-like space and drank all their water (and no one was there to cool things off), or they overturned their water after we left. I was heartbroken. There is something so, so terrible about being the caretaker of something alive and having it suffer and die through your negligence. It was late enough in the season that the local-ish hatchery wasn’t taking any more orders, and even if they had cancellations (unlikely) they wouldn’t ship fewer than 15. The same was true for the bigger hatcheries that operate all summer, and there was no way we could pay the price for 15 turkey poults ($5-6 ea.) plus overnight shipping. So we went without turkey for a year.
This year our six survived and did well – part-time ranging in the backyard, then cooped up when they started loitering on my porch (I moved their pen occasionally even after that). Of our six, four were toms and 2 were hens. The kids named them Ruth, Esther, Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus and Numbers, though I’m not sure they could really tell them apart aside from narrowing down their gender.
We processed them Saturday. We didn’t have a killing cone anywhere near big enough, so we had to tie their feet and hand them from a pole like we used to. Even then, their feet were much too big for Hubby’s first loop-setup. 🙂 The 1hp motor on the chicken plucker did okay (with help) for the hens, but wasn’t much good for the bigger toms.
Without kill cones to hold their wings in, we suffered a busted-out wing when one flapped wildly. Hubby tried to tie their wings down – wrapping the poor bird in rope, but even that is no match for a discharging nervous system, apparently. Finally I got the kitchen shears and clipped their wings (as you would for a chicken who won’t stay put, but on both sides) and that removed enough square-footage of wind displacement to ease the stress on their wings and joints. That’s definitely what we’ll do in the future as well.
We weighed the biggest tom (though all seemed fairly close in size) at about 30 lbs. Oops. Should’ve listened to Hubby and done this earlier. 🙂 I weighed the entire harvest on my bathroom scale at about 115 lbs, though that seems small compared to what Hubby’s fish scale told us about the tom. Not sure if one of them is off or not.
We kept the smaller hens whole, for Thanksgiving and/or Christmas dinners, and cut up the toms for easier meal use. A gallon ziploc could hold one hindquarter (one leg/thigh), two wings or half a breast. I also bagged what was left – the backs/bones – for soup and such.
We did not keep careful track of costs with these birds. Suffice it to say, in our experience, they’ve been fairly spendy. The poults are several times the price of a chick, and they require higher-protein feed (“game bird feed”) which costs more. They’re not organic (I used conventional feed) but did have the advantages of being on grass/pasture. I’m not sure where that would fall in the continuum, but I’ve seen pastured turkeys sold in Gigi’s city (from small farms) for about $60-$80 apiece. These do NOT cost that much to produce, but neither are they the 50¢/lb you can find at Thanksgiving. To be honest, we had beef roast last year, because I can NOT figure out what they’re doing to get a bird that cheap. It’s certainly subsidized, and maybe that accounts for most of it (which I disagree with anyway), but I just don’t trust it.
Here is one of the toms, towards the end of working on him. 🙂 He needs a few little feathers plucked out, and to be hosed off and out, then chilled (in ice water) before cut & bagged. The scissors were supposed to offer scale, but they just look a mess.
We’re very excited to have turkey in the freezer once again! I have a hindquarter crammed into my big oval crockpot, and some organic potatoes (another seasonal treat for us) I might bake up. I am *finally* starting to cook a little more often; perhaps it is the cooler weather.