Tuesday, November 20, 2012

So It Goes

Defiance was caught last night, and set into a dog crate in the barn for his last night on the farm. He was easy to catch. I just walked up to the metal pasture gate he was roosting on and grabbed his legs. My hand slipped, and I held onto the tail for a second before both of his feet were in my tight grip. Twelves hours is the standard time a bird should go without food before slaughter. In the barn crate he would be safe from eating, have plenty of fresh water, and be easy to catch in the morning.

When I got back from hunting over at Patty's farm this morning (no luck, but I did get to shoot at a doe who leaped away unharmed) it was time to get the big job of the day over with. I was not looking forward to it, either. The turkey had grown on me, become a character here and a comfortable presence. Last night I actually lay awake thinking about it, dreading it. I don't care for killing animals, not at all. I do it because I feel this turkey lived a life here most turkeys can only dream of, and him and a large Freedom Ranger from my farm would feed nine to eleven people come Thursday. As much as I hate the death, blood, thrashing and dressing - it comes no where near to how wonderful it feels providing clean, healthy meat for friends and family. The horror of death is short, moments really. But the memories of this holiday will exhale a heavy nostalgia, and bring the kind of flavors and goodness few tables will be able to claim. That is what I was thinking as I brought the knife to his throat. I said a serious prayer of thanks, and slit it open.

He died quickly, faster than any chicken. He was hanging upside down in the barn doorway, the closest thing I have to an abattoir. He bled fast. I cut well and managed to hit an artery without removing the head. The heart pumped out all the blood into a bucket below. The pigs watched in awe. It must have been like porcine fireworks. When he was gone from the world I cut him down and carried him over to the wood chopping area for plucking.

Plucking was a mighty job. It took well over an hour. I did it game style, the body still warm and no dunking in hot water. I didn't have a container of water big enough to dunk him into. It was quiet work, my hands learning every inch of the bird. I guessed he was around 15 pounds. Not bad for a yard bird.

Soon his head, feet, and insides were removed. He had a healthy heart and liver and I managed to not break any intestines or the gall bladder in my work. (This was a skill that took some serious practice over the years.) An hour after his life was ended he was wrapped in plastic and in the fridge. Two days at rest in cool, non-freezing, cold space would be the perfect amount of time for the meat to rest.

I felt sad, proud, and quiet but not in any way regretful. Defiance was here to do a job, and today he did it. Many people will get to enjoy him for several days and I'm happy for that. Farm life is like this, complicated and messy, but in the end: beautiful. Here's to luck on the hunt, and may Venison share my freezer with leftover turkey legs soon!

33 Comments:

Blogger Oxray Farm said...

Good job Jenna! A fine bird in life and a fine bird on the table. *cheers* to your well deserved Thanksgiving feast!!

November 20, 2012 at 11:58 AM  
Blogger Karen Talamantez said...

Good turkey. Thanks for the memories.

November 20, 2012 at 12:01 PM  
Blogger Alison said...

He got a day longer than our T-Day bird. We'll pick ours up today and find out what name Carl comes up with this year. It's a silly tradition I started with him, but it helps me focus on the truth behind the meal.

November 20, 2012 at 12:06 PM  
Blogger JD Lynn said...

Victory over de-feet! *grins* (bad pun, I know, but...)

Did you have a hard time catching him?

November 20, 2012 at 12:12 PM  
OpenID roseandphoenix said...

Thanks for sharing this. Also, for explaining that it does take an hour to pluck a bird -- I didn't know that. Do you use any tools, like tweezers? Do you think it makes a difference in ease dunking vs not?

November 20, 2012 at 12:28 PM  
Blogger Sandy said...

i'll bet all of the other animals in the barn yard were thinking, "damn, wonder what he did to piss her off?!" i am afraid that you dressing a deer just may push them over the edge =o)

November 20, 2012 at 12:29 PM  
Blogger PansWife said...

You know you're doing it right when you don't enjoy the slaughter. I often see people tossing packages of meat into their grocery carts and think they should know the whole process and not act like they are plucking apples from a tree. You earned the ultimate dinner of giving thanks and you can be proud of it.

November 20, 2012 at 12:29 PM  
Blogger greendria said...

I can totally relate to your night-before dread. I had the same reaction to killing my rooster. I was nervous and unsettled about it up until the moment when all life finally left his body. Then I was much more relaxed, and thankful as you were. He lived a good life compared to most of his counterparts. It was a sad chore, but necessary.

November 20, 2012 at 1:02 PM  
Blogger Melanie J. said...

I'll reread this one several times over the next couple of days. I wasn't able to manage a non-factory-farmed bird this year, and I intend to be present in my food preparation this Thanksgiving. I pray it's my last time letting money or convenience dictate my holiday bounty. Thanks for sharing :)

November 20, 2012 at 1:16 PM  
Blogger betsyohs said...

@roseandphoenix - I processed some turkeys yesterday with a couple of friends. We started plucking the first one without scalding because the water wasn't hot enough, and it took *forever*, and some of the feathers wouldn't come out, even with pliers. Then the water finally got hot enough, and two people could pluck a 13-pound bird in about 10 minutes. We used pliers for the big tail and wing feathers and then the blunt edge of a butter knife to scrape off some of the hard bits that got left behind. Tweezers might have helped, but we didn't use them.

November 20, 2012 at 1:59 PM  
Blogger Diana said...

I also can relate, having just got my first lamb slaughtered. I think my parents think I'm heartless....but he had a great life. I have no regrets.
Happy Thanksgiving!

November 20, 2012 at 2:31 PM  
Blogger farmwifetwo said...

They're currently in the barnyard coralling one of the yearlings. From there to the trailer to the butcher's. We sold one to an employee and his family.

We hope they enjoy it. Farm animals are not pets.

Hope you enjoy your turkey.

November 20, 2012 at 3:06 PM  
Blogger Michelle said...

Alas that what's right is so often difficult. You did right by him, Jenna. May your meal be its own reward!

November 20, 2012 at 3:35 PM  
Blogger Kelpie and Collie said...

Typically, you should put the bird into cold water before you put it in plastic and the fridge...

November 20, 2012 at 3:41 PM  
Blogger Rosie said...

Good job Jen! I know how you feel having killed and dressed birds on my own. I look forward to the time soon when I will be set up to raise chickens and turkeys and provide good safe meat for the ranch and neighbors. Have to get a predator proof area and that is a challenge here on the ranch.

My brother built me a Whizbang chicken plucker and I brought it all the way cross country when I moved here. Plucks a bird in 15-30 seconds.

November 20, 2012 at 3:46 PM  
Blogger Nicola Cunha said...

Way to go! We got two Tanworth pigs 3 weeks ago and not a day has gone by that I don't think about how this will end. They are happy. Nothing like what I know happens on a commercial farm. We're proud of that. Again, way to go.

November 20, 2012 at 4:35 PM  
Blogger Alison said...

I didn't see the words before, just the picture. Every meat-eater should read posts like this. I, too, am glad to know you disliked the task.

Have the pigs been nervous around you since then? ;-)

November 20, 2012 at 4:48 PM  
Blogger Katey and Dave said...

The day it becomes easy to take a life is the day to stop doing it. Cheers to you for doing it the right way.

November 20, 2012 at 4:57 PM  
Blogger Cathy said...

Sandy, you crack me up! All I can think of is that scene from Babe with the duck running around yelling. Jenna, you should be damn proud of yourself. You know and can tell exactly how that turkey lived, how he died and was processed. Not many people can say that. I can't wait for the day when I can. Happy Thanksgiving!

November 20, 2012 at 6:13 PM  
Blogger rabbit said...

He was a good turkey for a turkey, and will serve many happy thankful people. He will fulfill his destiny. I have one of his feathers (and a blue Kay feather) thrashed together with green baling twine found in the dirt of CAF, in my car's glove box; maybe not for luck, but for life. This year Riley and I are attending a 'Merican thanksgiving/belated Guy Fawkes day this Saturday night with our mishmash of nationality type people's.... It's potluck as it should be and will be filled with very thankful souls. We figured it's fitting since we spent our (read: Canadian) thanksgiving at Cold Antler. Enjoy and have a wonderful dinner!

November 20, 2012 at 6:40 PM  
Blogger Kelly said...

I have my husband do the deed and then I pluck and gut. It seems like once they are dead you can seperate yourself. I think the first one we killed I cried through the whole process. You are a very strong woman, you do so much on your own. You should be so proud of your accomplishments! Enjoy your Thanksgiving and I hope you get your deer ☺

November 20, 2012 at 6:57 PM  
Blogger MKandtheforce said...

He was one lucky turkey, living a happy life and having a speedy death. As someone who's only just learning about processing poultry (I haven't gotten to turkeys yet!), I can appreciate how crazy the plucking must have been. And without dunking him?? How hard is it to pluck without dunking? What are you going to do with the parts you don't eat? Lots of yummy stock?

November 20, 2012 at 9:52 PM  
Blogger MKandtheforce said...

He was one lucky turkey, living a happy life and having a speedy death. As someone who's only just learning about processing poultry (I haven't gotten to turkeys yet!), I can appreciate how crazy the plucking must have been. And without dunking him?? How hard is it to pluck without dunking? What are you going to do with the parts you don't eat? Lots of yummy stock?

November 20, 2012 at 9:54 PM  
Blogger J.D. Collins said...

I guess there is such a thing as good death. One that brings about conscience and gratitude.

In the comments I read about someone who had recently dispatched a lamb.

My question: How's "Monday" doing?

November 20, 2012 at 10:52 PM  
Blogger Chautauqua said...

Thank you for this. It saddens me; yet enlightens me; teaches me about things I would rather avoid; and thereby I grow. I am, as always, so proud of you, your courage and your words.

November 20, 2012 at 11:01 PM  
Blogger damnyankee said...

Way to go Jenna! Have a wonderful Thanksgiving.

November 20, 2012 at 11:13 PM  
Blogger Mumbles said...

I'm new to your blog, really enjoying. I haven't plucked birds since I was a kid, and, while I don't miss it a bit, I can absolutely appreciate your skill and effort.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Kris

November 21, 2012 at 1:52 AM  
Blogger Mary Schroeder said...

Defiance had the best life you could offer him and far above the average butterball. You did the world a service raising your own holiday turkey. The fact that it is hard shows you care. Be brave and carry on.

November 21, 2012 at 6:28 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Woohoo! We just finished processing our turkey. She is now chilling in ice water. We used the dry pluck method. With 4 of us working on her it took us about half an hour to get her plucked. My kiddos had a blast examining the innards!!

November 21, 2012 at 6:56 PM  
Blogger Jenna said...

The bird was soaked in cold water for a long time. I didn't include a fully detailed description.

November 22, 2012 at 9:06 AM  
Blogger Jenna said...

Thank you all for the kind words!

November 22, 2012 at 9:06 AM  
Blogger Di-Zee said...

I appreciate your candid explanations of these tough jobs that need to be done! People should understand what it takes to put that steak in that plastic wrap. It gives you the ultimate respect for life and an appreciation for all we have! Thank you!!

November 25, 2012 at 2:21 PM  
Blogger Shannon B. said...

This might sound kind of silly but I really love your blog and I just wanted to thank you for keeping the photos honest but not gory.

It'll be hard when I kill and clean my first chicken, but hopefully it'll be that quick and easy for her.

November 25, 2012 at 5:27 PM  

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