Butchering Turkey

Warning - the pictures are graphic.

Today we butchered our first turkey.  We had been playing on letting them grow for another 4 weeks, but one of the girls broke her leg and we decided to butcher her early.

Let me start by saying that I've never participated in the killing and gutting part of butchering.  I like to get into the cutting and grinding, but slaughter is hard (and smelly).  But it was just Jeremy and I today, so I had to "get my hands dirty."  

We started by doing some research.  Storey's Guide to Raising Turkeys is a great resource.  I now have a complete set of Storey's Guide to Raising ... lol.  The other great resource we found, although it's for chicken processing, is at backyardchickens.com.

Step one is to take the turkey off feed for 10 hours.  Since we were only butchering one of four, we had to put her in the barn in a cage.  She was pissed and yelled for her friends.

Step two is to catch her and turn her upside down.  You'd think that would be easy in a cage, but not really.  Jeremy did that duty and I slipped the rope around her feet.  Fortunately, upside down they stop freaking out.

Jeremy then slit her throat.  I had an old feed bag ready to hold up so the blood could pour into it.

Funny thing no one mentioned, about 15 seconds after the throat is slit the turkey will flap its wing like crazy.  I wasn't expecting it and didn't react well (yelled like a little girl and dropped the bag).  A few seconds of flapping and it stopped moving again.  But there was blood everywhere.

On Jeremy's face, on the barn, everywhere.

This time we used the feed bag and a bucket.  It was a good thing, because after about a minute, the turkey gave another good round of crazy wing flapping.  But this time the head and blood stayed controlled.

Step three, after the blood is out and the turkey is dead, you pierce the roof of its mouth and into the brain.  That somehow makes the cuticles on the feathers relax some.  The picture below is the turkey bled out and pithed.

Step four is plucking.  Actually if felt like steps four through 20 - it took forever.  And if the brain thing loosened the feathers, I'd hate to try plucking without pithing.  I would advise having needle nosed pliers on hand for the flight feathers, because those suckers are good and attached!  Below is a picture of half-plucked turkey.

And a long while later, in the hot barn, sweating, the turkey is finally cleaned.  Step five (or 21) is to scorch the little hairs off.  That was pretty easy - just hold a flame to the hairs.

Besides the blood, the slaughter wasn't very gross.  Then came the gutting part.  Now that is disgusting.  

There is removing the head and then the feet.  Not too bad.  Then removing the neck.  Which means cutting down the skin on the back of the neck (picture below) until you get to what the book called the "crop."  I have no idea what the crop is but I guess it's where the neck and the shoulder area comes together.  Next you cut loose the air tube and main artery.  Then saw through the neck.

To gut, you cut a circle around the vent and then a slit in the abdomen.  Then reach in and pull everything out.  Jeremy did the first round of pulling out stuff.  It looks liked you'd expect it too - visceral.  Then I took a turn.  The worst were the lungs which are pressed into  the ribs and just break apart instead of coming out whole.  Yick!  But I got it all out.

The giblets are good for gravy so we separated those from the rest of the guts.  In the picture below you can see the neck, heart (bottom left) and liver (top right).  Jeremy is working on the gizzard.

Then I cleaned and cleaned and cleaned.  Removed all the remaining feathers, made sure there wasn't any dirt, poop or other unhealthy stuff anywhere on the bird.   Last the cleaned turkey sits in an ice water bath for a few hours to make sure the internal temperature is cold.  Apparently freezing a bird when the internal temperature is still elevated makes the meat tough.

Total weight, after gutting was 16.25 lbs!  Wow!  And she was't fully grown yet.  The other three birds are going to be huge!

 The bird was drained and dried some.  The giblets went into a plastic ziplock bag and into the cavity.  Then you bag the bird.  Well it should have been bagged but we didn't have any large freezer bags.  I ran to Wilco to find a freezer bag for poultry and they didn't have anything.   They suggested I go to a butcher shop, but being a Sunday that wouldn't work.  So, we wrapped the turkey in sheets of plastic wrap and put it in a garbage bag.  It will sit in the fridge until we can get bags from the butcher shop and then it will go in the freezer.  In about two weeks we'll thaw and smoke the turkey.

In case you are wonder, you can eat the turkey fresh.  It was to sit in the fridge for 3-4 days before cooking.  And it can't sit in the fridge more then 10 days.  In four days I leave for a week, so we decided to freeze this one.  When we butcher the others we'll eat on fresh and freeze the other two.


Anonymous said...

so the method you used was the most humane?, I have often wondered which is the best method to kill, another site suggested breaking the neck a certain way for a chicken would that work too for teh turkey?

Mindy said...

It seemed as humane as any other method we've read about. Way better than grandpa's chop the head off. Plus that method makes the cuticles tighten up.

Jeremy did the broken neck thing on a chicken, then pitched it's brain. That worked fine. Might be hard on a big turkey.