“Remarkable bird, id’nit, squire? Lovely plumage!”
Young turkeys don’t gobble, they trill. It’s a sweet sound, that makes them seem slightly less buzzard-like. Which is a good thing, because let’s face it, turkeys and Muscovy ducks are the avian equivalents of Quasimodo. Our turkeys are Bourbon Reds. This is a heritage breed, and I believe they are ‘less unattractive’ than their hybrid counterparts. My husband likes the coloring on their feathers. I, however, agree with John Cleese, who famously said, “Plumage don’t enter into it”! Turkey faces look like buzzard faces!
When we went to do morning chores, fifteen little buzzard-faces were trilling and chirping happily. With fresh feed and water, all seemed right in their little turkey world. We finished chores and raced for the showers. Guests were due to arrive on the farm, and changing after chores is a must! No one wants to welcome company with a whiff of Eau de Turkey, no matter how cute the sounds they make.
Our guests are regulars at the farm. Twice a month, these childhood friends of mine drive between two to three hours, with their families and spend the day with us. These are not ‘farm people’. These friends fall into that group, that think our lifestyle is equal parts cool and crazy. This group is much more fun to be around, than the bunch who believe we are totally bonkers.
One of these ladies has the tenderest heart in the world. She would take an injured mouse to the vet. The only thing she’s not nurturing toward is grasshoppers. She’s invented wicked-cool dance moves, in the name of grasshopper evasion.
Our other friend is less squeamish, but her life experiences don’t include livestock, gardens, or anything related to cooking. She grew up on a golf course. She lived on acres of lush grass, and never once thought, “Man, if I tilled that up, I could put in tomatoes and runner beans”! See? A total townie!
When we went outside to welcome our guests, we were greeted by raucous gobbling from the turkey run. Our guests looked a little startled. So, I made a joke about the turkeys strutting their way into puberty and suggested they might be throwing a kegger in the back forty. We all went inside, had a nice lunch, and visited.
When the time for evening chores rolled around, Grace came to tell me that the tom turkeys were fluffing out and starting to posture. Liam and I decided that we would split them up the next morning. We start them in a run when they are small, so we put in enough turkeys for them to keep eachother warm. As they grow, we divide and give them more room.
Two hours later, when dinner was in the oven, our friends suggested a walk around to see the animals. So, we took them on the tour de farm. Our last stop was the turkeys’ run, where we found a scene of carnage.
One of the young toms had been savaged by the others. I don’t want to upset anyone. So, I’m just going to say, he had injuries that weren’t compatible with life. The common view is that somehow in all their teenage macho chest-beating, blood was drawn. After that, all the turkeys would have been inclined to peck the bloody patch. My alternative theory is that this tom was a chick-napper in disguise, and the other turkeys banded together Orient Express style to rid the world of evil! (Yes, I know baby turkeys are poults, not chicks. Yes, I know that was a corny joke. I’m trying to keep this from being too much of a bummer.)
We raise our own meat, but we treat our animals well. Our goal is for them to have a happy healthy life and for death to be as painless as possible. For an animal to suffer is unacceptable. We also didn’t want to waste the meat. There was nothing wrong with the turkey. He was injured, not ill. We put a tremendous amount of time and care into our animals. We also make every effort not to waste anything on the farm. Four months of time, care, and cash were wrapped up in that turkey. However, remember, we had a house-full of guests and dinner ten minutes from being on the table. Liam and I tried to invent a discrete solution. We could see only two options. We could put the bird down and give it to the pigs on the sly or we could stall dinner, shock our guests, and butcher the bird.
Well, it was our turn to be shocked. Our lovely friends figured out the situation and told us to get on with it. “Get on with it!” (Monty Python, anyone?) Then, our friends leaped into action to help! The friend, who can’t handle blood and guts, headed for the house. I knew she would need to stay away from the scene of action, but I wasn’t expecting her to pitch in. She immediately asked for instructions to heat the scalding water. By the time I had finished rearranging dinner to buy time, she had the pot going, the soap and vinegar added, and the thermometer in hand!
My other friend came out to ground zero. When we butcher birds, the boys normally do the killing and machine plucking, Liam does the scalding, and Grace and I are the gutters. When the turkey had gone to “[join] the choir invisible” and was an “ex-turkey”(Monty Python, again. Anyone? No one? Okay, must just be me.), the boys brought it to me to gut. I was shocked to see that my friend had donned rubber gloves and was ready to help. We turned it into a bird anatomy lesson for her.
All in all, it was probably about twenty minutes from start to finish. The episode has served as a great reminder for us. It reminded us that turkeys can be both vicious and fragile! It reminded us how splendid our friends are. They knew this was important to us. It was relevant, not only for the food from that young turkey, but for our whole farming philosophy.
It also reminded us that: If you pause in the middle of a dinner party and have your guests help butcher an animal, you might be a farmer!
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