Monday, November 2, 2009

Day of the Dead...Turkeys.

Yesterday was the day of reckoning for all but three of our turkeys. The previous day, I had to keep them cooped without access to food to prepare. This was the hardest part for me. It felt cruel, and I cringed whenever I walked outside to hear them gobbling for me to let them out. I woke up on Sunday morning with a queasiness in my gut, and hoped our friends would come over early to get it over with.

Our friends, Paul and Kirsten, own Barnyard Gardens in Shelton, a CSA farm and edible landscaping business. Paul grew up farming, and he was the horticulture teacher at Mike's school until he began his business. Kirsten is a farm extension agent, and she works with small farms and agricultural outreach programs through UW, in addition to working the farm and selling produce at their local farmer's market.

They brought over their truckload of equipment and set everything up in our driveway, adjacent to the coops. Mike filled huge buckets of hot water to pour into a large metal container with a propane heater to keep the water at 145 degrees. There was a problem with the heater, so Paul had to do some rewiring, creating a delay. I was worried that they wouldn't be able to carry out the process. I had an old friend driving from Portland (2 hour drive) for a turkey, and I really wanted to be able to send him home with one. Besides, I didn't want to drag it out another day.

Paul and Kirsten have a 1-year-old boy, so I gladly took on kid-duty. While I feel that we all need to be able to face the reality of our meat production, I am still not comfortable with it. But I have decided that, since I raise the turkeys with a lot of care, I should be allowed to duck inside when they are killed. Thankfully, my friends arrived right at the beginning, offering me a welcome distraction. During the time it took to show them around the property and introduce them to the goats, the turkeys were all beheaded, dunked in the hot water, de-feathered, and "dressed".

Paul and Kirsten have a contraption that looks like a big plastic barrel on legs, with rubber nubs all over the interior. They put the turkeys in this thing and it quickly pulls out the feathers as it spins. The whole operation is quick, clean and efficient.

We are left with one tom and two hens, and we will attempt to breed them this spring - something that is rarely done anymore. (Domestic turkeys are unable to breed on their own and can't live past a year anyway, and heirloom breeds like ours are rare.) I look forward to seeing them raise their own chicks. We will have to make some changes to protect our birds from predators, possibly installing electrical fencing. We lost half of our turkeys, which is a huge loss. In fact, we just lost two more chickens on Halloween because I was out late with Anouk, and Mike forgot to close the coop. But, if we can manage our flock well from now on, we might be able to sell great, free-range turkeys for a profit every year. While figuring our price per pound, I did online research and was shocked to learn that people pay $100-$200 for a free-range heritage turkey. This year, we are losing money for sure, but I think we can do better.

It is a relief to have only the 3 beautiful white turkeys to manage for the rest of winter. The coop was getting crowded and I was getting very tired of chasing them all around every night to collect them. They were ranging farther and farther, and I had to get them out of the neighbor's yard twice (and they are NOT friendly neighbors.) Clipping their right wings had little effect, except that they didn't roost on our rooftops anymore.

So, on this Day of the Dead, my thoughts are going most immediately to those silly turkeys that lost their lives yesterday to become nourishment for a few humans. It sure brings a new level of appreciation for our Thanksgiving dinner.

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