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Turkey processing time

November 9, 2008

It’s that time of year.  This post will be graphic, and if you’re the least bit squeamish this won’t be the post for you.  It is also incredibly long. 

Our day started out at our farm, we loaded the turkeys in our stock trailer, and transported them to our friend’s farm.  They ride well in the deep bedded trailer, loose.  Turkeys do not pile up like chickens, they load like livestock, not chickens.  Which means with a makeshift chute made out of hog panels, two pig boards and a ramp, the turkeys will walk in the trailer, without handling.  Very low stress.  For them and us.  Actually this process started the evening before when I removed the feed.  This is so the digestive tract will be emptied.  They have water but no feed for 12 hours before processing.

Our friend’s raise pastured poultry, so they have nice equipment.  We butchered our meat chickens there this summer.  The process is the same for turkeys, only they take a little longer per bird, but because they are larger they are easier to process. 

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Placing the turkey in the killing cone.  The cones minimize stress by keeping the birds from struggling. 

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Pull out the head, and cut the jugular vein.

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A good bleed is essential, the heart will continue to pump out the blood.  When the blood quits dripping they are ready for the scalder. 

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The scalder temperature is 140*F, dish soap helps loosen the feathers.  This size scalder will do two turkeys at one time.  The cycle is for approximately one minute, the basket rotates so the birds are in the water only half the time.  If they come out with the skin torn or cooked looking the water is too hot, or they were in the water too long.  If the plucker doesn’t remove the feathers in 25 seconds the water is too cool.  This is monitored for every batch of two.

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When the scalder stops, the long wing and tail feathers are pulled off, making it easier for the plucker to do its job. 

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Also, the legs are cut off at the joint at this time.  If you cut the skin and push down on the leg, the joint separates and you can cut off the remaining skin. 

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Ready for the plucker… 

 

At this point the turkeys have their heads removed and are passed on the gutters.

 


First step:  remove the oil glands at the base of the tail. 


Next turn the turkey over and cut the skin on the neck to expose the neck. 


Pull the skin and windpipe away. 

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At the base of the neck, cut the muscles and connective tissues to the bone.  If you have made the cut all the way around, the neck will then twist off easily.  If not, you can cut with poultry shears.   

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Neck twisted off and put in ice water for chilling. 

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Expose the crop, and remove.  Since the turkeys haven’t eaten, this will be empty.  The crop and windpipe is pulled out at this time. 

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Trim any unsightly skin off of the the neck.

 

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Flip the bird on it’s back and make a cut below the breast, making sure not to cut too high, which will cause the skin to slip off of the breast.

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Reach in and pull out the internal organs.  The first thing you will see/feel is the gizzard.  Reach further in and grab the heart and pull the whole works out.  If the feed has been withheld there will be no fecal contents in the intestines and you can cut this off at that time. 


This shows the heart, liver, and gizzard.  These will be saved for giblets.  The heart sac is removed and the top trimmed, the liver is separated from the gall, and the gizzard is set aside for cleaning later.

This is the time you get to see how healthy your birds are.  The organs should look bright, with no discoloration. 

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Reach back in, and on either side of the ribs are the lungs.  They should appear healthy and pink.

 

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Finally cut the bung out.

 

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Rinse well and peek inside to see if you forgot anything.
 


Drain.

 


Make another cut in the skin about 1″ below the first cut.   This is where you will tuck the legs for a nice looking bird.

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This shows one leg tucked.
 

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Both legs tucked. 


This gal used to be my best customer, then she had to go off and buy a homestead.  She and her husband had already butchered chickens on their place, and she wanted to come and learn to butcher turkeys so she could butcher her own!!  So lose a customer and gain a friend. :)  You Turkey!!!

 

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After a quick QC, the birds are chilled in ice water. 

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If there is lull in birds from the scalder, we start cleaning the gizzards.  This is where the feed grinding takes place.  All the grit the birds eat will be in here and needs to come out.  Clean off as much fat as possible.  The one on the right has the fat removed.  I love the color of a fresh gizzard. ;)


Make a cut on the side to expose the pouch of rocks and vegetative matter inside. 


Rocks, grass, kale and the yellow skin need to come out.  Open this up and rinse thoroughly.
 


Grip the skin and peel, it is connected with thousands of tiny hairs and sometimes is hard to remove.

After all this, while the birds are cooling, cleanup begins. 

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Feathers and offal go to the compost pile.
 

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We start bagging.  We package the giblets: a neck, heart, liver and gizzard in a smaller bag.  These are placed next to the breast, under the wing.  With the giblets in a separate bag, and outside the bird, the bird will thaw easier. 


The bag is stapled shut. 

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Ready for the walk-in and customers.

For a similar post for doing a few turkeys, check out this post at Howling Duck Ranch.  It shows how little equipment you really need to do this.

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40 Comments leave one →
  1. Judi In PA permalink
    November 10, 2008 6:31 am

    My favorite part of butchering birds is cleaning out the gizzards…I love seeing what all is in there! This is a great post, really shows alot of great details especially for those who have never tackled this job. They are beautiful dressed out birds…but I wonder if your customers would happen to see this post, how they will feel about their Thanksgiving main course now? ha he he
    And by the way, I did not think your post was too long! It is great, as always!

  2. November 10, 2008 6:55 am

    Thanks for the post! Very informative. Those birds are absolutely beautiful when processed. Congratulations on a good operation there!

  3. November 10, 2008 7:03 am

    You did a really good job with this post. I wonder if people really realize what goes into getting thier food to the table?

    Very nicely done!

    Linda
    http://coloradofarmlife.wordpress.com

  4. November 10, 2008 9:27 am

    Wow, that was gross. LOL. Thanks!
    ~Joce

  5. November 10, 2008 12:49 pm

    We’ve been wrapping in butcher paper and then in whatever plastic bags work (not so pretty as you’ve done!).

    Is there a secret supplier for the large bags?

  6. November 10, 2008 2:03 pm

    We were processing guineas Friday night. Wish I had read this first. I am not very good at processing birds, I could have used the pointers. We do pretty much the same thing, albeit sans equipment. But I am pretty much working by touch without a lot of knowledge. If I could have any one peice, it would be the plucker. I hate plucking.

    -mmp

  7. November 10, 2008 3:25 pm

    Wow. I didn’t expect them to be quite so large. Nice birds!

  8. Mradam permalink
    November 10, 2008 4:52 pm

    Very nice! Thanks for the descriptive pics. I don’t have turkeys this year, but may get some in the future. Great info. And great blog, too!

  9. November 10, 2008 9:34 pm

    Well, for a city girl, I think I passed the test in that I made it all the way through the post! :-) Actually, two things really stand out to me. First, as silly as this sounds, it’s never occurred to me that the windpipe needs to come out. I was aware of all the other innards that, um, are removed, but I didn’t think about the windpipe before. The second thing that struck me was the gloves that the processors wear. Of course I figured they wore gloves, but actually seeing the wet, soiled gloves really drove home that butchering is not an quick and easy task. Those gloves made we wonder about the clean up that needs to take place afterward. Okay, enough from the city gal. The turkeys, by the way, look terrific, and I bet they will make a fine feast for many a family.

  10. November 10, 2008 10:36 pm

    Judi, the state processor near here keeps jars of the things they find in the gizzards of all the turkeys they butcher. The weirdest thing they had was spark plugs.
    I think most of our customers would be OK with it, but some might not. ;)

    Warren, they did turn out good, no bruises from previous fighting and it is always amazing how good they look after the ice water for an hour. Thanks.

    Dayphoto, thanks, some people do know, but not near enough.

    Jocelyn, you’re funny, after awhile they all look alike. :)

    HDR, I’ll try to find out the bag supplier, and the mil is important for long term freezing. On your post it looks like the skin in gizzard comes right out, without any peeling. Do Clarence’s turkeys range at all? I have never peeled a gizzard that the skin came out easy… .

    MMP, I agree the plucking is the most time consuming part. It is hard to justify the cost of the equipment for just home use though. Is there any co-op in your area that might rent one to different households?

    It is one of those skills, that the more you do, the easier it gets.

    Meadowlark, thanks, they turned out about right. Not too big and not too small.

    Mradam, thanks for stopping by. If you get turkeys, you will enjoy them, they are fun (while they are alive, that is.)

    Paula, If I don’t wear gloves, the water gets to your skin after awhile, and the the bones always nick bits of your skin. And probably the most important is a keeping a grip on the slippery guys. By the time we are done the gloves look stained from the blood, and I realized how bad they must look to the untrained eye, but no holds barred. It is hard work and the gloves are just a tool.

    The cleanup and bagging takes as long or longer than the actual butchering. Then all the regular chores need doing :)

  11. November 11, 2008 8:06 am

    I’m city folk, but I really appreciate the time it took to take all the photos and ‘splain everything. I’m not grossed out – I want to know more (and show kids more) about what goes into putting food on our tables. Maybe one day I will be part of a poultry co-op or something. I’m also putting together resources for a youth workshop about ethical eating, and this kind of detail is invaluable.

  12. November 11, 2008 9:18 am

    Love this tutorial…it’ll be hitting home in a much more real way once we have birds and have to do it ourselves (hope I’m up for it, still have to get past the squeamishness and pass the test of REAL farm girl…)

  13. November 11, 2008 1:32 pm

    Thanks for posts like this. Makes me appreciate my food even more! We buy our turkeys from a local farm and they take them to a small local butcher shop for slaughter.

  14. November 11, 2008 5:48 pm

    Great post! Glad I have the butcher shop and My Maine Man to do the dirty work. Eventually we hope to have a meat cutting area/canning kitchen set up in the shed so I am sure I will have to be more involved in this process.

  15. November 11, 2008 10:52 pm

    Matriarchy, thank you, I never am quite sure if people really want to see this or not. Your workshop idea is great!

    Robbyn, thanks, it won’t be so bad when you actually have to do it. Probably the photos are worse to look at than the actual deed itself.

    Susy, thank you, that is great you have a nearby farm that offers pastured poultry. There is certainly a demand for small farms who offer protein in animal form.

    Kim, thanks, yeah for the Maine Man, they sure come in handy don’t they? ;) You’ll have a good teacher when you start processing.

  16. November 12, 2008 9:12 am

    Great post! I’m with MMP – the plucking is not so much fun done by hand.

    Matriarchy, for your course on ethical eating, you should juxtapose this post with pictures of how turkeys are slaughtered in a factory setting. The difference is startling, isn’t it?

  17. November 17, 2008 5:04 pm

    Fantastic post and excellent visual tutorial! As you know, we’re going through this now…just wish one of us had clean enough hands to snap some pix! :)

    Great blog…keep it up!

    Tim
    Nature’s Harmony Farm
    http://www.naturesharmonyfarm.com

  18. November 18, 2008 6:10 am

    Tim, thanks! This is our friends equipment and I believe the scalder is an Ashley, and the plucker is Pick Wick.

  19. November 18, 2008 10:41 am

    I’m terribly behind in reading (not just your blog but all of them!), but I I loved this post. I’d been reading Urban Hennery’s chicken processing pieces, and it’s interesting to see the small differences in turkeys.

  20. lovedogs3 permalink
    November 21, 2008 9:26 am

    This just made me sick to see. I became a vegetarian 3 months ago after seeing a PETA film named “Meet Your Meat”. These poor turkeys feel pain just as we do and they also feel fear. I cannot imagine how they feel when placed in those killing cones then having they throats slit and hanging there (probably still alive for moments) until they bleed out. It is really disgusting and I do not see how anyone could be a part of slaying animals. Do some research on the web and learn that we, as humans, are not even equipped to eat meat. Our digestive systems are not those of meat eaters. You would be shocked to find out how long meat stays in your system, not to mention all the antibiotics and growth hormones given to chickens and turkeys. All of that is going into your body. Just think about it. We have plenty of good food to eat on this earth without murdering animals.

  21. November 21, 2008 9:48 pm

    Anita, there really isn’t too many differences between the chickens and turkeys, mostly size. I actually think the turkeys are easier, but they are heavier. Thanks for stopping by.

    lovedogs3, if you have only been a vegetarian for 3 months, should I take that to mean previously you purchased and ate meat that had been inhumanely treated, and you weren’t aware that industry practices such as those PETA shares have been going on a long time. I find it hard to believe you didn’t know about such things. This day and age, grade school children are aware of such things.

    Is it guilt that makes you so angry? I’m sure the turkeys are scared, I didn’t say that they weren’t. But, many years ago, I stopped purchasing meat from stores and restaurants. What do you eat that isn’t alive? Is the carrot alive until it plucked from the ground, tearing an earthworm in half in the process? If you are eating grain products, or legumes like beans and soybeans you are eating animal proteins. The huge harvesters needed to feed all the vegetarians and vegans show no mercy to all the wildlife that inhabit the fields and can’t get away from the jaws of death as they mop down acre after acre of crop land. Stories of deer, rabbits, and ground dwelling birds clogging the machinery are common place. And you know what? After the clog is “somewhat” removed, they just keep going and all that blood, feathers, fur and guts gets sprayed on the grain and bean products. By the time it is made into Tofurkey, who can tell?

    I just realized as I was typing this, that you said you are vegetarian, so does that mean you eat eggs? As in unborn chickens that will never live a meaningful, long and productive life… Anyway, your comment won’t make me change my habits anymore than mine will make you change yours. I think a quick check on the internet will also tell you that humans have eaten meat for thousands of years. I would hate to call my Native American friends who have grown up on salmon, and on the stories handed down to them about their ancestors eating salmon for thousands of years and tell them that their hieroglyphics have it all wrong.

    Maybe if your approach was a little nicer, people would take you seriously. To compare our small family farm, or a homesteader with some large factory with minimum wage, disgruntled workers is ridiculous. I hope you are able to grow your own food, with this coming economic downturn you might find it hard to get any sympathy or food.

    The thing that really bugs me the most about your comment, is that you don’t leave a blog address where people can come and attack your beliefs, and that really if you were so offended, why on earth would you read this post. Please do not bother me again and please do not bother any of the other farms I have linked to.

    • Jill Farley permalink
      December 8, 2010 6:54 pm

      It was your choice to reply to her. If you don’t want comments, don’t have articles about your farm. People just want there to be a humane way to kill animals like putting them to sleep. I still don’t think there is a humane way with what you’re doing. I hope that an intelligent person can find a way some day. You’re not that person.

      • December 8, 2010 7:15 pm

        Jill, many animals are put to sleep as long as they are not destined for human food. The chemicals used are toxic however, and render the meat only salvageable for pet food, which is bad too, but sadly true.

        So what does an intelligent person eat these days that doesn’t involve some kind of living and dying? Plants and insects plus large mammals are all killed to make food even for vegans.

  22. November 22, 2008 9:56 am

    Well said Matronofhusbandry. lovedogs3 does have one correct point. We humans are not meat eaters- we are omnivores- we eat everything we can get our teeth on. If you have ever looked at dentition patterns, we have teeth equipped both for tearing meat and grinding vegetables. You can have a good idea of what a creature eats just by looking at it’s teeth, even as far back as the dinosaurs. Our distant chimpanzee relatives will eat meat if given the opportunity and I’m sure our hunter/gatherer ancestors ate what ever they could find that was edible. So I’m quite sure that our digestive system can handle it.
    For what it’s worth, I found this an excellent post and quite informative. I think you run a quite compassionate operation and I salute you for that. Thanks for sharing.

  23. November 23, 2008 6:05 pm

    Dear MOH,
    I can’t tell you how much I appreciated your gizzard cleaning photos. We have a cleaning progression at our Ranch and gizzard guy was gone while we were processing out for this holiday week. I’d seen it done, but wasn’t sure of the details and you set me right on course.
    I’m really looking forward to exploring your blog. We’ve just passed our two year mark at the ranch and we love everything happening here.
    We’ve never used cones, I want to try that. Should be good for keeping the wings tight. Also, I’ve never seen the band of skin left for tucking the legs, even though I have bought organic for years before aquiring a Ranch. Our next go-round with the birds, I’m trying that out. I think that is a very classy feature. We’ll see if my cutting skills can accomplish such a perk.
    Again, thanks for sharing a great post.
    With alacrity,
    Titus & Kristin & the rest of the gang

  24. November 23, 2008 6:21 pm

    Hmmm… What I thought was most interesting about love3dog’s post was the “not to mention all the antibiotics and growth hormones given to chickens and turkeys” comment. Anyone who’s read your blog for more than one post (that they, as a recent PETA activist probably found through a carefully aimed google search) knows that the animals on your place are not loaded down with antibiotics and growth hormones.

    Organizations like PETA do more harm than good, unfortunately, with such extremist (and blatantly non-factual as evidenced by the “humans aren’t made to eat meat” comment) positions.

  25. November 23, 2008 8:40 pm

    Titus, thanks, the cones do help with the wings. Just make sure you don’t place the cones too high, it is hard to pick up a heavy bird and then take him/her back out. Thanks for stopping by. We did our final turkeys yesterday – Whew…
    Happy Thanksgiving!

    Sarah, I know, I think he has eaten too many antibiotics plus who knows what, to think clearly. I think some humans probably can’t tolerate meat – but Michael Pollan is certainly doing well with the “O” word in his book. ;) This kind of thinking reminds me of the abortion activists who bomb a clinic to show that they are pro-life. I can never really figure out why people care so much what we are doing, I could care less if someone doesn’t eat meat. It is a free country last time I checked.

    To be sure, Saturday while we were butchering our last turkeys, my friends and I were duly sickened by the video, as anyone should be.

  26. November 29, 2008 5:52 pm

    MOH, I’m very excited to be a new follower of your blog. I’ve had so much fun reading back postings. I trust your Day of Thanksgiving was as lovely as ours.

    I do want to make a comment about the ragers that post – what is all this BS about hormones?? And what is it with folks that label their poultry “hormone-free”? Good marketing, but not exactly fair to the unsuspecting consumer. Hormone-free is just following the law, as recently as the 1950s. Steroids are also banned in poultry.

    It’s antibiotics they should be concerned about in poultry.

  27. November 29, 2008 8:21 pm

    Judy, I just realized I missed your excellent comment. You are so right we are not exclusively meat eaters! Maybe a little more meat in ld3′s diet would stop the outbursts… . thanks again for the comment.

    Titus, I know, marketing works very well, take for instance, “Fat-Free Salsa” when have you ever seen salsa with fat. But if that verbage on a label sells the product, the consumer feels better, and so does the company cashing the check.

    We had a great Thanksgiving, eating turkey on Friday, but the whole time has been relaxing. Thanks for reading!

  28. jengod permalink
    December 9, 2008 8:47 pm

    Fascinating. Thank you for this post.

  29. March 27, 2009 8:57 am

    Thank you for this so very educational post! I had no idea how much work was involved in butchering poultry.
    I am truly enjoying reading your blog.

  30. harvestgirl permalink
    October 13, 2010 4:41 pm

    Wow, thank you for the post. After reading Animal Vegetable Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver, we have been growing our own vegetables, have hens for our fresh eggs and are nearing our first harvest of turkeys in the next few weeks. We are super excited to eat our Thanksgiving dinner that will consist of a turkey we fed organic feed, and know first hand lived a very humane life basking in the sun. My friend will do the harvesting, this is why I was looking around for sites like this so I don’t look too “rookie” and atleast kind of know what to expect. I think chickens will be next for us, we’ll see.

    This was very informative, thank you and some very good and true points you make!

  31. Karen permalink
    November 23, 2011 2:01 pm

    Wow Beth!! Cool!!! Great photos and one awesome learning tool for kids….well, for mine anyway! Thanks!

  32. karen gadbury permalink
    January 29, 2012 6:32 am

    Thanks for a beautiful post! It was not too long, just informative. Ive processed chickens, and turkeys are similar. Now, Ive got one of my own that I can do. Thank you very much for showing me your beautiful birds.

  33. January 20, 2013 1:24 pm

    Who knew a turkey gizzard old be so pretty! Learn something new every day eh?

  34. November 5, 2013 10:06 am

    Thanks for this one! Your birds are beautifully dressed – this is my project for next year. And I had no idea gizzards were so pretty either.

    There should be a squidginess you feel when you’re directly involved with the loss of life, but taking responsibility for the compassion of the event is the most responsible thing a person can do. Animals suffer so much more at the hands of humans who “don’t want to know” and who refuse to acknowledge reality.

    And what about the horrible lingering or violent “natural” deaths? Life is messy and owning your part in the messiness is being an adult. I feel much differently about my own death and would welcome a trip to the cone in place of a lingering torture in a hospital or nursing home.

    Sigh, would that we could see ourselves the way we really are…

    • November 5, 2013 10:50 am

      Jackie, you’ll like turkeys – they are nothing like chickens. They are very personable and fun to be around, and thus much easier to handle. We haven’t had turkeys since then and I kind of miss them :(

      • November 6, 2013 12:41 am

        I plan to raise some White Hollands side by side with Broad Breasted Whites to see for myself how Franken the BBWs are…

        Somehow I suspect that they aren’t all that horrible when allowed to have a life and fed normal food, but we’ll see…

        • November 6, 2013 6:34 am

          Jackie, no they are definitely not awful, just maligned like the Cornish. Sure they (fast growing breeds) can be awful, I helped a friend butcher one year and they were letting a family come over to process their birds at the same time. All they did was bitch and moan how stupid the chickens were, didn’t range, pooped a lot, some died, Salatin is a liar. You heard it all before I am sure, the backyard chicken and homesteading blogs are full of that BS. Those poor birds had been raised in a pen so small for 8 weeks, not bedded, and left to try to survive, that they had sores all over them from the feces. The people were of the mind that those chickens must be dumb, they won’t quit shitting and sitting in their own manure. We’re were sickened butchering those poor things, and the thought that that family was going to eat them took the cake. Yeah I suppose if someone locked you in a room and kept bringing you food and water after awhile you would be sitting in your mess also. Dumb? Or captive? My biggiest pet peeve these days are the folks touting the horrors of Cornish Cross or the Broad Breasted White turkey and yet most times if you look in their pasture, they have a high producing Jersey or a couple of goats that give too much milk for their body size. Those are also “freaks of nature” my friend. But have been deemed by the Free Range Heirloom Breed Society as okay.

          Rant over ;) My only advice to you is that the Broad Breasted White will put on a pound per week of age if fed properly for a turkey, which is very high protein at the get go and then tapered off as the bird reaches 10 weeks or so. That is an average weight, hens may be smaller and toms may be much larger. We didn’t get our birds until the end of July for the Thanksgiving market, we butchered some at Halloween and our main restaurants wanted uniform sized fresh birds, so we took the biggest out early. Some toms can reach 25 pounds dressed by Thanksgiving easily. Heritage birds will be much smaller and some even take 6 months to get to the 12 pound dressed weight. I found the BBW to be aggressive grazers, and lovely birds, we had so much fun with them, and they do look you in the eye. KWIM? The manure they leave too is much different for the grass, side by side the difference was amazing. Probably something to do with turkeys able to produce CLA, not sure but I do know they ate the same grass, and feed and the resulting growth in the pasture was different and more long lasting, much like cow manure compared to chicken. More of a total food for the forage I guess.

          I liked those birds…and they were quite tasty too!

  35. cindy permalink
    November 26, 2013 6:53 pm

    wow we just butchered 4 hens and although we haven’t got the the nice skin flap over the neck or a nice round hole for stuffing they turned out OK but i do wish we had watched this first the neck removal was a problem couldn’t get it all out looks rather hideous. we are newbies and also didn’t peel the yellow membrane off the gizzard before packaging….hmm, but there in the freezer now. tomorrow we have 6 big toms to do i am hoping now they look better than today s as we have some customers for these birds. truly farm butchered. great info thank you

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