Turkey processing time
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.
Placing the turkey in the killing cone. The cones minimize stress by keeping the birds from struggling.
Pull out the head, and cut the jugular vein.
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.
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.
When the scalder stops, the long wing and tail feathers are pulled off, making it easier for the plucker to do its job.
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.
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.
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.
Neck twisted off and put in ice water for chilling.
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.
Trim any unsightly skin off of the the neck.
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.
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.
Reach back in, and on either side of the ribs are the lungs. They should appear healthy and pink.
Finally cut the bung out.
Rinse well and peek inside to see if you forgot anything.
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.
This shows one leg tucked.
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!!!
After a quick QC, the birds are chilled in ice water.
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.
Feathers and offal go to the compost pile.
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.
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.