On a recent visit to fellow pastor, the Reverend Turd Ferguson, I

was treated to an account of his slaughtering of several home-grown

turkeys. His account of this experience was a vivid and memorable

reminder to me of how far we have removed ourselves from the food

chain. Most of us no longer make the connection between the food on

our tables and its origins. For most of us, our meat appears, smartly

wrapped, in the sterile meat counters of our plastic grocery stores.

Our only “hands on” experience with our poultry, beef, or pork is in

warnings to thoroughly wash our hands before and after preparation.

Most of us are vaguely familiar with the horrors that are involved

in the mass production of the meat industry. Assembly lines of

wheezing pigs, workers casually slitting throats, again and again, for

hours on end—chickens living in tiny, dark boxes until slaughter. This

is a nasty business which we best not dwell on when we gather around

the table to carve that Butterball. Reverend Ferguson inspired me to

take a deeper look into our main source of protein from a D.I.Y.



On the surface, slaughtering your own turkey appears to be a

rather simple process:

1) Catch the bird and tie its legs.

2) Behead the bird with an ax.

3) Remove the feathers.

4) Remove the internal organs and feet.

5) Cook and enjoy.

This simple scenario becomes much more complicated and interesting

when the details are examined.

First of all, there are basic differences in approach to killing the

bird. Some favor the idea of a quick beheading, others lean towards

slitting of the throat. Although beheading the turkey results in a

quicker death, the heart stops beating sooner and the bird does not

bleed out as well—if the body is not emptied of blood the meat may

become tainted. If you cut the throat, severing the trachea, carotid

arteries, and jugular vein, the beating heart helps to efficiently empty

the body of blood.

The method you choose, will also determine whether the deed is a

one-man or two-man operation. Either way, it is a messy business.

Since turkeys are not known for an outstanding brain capacity,

severing the head does not immediately kill the body. The turkey’s

body will continue to violently thrash about for up to five minutes.

This can cause bruising to the meat, so it is advisable to have one

person hold the bird in a loving body-hug just before your partner axes

the head. Turkeys can be surprisingly strong, so hang on tight. This is

the traditional method preferred by old-timers.

If you are working alone, the best method is to truss the turkey’s

feet and then suspend it upside down. Although you may notice some

initial struggle, most turkeys will become calm and quiet when

inverted—I speculate that this could be due to the small brain,

suddenly engorged with blood, the turkey is paralyzed and stunned

with its first encounter with the semblance of a thought. At this point

the throat is slit. Be advised to then stand back, the thrashing will

begin and blood will be spewing everywhere.

As I mentioned earlier, this is a messy and potentially dangerous

job. The wise will keep in mind, when choosing their slaughtering

attire, that they will be generously spattered with arterial spray.

Also, due to the strength of a thrashing turkey, gripped by death,

goggles are a prudent safety precaution. A good dinner is not worth

losing an eye over. You might also consider burning a little tobacco

before the deed—according to a Native American tradition the smoke

will show the animal’s spirit which way is up. A Muslim tradition, only

recommended for the stout-hearted, advises one to look the animal in

the eye until its soul departs. We should respect our food.

Once the killing is complete, you will need a large vat of water to

scald the bird to loosen the feathers. The water should be heated to

145 degrees F, and the bird is immersed for 45 seconds. Remove it

and begin pulling feathers. Most can be removed by hand but some of

the larger ones may require a pliers.

After the feathers have been removed you still need to deal with

the filoplumes or hair feathers. This is best done with a propane

torch—just run the flame over the body being careful not to burn or

cook the skin or meat.

The final step is the actual butchering process. Make an incision

across the soft area between the breastbone and the tail. Be very

careful to make a shallow cut so you don’t rip any organs—the result of

this is unpleasant and messy. Now go “hands on” gently work your way

into the slit and remove the entrails and guts. The lungs will be the

toughest part, as they are tightly anchored in the body cavity, and are

very soft and spongy. You can obtain a special “lung scrapping” tool,

but diligent work with your hands will get the job done. Throughout

the process, frequent rinsing of the bird, both inside and out is

advisable. Remove the feet by severing them between the knee joint

with a sharp knife. These make great doggy treats. After the

butchering is complete, place the cleaned bird into an ice water bath.

Perhaps this intimate interaction with the food we eat is not for

everybody, But, I think familiarity with the experience could make us

more thoughtful about our food. It’s a long journey from the egg to

McNuggets—and much of it is kept hidden from us. To appreciate this

is to realize what a gift our food is. In “The Encyclopedia of Country

Living,” Carla Emory sums it up: “I don’t think much of people who say

they like meat but go ‘ick’ at the sight of a bleeding animal. Doing our

own killing, cleanly and humanely, teaches us humility and reminds us of

our interdependence with other species.” It’s another opportunity to

take a further step down the path of personal growth. Let us be

thankful for the bounty of the Lord.