Monday, October 22, 2012

How to and How NOT to Butcher a Turkey

Warning: The following post discusses the slaughter of turkeys and has some graphic photos. Those with weak stomachs and rabid animal rights activists should probably find something else to read. 

The cute little poults I bought back in May

The newly-purchased poults

didn't take long to morph into giant, testosterone-driven eating machines.

The two bullies on patrol

Well, at least the two toms became testosterone-driven. The two hens pretty much mind their own business, though one of them drives me batty every evening when I have to retrieve her from the chicken coop roof.

Heritage birds like our Blue Slate and Bourbon Reds take longer to mature than industrial turkeys. We intended to let them grow for at least another month or two before we dispatched them to freezer camp. I was enjoying looking at them enough that I considered keeping the Bourbon Red tom on for good.

Then the stuff  hit the fan (literally). I looked outside one morning to find the two toms and our rooster fighting ferociously. I ran outside and tried to break up the fight, but none of them would back down. The toms were intent on beating the rooster to death.

Here's the rooster the day after the big fight. 

I scooped up the very bloody rooster, doctored his wounds, and placed him in a cage for his own protection. The time to butcher the turkeys had come.

The equipment:

Hubby Dear and I did a lot of reading in preparation for the big day. Here are some of the resources we used -

1) Storey's Guide to Raising Turkeys
2) This blog post with very helpful pictures and narration
3) And best of all, this YouTube video.

Our list of supplies

One of the things we did right was to make a list of supplies and have everything ready in advance. As you will find out, things went very wrong during our first attempt, but at least we weren't scrambling around for tools and materials.

The killing cone

There are several ways you can dispatch a turkey, but we felt most comfortable using a killing cone. It seemed to be the easiest method as well as relatively peaceful for the turkey. Although we raised these birds for meat, it was important to Hubby Dear and I that we do the deed as humanely as possible. You insert the bird's head and neck through the bottom of the cone and slit its throat while it hangs upside down.

Our scalder set-up

Once you kill the turkey, you have to remove the feathers. Plucking is the most difficult and time-consuming part of the job. You can dry pluck the feathers, but it is often easier if you briefly scald the bird. I bought a cheap turkey fryer set-up similar to this from Wal-Mart. It was just big enough to scald our small (12.5 and 15 lb processed weight) turkeys. It would be the perfect size for scalding chickens. If you are butchering a turkey that is over 18 lb, you will definitely need a much larger pot to scald it.

Essential to the job are a set of very sharp knives. I also found a pinning knife like this one to be very helpful.

I often say that a person can bring themselves to do almost any gross task as long as they are wearing a pair of rubber gloves. We went through several pairs of gloves a piece to help maintain cleanliness during the process.

And of course, you need a turkey or two.

Our toms. So fun to look at, but even better to eat! 

The process:  

One thing we did as butchering newbies was to write out all the steps and have it close at hand. It was really helpful to have it right there for reference.

Steps to butcher a turkey

We decided to butcher our Blue Slate tom first since he was the meanest of the two. Hubby Dear and I said a prayer and then brought him over to the killing cone. He wasn't too keen to put his neck into the cone, but with a little fiddling, we pulled him through. Hubby Dear made two swift cuts to the turkey's jugular veins on either side of the windpipe. He immediately began to bleed profusely.

Slitting the turkey's throat. The blood is being captured in a bucket for later disposal. 

Don't you love Hubby Dear's fashionable poncho? We realized that it would be a smart idea to cover our clothing but found that the only thing we had on hand was large yard waste trash bags. We had no idea just how useful those make-shift aprons were about to be.

The aftermath

At the very moment Hubby Dear finished slitting the turkey's throat, his cell phone started ringing. He walked a few yards away to answer an important call from work. I stood beside Mr. Turkey, supervising the proceedings. 

All of a sudden, the turkey flopped UP and OUT of the killing cone. He lay in a silent, bloody heap on the ground. I didn't know that stunt was even physically possible, much less by a turkey losing blood at a rapid rate. (I should mention that the turkey didn't move until that moment. The turkey remained silent throughout the entire process.) Hubby Dear was still on the phone and gestured for me to take care of the problem. 

Alrighty. I grabbed the turkey's legs and guided him back into the cone. I held onto the turkey's legs while he dangled and dripped. 

The next thing I know, the entire killing cone is falling off the plywood. It wasn't the turkey's doing this time, but the nails that Hubby Dear had used to affix the cone to the plywood had come out. Here's a tip for you: use screws, not nails on your killing cone! 

By that time, Hubby Dear was done with his phone call and he came to my rescue. He picked up the tom by the legs and held him for the remainder of the time that it took him to die. Since he was not confined by the cone, the turkey flapped quite a bit at the end, making us very thankful that our clothes were mostly covered by the redneck ponchos. 

So much for a quiet, dignified death. I am happy to report that neither of us was overly traumatized by the first day's proceeding and that we butchered turkey #2 on the very next day. It was a much different story - quiet, peaceful, and, importantly, the killing cone stayed in one place! 

Scalding the bird

The next step once we were sure the turkey was dead, was to scald it. The temperature of the water and length of scalding is a matter of debate. We ended up using water that was about 145 degrees and scalded it for 30 seconds, moving it up and down in the water occasionally. Then we moved the bird over to a flat surface and quickly began removing the feathers, starting with the wings and tail first. Those are the toughest feathers to pluck, so you want to do those before the bird cools down.

FYI: When we butchered turkey number two, we scalded it for 45 seconds and we found that it was much easier to pluck.

Turkey #2 post-plucking The parts you still see feathers on were to be disposed of, so why pluck them?

We learned a lot from butchering the first turkey and ended up buying a couple of extra tools that made the job easier for our second try.

Torching the filoplumes

After you remove the large feathers, the hair-like filoplumes remain. You can leave them alone and trust that they will be unnoticeable after cooking, or you can lightly torch them with a flame. They disappear in a puff of smoke, but you do have to be careful you don't remain in any one spot for too long or you'll prematurely cook your bird.

Loppers are great for the neck and last wing section.

We also bought a pair of loppers to help remove the neck and wing bones. You can carefully use a boning knife to cut between the joints on those locations, but loppers make the job much quicker and easier.

After you've plucked the bird and removed the extra bits like the head, neck, and legs, it's time to gut it. Unfortunately, my hands were so busy that I didn't take any photos of this process. It really isn't as intimidating as it sounds. The only tricky part is getting the crop out of the chest cavity in one piece. Then, you make a 2-3 inch cut over the vent, scoop out the organs, and remove. We cut out the actual vent last. Everything comes out in one package and it is easy to dispose of. We chose not to mess with the giblets (neck, heart, liver, gizzard) since our family generally doesn't eat those.

After we finished gutting the turkey, we rinsed it very well and put it into a cooler full of ice water for several hours. You need to make sure the bird cools down completely or it can grow harmful bacteria.

Cooling the bird

After a few hours, we let it drain and placed it in a pan in the refrigerator. You can store the bird for up to five days before you cook it, and it is best to age it a bit before you cook or freeze it for the most tender results.


The first bird took us 3 and 1/2 hours from start to finish. Yikes. We learned quickly, though, and bird number two only took 1 and 1/2 hours. I'm sure we'll get it under an hour with practice. We probably won't do turkeys next year, but we certainly will use the skills we learned when we butcher our old laying hens.

Don't be scared about doing your own butchering! Hubby Dear and I did not grow up on farms and have no experience in this area. It really isn't so tough once you try it. I know we gave our birds a great life and now we have delicious, healthy meat to show for our efforts. Just make sure you secure the killing cone properly and try not to answer your cell phone during the process! ;)

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Brainstorm with Me: Ways to Cut a Budget to the Bone

I have a confession to make. I love to spend money.

While some women may fantasize about their next shoe or handbag purchase, I am decidedly low-maintenance in those departments. Our vehicles are modest, paid-for (thank you, Dave Ramsey), and we plan to run them into the ground. I don't even wear my wedding ring on a regular basis, so jewelry is not a temptation of mine, either. But I do like to spend money on things that interest me - books, preparedness items, homesteading paraphernalia, and poultry.

Who knew poultry would hold such fascination for me? It's become a passion and a small business.

It is that crazy love for poultry that has motivated me to tighten our budget. You see, I really want to build a much larger poultry house that will comfortably hold more birds. Since we do not believe in going into debt, I've got to save up all the cash to fund my project ahead of time.

I started by brainstorming a list of ways that we could cut our budget significantly. Here's where the list stands. Try not to laugh if you have this frugality thing down pat!

Ways to save money: 

1) Stay away from frivolous, impulse purchases! No more tempting items from "just because". I also blow a lot of cash at Sam's Club on a regular basis. I get sucked into their magazine and book area and leave with a lot fewer $ in my pocket. I think I'll just need to stay away from that part of Sam's entirely.                                                                                                                                                                     

2) Try buying the kids' clothes at thrift stores or consignment shops. This will be a completely new experience for me, but I know this will cut quite a bit from our budget. We spend about $2,000 per year (gulp) on clothing for our four kids at the moment. Hubby Dear and I spend very little on clothing for ourselves but I'll definitely check out what they have for us as well.

3) Eat out less. We spend about $175/month on eating out. I will make an effort to eat at home even when it would be easy or convenient to eat out. 

4) Spend a lot less at Christmas. Hubby Dear loves to give gifts and he really spoils the kids at Christmas. We've already been talking to the children about how we have too much "stuff" in our house and that we are going to focus on the true meaning of Christmas this year. We plan to slash our gift budget and buy things for people in need instead. 

5) Coupon more. I am a coupon drop-out. I thought that it was taking up too much of my time for too little benefit. But when you are saving every penny, coupons can make a difference. Too bad we live nowhere near the stores where you can get the best "extreme couponing" deals.

6) Cut back on paper towel use. With four children at home, we go through a lot of paper towels. I am going to buy some more dish cloths and try to reduce the amount of money we spend on paper towels that way. 

7) Eliminate Cut back on pop consumption. I am a complete and total Coke Zero addict. I know it is unhealthy for me and it certainly is not cheap. I am going to try and drink less pop and substitute either iced tea or water with lemon. Pray for my family while I go through detox! ;)

8) Recycle all those aluminum pop cans for $. I'm not sure people still do this any more or if it is available in our area.  I'll need to check this out. 

9) Stop buying the pricey Omega 3 supplement for my chickens. It is $15 per bag and we use at least 3 bags a month. It adds up quickly and I'm definitely not making it back with egg sales. (It costs me $3.12/dozen to produce eggs and I'm only selling them for $1/dozen. Oops.)

10) Reduce processed, prepackaged foods in favor of cheaper alternatives. Bagged salads, gone. When we don't have salad greens growing in our garden, I'll have to wash and assemble my own salad. The Holy Grail of breakfast time at our house, cold cereal, is on its way out, too. My kids (and husband) inhale the stuff. I can make whole wheat pancakes and waffles ahead of time and freeze them in single-serve portions. I can make instant oatmeal packets directly out of our food storage. And of course we always have eggs around here. :) Snack foods are going to be a bit of a hard sell. I already make all our bread. 

11) Shop around for insurance. We've had the same car and home owner's insurance for 5+ years. Time to shop around and make sure we're getting the best rates. Hubby Dear is unsure of this one since he finds it very important to "shop local" and we don't have a lot of choices for insurance agents out here. He may change his tune if it save us a lot of $$. 

12) Find some budget-friendly meals. My family will not go for the Hillbilly Housewife's $70/week meal plan, but I can certainly be more cost-conscious of the meals I fix. I also need to pay more attention to planning meals by sales the grocery store runs. 

Now that I read over the list, it seems pretty pitiful. I'm not sure a list of generalities is going to get me very far towards the chicken house of my dreams. Any ideas on more ways to save money and live frugally? I sure could use them!  

By the way, check out this Rural Revolution blog post. Patrice is collecting links to blogs with money-saving tips as well as sharing some of her own. 

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Sprouting 101 for Survival (and Poultry Feed!)

Boy, am I glad to be back and posting after that really annoying pneumonia thing. I'm finally at about 99% of my normal chipper self. I have to use an inhaler some evenings because I start wheezing right before bedtime, but other than that, I'm good. :)

Back to your regularly scheduled blog.

"Wanted! A vegetable that will grow in any climate, will rival meat in nutritive value, will mature in 3 to 5 days, may be planted any day of the year, will require neither soil nor sunshine, will rival tomatoes in Vitamin C, will be free of waste in preparation and can be cooked with little fuel and as quickly as a ... chop."

Dr.  Clive M. McCay
Professor of Nutrition, Cornell University

Dr. Mccay wrote these words during World War II, a time when our nation was desperate to find ways to provide sustenance for both our boys overseas and the home front. His experiments found that if you take soybeans and sprout them, their vitamin content increases dramatically. Vitamin A increased 300% compared to the unsprouted seeds, Vitamin C a whopping 500-600%. Best of all, sprouting was quick and easy to do, requiring far fewer inputs than traditional farming.

Sprouts are an extremely valuable addition to your food storage. Sprouting seeds take up very little space and yet can yield a large volume of fresh food. According to this article, one pound of alfalfa seeds can yield between 10-14 pounds of sprouts. In addition to their large amounts of vitamins, Alfalfa sprouts are about 4% protein. Many of us store large amounts of powdered milk to help meet our protein needs and yet milk is only 3.3% protein. And can you imagine how wonderful those fresh greens would taste to a palate that was subsisting on canned and stored  foods?

Types of sprouts

I keep mentioning alfalfa sprouts, simply because that is the sprout that many of us are familiar with. There is a whole world of sprouts out there beyond alfalfa, however, and a variety of textures and tastes. There are literally one hundred different types of seeds that people sprout and all have their fans and detractors. Some sprouts are bold and spicy, others are mild. Before you buy mass quantities of sprouting seeds, you might consider purchasing a variety pack of seeds and seeing what type you and your family enjoy. This is a pretty good sampler that will give you an idea as to what your taste in sprouts is.

Storage of sprouting seeds

According to the website, if you store your sprouting seeds at 55-70 degrees and at 70% or less humidity, they will have anywhere from a 1-5 year shelf life, depending on the type of seed. Alfalfa lasts 4 years,  most beans will last 5 years, and grains last between 2-3 years. Check out this helpful page for a complete listing of sprouting seed shelf lives.

That's not very long in the grand scheme of food storage, is it? The good news is that if you freeze your seeds, shelf life will be increased around four to five times. My plan is to stock up on sprouting seeds and store them in hard plastic containers in the freezer. As their date of expiration approaches, I will sprout them and either eat them myself or feed them to my poultry. Sprouts make Grade A poultry food, which is a big bonus to me since our poultry operation continues to expand! (I'm now up to 29 hungry chickens, turkeys, and ducks, though that number will change soon when we butcher our first turkey. Stay tuned for that blog post, unless you are squeamish or an animal rights activist.)

How to sprout seeds for eating

If you have a brown thumb when it comes to gardening, have no worries. Sprouting is incredibly easy! Add a little water and the seeds do most of the work. You will need a container that will hold the seeds and allow you to rinse the seeds and let the water drain out. For just a few dollars, you can purchase a sprouting strainer lid that will fit on the top of a canning jar you probably already have. You can also buy a bit more elaborate setup that will make your job even easier.

I bought the Victorio VKP1014 4-Tray Kitchen Seed Sprouter.

The Victorio VKP1014 4-Tray Kitchen Seed Sprouter

It consists of four growing trays that nest on top of each other. It is really compact and doesn't take up a whole lot of counter space.

Each tray has little grooves in it that help channel the water

The kit came with a small packet of alfalfa seeds. It only takes 1/2 tablespoon of seeds per tray. You can stagger your harvest of sprouts by planting the trays on consecutive days.

The water drains through each tray and collects in the bottom reservoir 

All you have to do is pour 2 cups of water into the top tray 2-3 times per day. The water drains through the trays and keeps the seeds optimally moist for germination. It didn't take long before my seeds started sprouting.

Day One

Day Two. They look a little alarming at this stage! 

Day Three

Day Four

I only allowed my sprouts to grow for four days before I harvested them. They were delicious, far more crunchy and delicate in flavor than store-bought sprouts. I cannot emphasize enough how EASY this is. If you are a gardening drop-out, or if you live in a place where you can't have an outdoor garden, you should definitely try sprouting.

My next experiment in sprouting is growing wheat grass for my poultry. My birds enjoyed massive amounts of greens and produce from my garden this summer, but now that the first frost has occurred my garden is pretty much dead. Enter sprouts! My goal is to sprout enough greens so that my chickens and ducks can have fresh greenery every day.  

Soaking the wheat

I took 1/2 cup of wheat from the supply that I grind for our bread. If you are sprouting grains only for livestock, it would certainly be cheaper to buy feed-quality whole grains from a feed store or co-op, but this is what I had on hand. Large seeds like wheat must be soaked for 8-12 hours before you start sprouting them.

After eight hours had elapsed, I drained the wheat, divided it among the four trays of my sprouter, and watered it as described above.

Wheat Day 1: Can you see it beginning to germinate?

It wasn't long before tiny little wheat roots began to be visible. The usual method is to start wheat off in a sprouter and then to plant the sprouted seeds in some sort of planting medium. I like the convenience of my sprouter so much that I am going to see what kind of results I get from keeping them there. I'll keep you posted.  :)


Any other sprouters out there? What kind of sprouting seeds do you keep as part of your food storage?