Trellising cucumbers at dusk on Saturday evening while talking farming on the phone with my buddy. Thinking to myself that this is just what I want to be doing, that it makes me happy. Walking the farm, noting the tasks for the week to come, checking things off the list that we got done. Snapping pictures in the golden hour, loving the beauty and abundance that I see. The farm is resplendent, though the task list remains as long as always.
This last week was one for the books, hammering into August with gusto and vigor. Summer crops are rolling in in the nick of time to fill the market table, CSA and special orders. I always get a little anxiety around times of crop transition, worrying that I’ve moved forward too soon into new plantings and that there won’t be enough to harvest for the week. I remind myself that before I get nervous I should walk the farm with my clipboard and make a harvest list, which should allay my fears.
The stars in the lineup this week were shintokiwa cucumbers, shishito frying peppers, and noreaster green beans, a long, flat, Romano variety that we love. The feeling of coming out the other side of the crop worry when I see the abundance piling up in the harvest area is one of gratitude and joy, a deep reflection of path and purpose. I love to grow food, to tend and harvest and take to market. I love standing behind my table, bantering with community members and sharing the joys of fresh produce and the efforts of our farm.
This was also a big week for our animal operations with the slaughter of 16 turkeys and 15 rabbits to add to the freezers for winter sustenance. Turkeys are the most physically difficult animals that we process for meat because of their size and our slaughter methodology. Chickens and rabbits are smaller, not demanding so much physical strength in lifting and maneuvering into the killing cones. Pigs and sheep are killed on the hoof where they stand and then hoisted with the tractor, removing the heavy lifting from the human equation. The turkeys weigh in between 16 and 25 pounds dressed out, so 25-35 lbs live weight, which is a heavy lift on a live creature.
We use the same infrastructure for both chickens and turkeys. I get up early and fill the scalder with hot water and light the burner, which heats the water to 148 degrees and keeps it there with a thermostat that regulates the burner. We bring the birds down to the processing area in crates, and I pull them out one at a time and place them upside down into the killing cones. I slit the throat on both sides, severing the jugular vein and carotid artery but avoiding the windpipe. The birds bleed out and the blood is collected in buckets which will be used to build a compost pile at the end of the process along with the feathers, offal, scalder water and any other refuse.
After bleeding, I dip the feet into the scalder until the skin peels off, leaving clean, collagen-rich appendages for making a thick, rich stock. Once the skin peels on the feet, I flip the birds over and dip them into the hot water, moving them back and forth to get the water through the thick feathers to the skin, where the heat loosens the feathers. When the feathers start to pull out with ease I transfer the bird to the plucker, which spins a lazy Susan with rubber fingers sticking out that catch the feathers. In 30 seconds or so we go from the appearance of a feathered turkey to a turkey dinner.
The plucker takes off the vast majority of feathers, and then the evisceration team handles the final plucking, cuts off the feet and neck and detaches the crop, trachea and windpipe from inside the neck cavity. Flipping the bird around, a horizontal incision is made in the lower abdomen and then two diagonal slices down on either side of the cloaca. Reaching inside the body cavity, all of the guts and organs pull out including the trachea and crop that were detached above. The lungs have to be scraped out with fingertips, and then we separate the liver and heart to save for making paté. The rest of the organs go into the offal bucket, and the bird goes into ice water to cool.
We cool birds in ice water for 24 hours, and then rest them for another 24 hours on ice in coolers until rigor mortis relaxes. Whole birds are packaged and frozen, and then we begin the process of breaking down carcasses to de-bone for ground turkey and whole turkey breasts that we save for grilling.
This is the 3rd year we’ve raised turkeys; the first year we ground 4 birds, the second year 6, and this year we ground 8, ending up with 82 lbs of ground turkey packaged in 2lb packages and 10 individual turkey breasts. These portions will provide farm lunches and family dinners over the course of the months to come, and as we pack them into the freezer I feel a deep sense of completion and gratitude. As always, much love and great success to you on your journey!