We’re in the midst of a very important time of the year on LTD Farm- turkey harvesting for Thanksgiving. It’s extremely intense for us, and with our compassionate carnivore friends and customers, each turkey is ushered from life to death peacefully. These birds have been an absolute joy, and saying good bye is not easy. Knowing we raised these birds to be very special centerpieces for very special dinners gives purpose and beauty to this event. Having total control over their ending, making sure they are not scared, are fully respected as another being, brings their life to noble proportions. We love to be able to facilitate understanding of life being taken for eating. Hearing our customers’ accounts of their extremely delicious dinners brings this all completely full circle for us.
Saturday, Sunday, Monday and Tuesday we’ve been and will be harvesting turkeys. At the end of each day, we are completely wiped out; emotionally drained. Taking life should not be taken lightly, and we feel it to our core each evening. Watching the herd of 40 turkeys beginning to dwindle down in number is reality. Soon we’ll have turkey feeding and watering crossed off the chorelist, it is a melancholy feeling, since we just enjoy them so much.
The past month, the turkeys became eating machines. Crazily devouring organic oats, buckwheat, corn kernels both morning and night. The cold nights brought their hunger, whereas all summer they mostly grazed and foraged out in their giant pasture all day, coming up for a filling snack at night. They sure packed on the calories in the last month, filling out their muscles and layering golden, beautiful turkey fat under their skins.
What we do is this; a bird is selected from the flock, walked out the gate, calmed down, then walked over the pile of hay on the snow. We cut a feed bag at the top seamed corner, an opening large enough for the turkey’s head to come out. The bag is slid over the bird’s body, and after the turkey sits down, the customer straddles the paper bag enclosed turkey. This bag is important to contain the death throes of the wings as the bird’s energy leaves the body. The wings, powered by monstrous breast muscles, can pack a serious punch. We feel containing the body makes the death less violent and gorey as well.
We wait for the turkey to be calm and tell it thank you as we wait. This is why they have been here all along. Sometimes it seems as though the turkey, after meeting the family they are going to feed, understands and accepts their fate. It’s an intense time, waiting and knowing what will happen in a minute. Usually I am the one who harvests the birds, although Andrew has learned from me and does a very quick & thorough job as well. The harvester gently grasps the turkey’s head from over head. Then with a sharp, long and stoutly bladed knife, a cut is made on the underside of the neck, behind the dewlap, from one side to the other. This ensures both jugular veins are severed, and the turkey bleeds out completely and quickly. We hold the bird’s head as they go. Saying thank you. The person holding the body experiences all the vibrant electricity leaving the turkey, which is quite shockingly strong. After the turkey passes on to turkey heaven, where they will eat kale all day long, we bring the body to hang for plucking. Pulling feathers out of a still-warm body is a shocker, and the transformation of bird to meat begins. As the breast & drumsticks become more distinguishable, Thanksgiving Dinner becomes more obvious.
This experience is something very unique to our farm. Open arms and transparency in a part of meat eating that many would never get to see or participate in otherwise. We’re so proud of our birds, grateful for their health, beauty and the vibrant lives they lived with us. We’re thankful to have such inquisitive, hands-on customers who want to acknowledge that the turkey they prepare for Thanksgiving was a real live bird, and come witness what it takes to bring the animal to the table. They help us with a big task, one we could not be doing without their support and interaction.
This will be hard to write about. I have thought about it all day, waited, and now the actual reflection time comes. I’ve been nearly catatonic, because so much good and so much bad has happened.
Everything went smoothly with the turkeys. They had a role, an ultimate destination, and is our pleasure to raise them until that day. The harvesting days are emotionally hard, exhausting and one-on-one intense.
The first harvesting day, last Saturday, at the end of our day, Rosie our dear pig got out. It was an important reminder that we are not equipped to deal with a wandering, boisterous giant pig. We’ve been waiting for our harvester to come, with much melancholy, but here we had our reality checked.
As the snow started to fall, Rosie was spotted on top of our compost heap, leaping around on it like a happy bucking bronco. She then proceeded to run over to our neighbor’s yard, knocking over and rubbing her giantness over their burn barrel. I was chasing after her, trying to communicate with her, cupping my hands around my mouth, trying to loudly snort, so she’d hear me and come back. But no, she was on adventure mode and ran like I never would have believed, if I hadn’t seen it with my own two eyes. Rosie ran like an Olympian, despite her lard-ess. After we tried to corner her at one point, she took off between the apricot trees and started running to the far away garden, called “the field.” She sprinted, she galloped, she was AMAZING in her speed and endurance. I ran, ran, ran after her. It was deer hunting opening day, and all I could think of was her getting shot in the woods by someone mistaking her for a deer. Luckily, with the help of two of our amazing customers who were still here, we got her rounded up and back in her paddock. Oh boy. That was something.
Then we had three more days of turkeys and customers coming out, peaceful harvesting, processing and watching with pride as our LTD customers left with their Thanksgiving birds. All of us much more aware of the birds about to be feasted on, with gratitude. We took a day off to stay in doors and relax after that, and then we had our own Thanksgiving with family. It was a lovely time, and our turkey, of course, was a show-stopper.
Then, this past Friday night at 8:30 Mike called, he’s our local harvester. Mike would be coming over the next day between 1:30 and 2 pm. That sealed the decision for Rosie’s fate. We knew it was time to say goodbye to her, but it was a very hard to know it was now scheduled. Andrew and I went and hung out with her after evening chores, I ran around with her in her paddock, playing hide and seek. She was such an amazing pig, so smart, so interactive, friendly and sweet. All 600 lbs of her, our Wisconsin hippo.
Saturday we nervously waited for the hour to come, listening for the rumble of Mike’s truck in the farmyard, the announcement barks of the dogs to tell us he had arrived. I went and said my goodbyes to Rosie, played with her, scratched between her ears and told her what a good pig she has been. I went to clean in the goat shed, the grey day not helping the mood. Right as I went to get hay for the goats, there he was, pulling into the driveway. There was someone in the passenger seat of the truck too- it was Mike’s wife who we hadn’t met before. Last spring he had brought along his very young son, who was completely familiar with his father’s line of work. We directed him where to drive down, and steeled ourselves for the big change about to happen.
Out he climbs, rifle in hand, boning knife in the other. Dressed in Carhartt overalls, with a rosy youthful glow to his cheeks, Mike is very likeable. He does his job very well, and we trust him to usher our precious beings to the other world. Rosie was right there, sniffing him, and I won’t go into the rest as I’ll get teary. It went perfectly smooth, she died quickly, humanely and where she was comfortable. No way would we truck our animals off the farm to be killed.
I think Mike likes what we’re all about, tells us what fine pigs we have, that their muscle texture is really nice, look at all that fat, etc… I feel good to hear this as his opinion reflects all the other situations he encounters. We DO do a good job, and seeing the beautiful, healthy insides of the animals shows this. Andrew and I collect the heart, liver, head and then drag Rosie’s magnificent and VERY heavy hide up to our work table to begin scraping off fat, salvaging as much of our wonderful pig as we can. If Mike could be set up to do scalding, which would leave all the fat and skin on the body, we’d much prefer this. But he isn’t set up for that, and so we do what we can. Before it got dark, we got most of the fat off. Pure white, snowy fat that…………
I’ll have to continue this story later. We’re still in the middle of the next thing I haven’t even gotten to yet.