And Then There Was One… Lonely Broody Turkey Hen
I didn’t take any pictures because they would have been gory. It’s not that I’m against gory pictures when it comes to showing someone how to do something useful – like process a chicken – but A: The turkeys were special to the woman who watched over our place last year and B: As you’ll soon learn I don’t have much “knowledge” or “experience” to share just yet.
A short story long…
We inherited three narragansett turkeys (a heritage breed) from Mary when we moved to the farm. There were two hens and a tom named Jackson. The tom was an asshole. Yes, he was handsome, but like Christian Bale – he was a handsome asshole. Jackson would chase off anyone who came near him or the two hens. After I chased him around the yard for five minutes he stopped coming at me when I was facing him, but that didn’t stop the sneaky tom from trying to walk around behind me and come that way. Every trip to put the chickens up or collect eggs took five times longer than it needed to because I had to keep turning around and walking toward Jackson so he’d back off. Then I’d get back to work and he’d start sneaking up behind me again. It was a tiring dance, but one I could live with since we liked seeing him strut around the place and he was, hopefully, fertilizing some turkey eggs so his hens could raise a new generation of this heritage breed. His genes were Jackson’s one get out of jail free card. But this weekend that card didn’t save him…
Late Saturday afternoon we were inside the house working on one of the myriad projects that go unfinished during the week when I heard what sounded like shoes bouncing around in a dryer, followed by a squeaky dryer belt. I asked Missy if she had put any shoes in the dryer, and was preparing myself to learn how to change a dryer belt. But she hadn’t. Looking out the window I saw Jackson jumping up and down on the dead body of one of the hens. His wings were beating and making that shoe-tumbling sound, and I can only assume at this point that the squeaky dryer belt noises were just the last death-call of a beaten hen.
By the time I got out there she was long gone and Jackson was scratching at her face and trying to peck out her eyes. This was the last straw for that damned turkey. I went inside, grabbed my 20-gauge, pumped once, fired, chased a dead turkey around the yard, grabbed at a dead turkey as it jumped into the creek, ran after a dead turkey as it floated down the creek, fished a dead turkey from the creek… and then what? Yea – my thoughts exactly.
I had NO IDEA how to process a turkey. There are plenty of instructions online, but I had to find them, print them out, read them, prepare everything… The neighbors came over and loaned me a big washtub so I could dunk Jackson into hot water (the hen was getting stiff by then), which would make the feathers easier to pull out. It was getting dark. I remember my brother telling me that he doesn’t even field dress wild turkeys when he hunts because the thigh and wing meat is too tough and “gamey”. At the time, I thought of the Native Americans and how I’d always heard that they used every part of every animal they ever killed, both out of necessity and out of respect for the animal. But when it starts getting dark and you still don’t know what you’re doing, the thought of getting 80% of the good meat for 20% of the effort and 10% of the mess starts to sound appealing. So – just this once – I did what my brother does. I dunked Jackson, plucked his chest feathers and cut out his breast meat. It was an unfortunate day for both turkeys, and was made even more unfortunate by my utter lack of knowledge and experience.
When it comes time to process chickens I will be prepared. I will have volunteered or interned on a farm, or helped someone more experienced process a few birds. I’ll have all the supplies laid out before the chickens go into the cones. But not this time. I was taken by surprise.
So two turkeys died this weekend and all we managed to salvage out of the bloody mess was one pair of turkey breasts. They’re what’s for dinner tonight.
I have a question for our more experienced readers, be they farmers, hunters or both: Why did the hen stiffen up so quickly? Was it because she was fighting until the death? Or could she have been dead longer than I thought? I hate to think I dispatched Jackson for a crime he didn’t commit, but at the time I thought I’d caught him red handed. Could it be that those were his screams and he was just doing what birds do when they come across one of their flock members dead? I guess either way Jackson’s days were numbered.
The good news is the remaining hen is happily sitting on a clutch of six eggs. Fingers crossed that Jackson did his duty before last weekend!