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And Then There Was One… Lonely Broody Turkey Hen

By: Everett S
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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…
TurkeyWe 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.

Broody hen post imageSo 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!

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Category: Animals, The Transplants, Uncategorized

Comments (11)

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  1. Anna says:

    You’re very welcome to come help us slaughter our broilers this summer/fall. (It’ll probably be in August or September.) It really helps a lot to have some hands on experience before trying on your own!

    We had a mean rooster a few years ago, and he finally ended up in the stew pot after he nearly killed a hen. I don’t have any idea if your hen was actually killed by the turkey, but if he was mean, he wasn’t meant to be on the farm.

  2. Erik says:

    Don’t feel too bad about what you did. A mean Narragansett tom can put some wicked holes in your leg with his spikes if you let him. I’ve also seem them attack small kids and actually get them down in the dirt and get on their backs. That is not something an parent wants to be a witness to.

    So, in short, its probably all for the best give your farm has a dual purpose of being a place for guests to enjoy the country life.

    Please keep posting. Highs and Lows. I think they are enjoyable to all of us.

  3. Derec Shuler says:

    Nice story Everett! We should have had that chicken preparation Meetup so you’d be ready :-)

  4. Mr. Simpleton says:

    Anna I’ll be taking you up on that offer. Just send me an email a few weeks before you’re ready to get started.

    Derec how are the classes going now? Have any been scheduled? I hope the new admin has time to set some things up.

    Thanks Erik! We’ll be sure to keep it up as much as we can. It’s tough to balance work-work, farm work and blogging, but we enjoy it immensely.

  5. Young Mogul says:

    Wow…..I know nothing about the country or farm living, so I had no ideas turkeys could be so mean and sneaky.

  6. Sorry for all that you went through with Jackson but glad you were able to get some good meat from him. We raised turkeys for 5 years and they are a lot of work. My hubby did all the butchering. When he started it took about 3 hours per bird by the time we finished our last batch it took him about an hour per bird. Good luck as you continue to do all that you do.

  7. Just for next time, you could have skinned him instead of plucking. Then you can cut the thighs, wings, legs, breasts etc off as pieces, and not have to worry about gutting either.

    It’s not as good as being able to use every part of the animal, but in a situation where you’re short on time you salvage what you can.

    Good job!

  8. Now there’s a visceral story. Sounds traumatic for all. Nothing like meanness to send a bird to the pot … and it will make a good story of your first weeks on the farm!

  9. Sandra Gast Collett says:

    I had to laugh while reading your story. We had an evil rooster. Kids were not safe around him, no one was. He hated everything. He wound up in the same place as your turkey.

  10. Dana says:

    My best guess on the hardness of the hen is that it is due to not bleeding out properly while you were running around getting things for the turkey. I’m no expert, just been reading lots in preparation for our meat birds’ final days which are fast approaching.

    And just doing some reading, but apparently turkeys get protective of their hens and their clutches. Maybe he decided the chickens were a threat?

  11. [...] None of the turkey eggs hatched. We waited 30 days. I guess for all of his bravado Jackson wasn’t taking care of his hens’ needs, which makes me feel even better about our decision. [...]

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