Thanksgiving is less than 24 hours away.  In our Let’s Talk Turkey post earlier this year, we cited a number of reasons why we decided to raise our own Thanksgiving turkey this year.  We’re so glad we did, and would definitely raise our own in the future.


On Sunday, dodging some very cold rain squalls, we processed one of our 32 week-old young Toms.  If you’ve ever raised your own meat chickens, the procedure is basically the same, everything is just a little larger.

To minimize any potential stress to the bird, before going anywhere near the turkey pen, we ensured we were completely set up and prepared.  Four main stations were setup.  The first was the cull area.  We used a modified (new) large traffic cone.  Commercial kill cones are often not sufficient in strength, or size, for processing turkeys.  The most important thing was to ensure the cone size was large enough to contain the Tom, and safely control the wings, to prevent any undue injuries to us or the turkey.

Cull Area

We also set up a scald tank using an outdoor propane stove, fitted with a clean, brand new 20 gallon can.  Although turkeys can be dry plucked, a quick scald for a full 30 seconds in 135-140 F water makes plucking much easier, and leaves the skin intact.

Propane Scald Tank

A processing table, with cutting boards, knives, and compost buckets was arranged so we could each work at the table, both opposite (for plucking), and next to each other (for butchering).

Processing Table

Lastly, and most importantly a chill tank was set up, as the bird needs to be rapidly chilled once processed.  For our chill tank we used a 100 quart marine cooler filled with 40 pounds of cube ice, and water, such that it’s deep enough to cover the carcass.

Chill Tank

To ensure clean processing, the Tom was held off feed, with free access to water for 20 hours.

We won’t go into minute detail here regarding culling and processing, primarily because we were so busy actually preparing the turkey, that we forgot to document most of the procedure, and with the rain it wasn’t easy to keep the camera close at hand.  However, if you’re interested in rearing, and processing your own turkeys, there’s an excellent and descriptive site here, and there are a few texts available as well.

There are some books available about processing your own meat. This one was written by a Veterinarian.

The point of raising and processing the turkey ourselves was to raise a bird that lived a full, happy life, enjoyed the great outdoors, foraged on a wide variety of grains, fruits, and vegetables, and was treated with the dignity, respect, and compassion he deserved, right up through his final moments.

Our turkeys enjoy all sorts of farm fresh treats daily

It’s not something I’d want to do every day, and if we all depended on rearing our own meat, the vast majority of us would no doubt eat more vegetables.

Once we were set up however, the processing went extremely well.

The scald tank made hand-plucking very easy

Even if I say so myself, to look at the turkey when we were done, you’d never know it hadn’t come from the market.

Our first turkey, processed, and ready for the chill tank

Our young Tom had a live weight of 20lbs, and a dressed weight of 14lbs. It’s typical when dressing out turkeys to lose approximately 30% of body-weight during processing.  This male was a Royal Palm/Bourbon Red cross.  Royal Palm first-year young Toms are expected to weigh a mere 16 lbs (live weight), and Bourbon Reds approximately 22 lbs, so our Tom’s live-weight fell exactly into our expected range.

Although he looked huge, our Royal Palm/Bourbon Red young Tom weighed 20lbs

So, would we do this again?  Rear our own turkeys?  Absolutely.

It’s probably the most expensive meal we’ve ever made, but sourcing true heritage breed birds locally, such as those recognized by the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy (not the commercially touted ‘heirloom’ birds, as most ‘heirlooms’ are still broad-breasted breeds that can’t fly, or mate naturally) is challenging, and can be very expensive.  Honestly, we feel better knowing exactly how our turkey was raised, what it ate, how it lived, and knowing it was reared with nothing but care and compassion.  Not to mention they’re a lot of fun to have around the farm!

Happy Thanksgiving!

Hopefully I can do justice to ‘Thanksgiving’ in the kitchen tomorrow.   We’ll let you know it turns out!

Happy Thanksgiving!