How to harvest a turkey.

Update: Seems I ruffled some feathers over on the (free vegan community) web site.

A person called “Adam” posted this along with a link back to this article:

Wow, “bbum”, you really know how to overpower turkeys. What a man! The ladies must truly envy your potential.
I came across this “man,” bbum who has a webpage for instructing others how to kill turkeys with some lovely photos.

He also posted this in the comments of this post:

The negro answers to the racist
The battered wife answers to the sexist
The animal answers to man

A racist is a sexist is an omnivore

Your soul will suffer too–enjoy your turkey.

Adam — if you are going to call me names on your weblog, have the balls to allow comments. Since you don’t, I’ll respond here.

Your claim that I somehow harvested this turkey as a means of proving or improving my manhood is just complete jackassery. If you had actually read this post you would have seen this quote: Personally, I find it hypocritical to both eat a food and be unwilling to acknowledge how said food is produced.

That turkey died for exactly one purpose; to put food on my table. I decided to slaughter the thanksgiving bird myself because I feel it is damned important to be willing to harvest whatever I consume.

Taking a couple of photos and quotes out of context for your weblog, preceding it by false claims about the character of an individual you have never met, not allowing anyone to respond directly on your site, and then following it with an invitation to post drivel over here “in the name of the cause” is just flat out cowardly and, frankly, rude.

Worse, it does nothing good for your “cause”. Your actions leave me with the impression that your site is just another hate-based organization. Too many of those in the world, no need for another.

(Thank you to JonBen for providing evidence that not all of the VegPage community are self-righteous jackasses.)

Original post below.

Turkey's Hanging Until Harvest

Mmm…. Turkey. Yum. See that big dude on the right with the snood hanging down?

That would be our thanksgiving dinner this year. I reserved a turkey with a rather awesome local poultry farmer, Paul Hain, earlier in the season. He raised the turkeys in his walnut orchard. Completely organic.

The turkey needed to be picked up at farm on the weekend before thanksgiving and Paul invited us to come down, tour the farm and participate in the turkey harvest, if we wanted.

Ben and I jumped at the chance. To play a role in the harvest of the turkey — to actually know what happens between “bird eating bugs & grain” to “me eating the bird” — is something that we both feel is important knowledge.

Personally, I find it hypocritical to both eat a food and be unwilling to acknowledge how said food is produced.

Enough of the PC BS. If you don’t want to read about animal slaughter, see pictures of blood, or know how a turkey goes from walking around to ready to cook, don’t click through to the full story.

Turkey bleeding out

The first step is to catch and kill the turkey. Catching the turkeys is relatively easy. They called relatively large pens home. This protects them from predators at night and the pens are portable.

So, it is just a matter of hopping in the pen and grabbing a bird. A thirty five pound bird that really isn’t into the whole being grabbed thing. But once you have a leg, it is a matter of grabbing the other leg and getting a hold of both legs in one hand. Then you roll the bird over and get an arm around the wings, cradling the bird upside down. At this time, the bird stops struggling and will typically not put up a fuss until the final few beats of its heart.

The next step is to stick the bird’s head into a bucket with a hole cut in the side/bottom. The head sticks out said hole. Stretch the neck out and cut the neck artery. (A couple of folks asked exactly where the cut is made, so here is a better picture.) The key is to cut the artery and not the windpipe as doing so will cause undue stress upon the bird.

The bird will then bleed out with the assistance of both gravity and the beating of the heart. The turkey is remarkably calm through the entire process, including the cutting of the artery, until the very end of its life. When the heart starts pumping air, the turkey finally seems to realize that something is amiss.


A slight aside: Turkeys are really heavy. In this photo, I’m holding a 35 lbs bird prior to cleaning. I am out of shape (and fat, jeez!) but, yes, they are heavy birds!

Prepping to Pluck

Once the bird is dead, it is time to remove the feathers.

The first step is to dip the carcass in slightly soapy, 140 degree, water. The heat loosens the feathers and the soap cuts the oils a bit.

The bird is dipped repeatedly for a couple of minutes. What little weight was lost as the bird was bled out is quickly regained in becoming water logged. Combined with relatively extreme heat of the water makes for quite a bit of exercise keeping your hands out of the water!

Plucking the Turkey

Now that the bird has been thoroughly dipped, it is taken to the plucking machine. It is a rather simple device that consists of a rotating drum upon which 2.5″ long serrated rubber rods are attached. By simply brushing the carcass up against the rods, the feathers are quickly removed. The drum is not particular powerful, quickly stopping if a wing or the neck gets too entangled.

The machine does a rather thorough job of removing most of the feathers.

Final Plucking

But it doesn’t remove all of the feathers.

The wing and tail feathers have to be removed by hand. As well, the carcass is given a fairly close once-over to ensure that no other features are left behind. Quite a few little bits of feather here and there have to be removed.

Gutting the Turkey

Once de-feathered, it is on to the actual butchering process. First, the head is removed. Then the neck. These are removed separately because the neck is saved. The lower portion of the legs are also removed.

A bit of a cut is made in the belly of the bird and the entrails are removed. Nothing delicate about this process. It is a matter of reaching into the bird and ripping out the guts as a hole. You need to be very careful to not burst certain organs — gall bladder, stomach, etc.. — inside the bird as they will release some fairly nasty digestive juices.

The lungs need to be scraped out as they are well attached.

Ready for Cooking!

Once fully cleaned, the carcass is placed into a tank of cold water to chill. From there, it is packed on ice and sent home with the customer.

Next up? I’ll brine the turkey tomorrow or Wednesday. It will then be smoked on the Big Green Egg for upwards of 12 hours. Should be delicious.

55 Responses to “How to harvest a turkey.”

  1. John C. Randolph says:


    I would guess that most people can name one or two habits of others that they would like to see come to an end. I would love it if everyone quit smoking. There are others who would love it if everyone subscribed to their religion. You and Adam are entirely within your rights to express your disapproval of my desire to enjoy a nice cut of veal when I feel like it, and if you remain civil about it, then we’ll just agree to disagree.

    Where I do draw the line, is when someone either descends into vitriol (as Adam did), or goes as far as to demand action by the state to interfere with the liberty of private individuals (as happened recently in California when a pack of busybodies got the legislature to ban the gavage of geese and ducks to make foie gras.)

    As for the moral considerations, there are none. We’re top predators, and that’s life in the food chain. Whether you raise your own animals to eat or buy them from a vendor, the principle’s the same. It’s highly convenient that I can buy meat in a grocery store already butchered, but if I had to discharge a shotgun shell between the eyes of a cow myself for the pleasure of a cheeseburger, I’d do it.

    If you want to convince others to go veggie, you would be well advised to talk about the alleged benefits of the vegan diet to those who adhere to it. Following Adam’s tactics of making a show of indignation is only going to harden your opposition. For my part, whenever anyone gets in my face about eating meat, I make a point of having a nice juicy lamb kabob that day.


  2. Luke Burton says:

    Here are my top three objections to veganism as a principle.

    1. Veganism is the fundamentalism of the food world. It does not believe in shades of gray: the baby is thrown out with the bath water, as foods like honey and milk are also rejected as somehow unethical. This is despite it being possible to harvest those products without the slightest detectible harm to the animals. Everyday people voting with their dollars, by buying organic and free range eggs, will be a thousand times more likely to ensure good treatment of birds than a handful of vegans abstaining from eggs entirely.

    2. Vegans do nothing to reduce the consumption of animal by-products, because animal by-products are considered by the vast majority of humans to be tasty and useful. Just as a fundamentalist Christian who believes pre-marital sex is a sin are fighting an un-winnable battle, because sex feels great. Meat is tasty, and leather is useful – these two facts will never change. Vegans could achieve the same ethical effect by continuing to be omnivores, but vigorously campaigning for the ethical treatment of animals. Most people who eat meat also care about the ethnical treatment of animals, but aren’t exposed to its realities. Instead of abstaining from eating eggs, why not spend your time working on exposés of animal cruelty and publicizing them? Do something that actually makes a difference.

    3. Vegans must be very careful with their diets to ensure they get the right balance of vitamins and minerals. Vegan mothers nursing infants run the real risk of malnourishing their children, since breast milk (an animal by-product) contains precisely the right blend of nutrients the infant needs to survive. In this case, eschewing an animal by-product is doing more harm than good, and runs contrary to the very course of nature vegans claim to be so in touch with.

    Now let’s just be clear: if someone wants to be a vegan, or a fruitarian, that is their prerogative. However, to go around lambasting bbum – which is what kicked this whole thing off – is where I would draw the line. Your lifestyle as a vegan does not put you on some moral high ground from which you can accuse anyone with a different lifestyle choice of being inferior.

    *Especially* when your ostensibly superior lifestyle choice is not the most efficient way of encouraging a world that is less dependent on animal products. It is a form of masochism that makes the practitioner feel as if they are making a sacrifice for the greater good, when in fact they are simply marginalizing themselves from the wider community. Most people find the idea of abstaining from produce like eggs or milk to be unthinkably bizarre. You have to accept that fact and work around it, not spit in people’s faces.

    Nobody who is sane would condone the unethical treatment of animals. Unfortunately, humans have a special ability to selectively ignore painful facts if the tradeoff is very positive. I might acknowledge that the production of my meat may have involved cruelty, but my brain overrides that concern because the meat is extremely satisfying to me. The challenge for supporters of animal rights is to get people to think about where their meat comes from. Which is exactly what bbum’s blog post is doing, and exactly what the average vegan’s lifestyle is not doing.

    By the way, if you subscribe to the theory that fish have feelings, or chickens get sad when their eggs are taken, then all bets are off. You are living in an alternative reality based on unfalsifiable hypothesis, and – like creationists or moon landing conspiracy theorists – you will not be swayed by logical argument.

  3. John C. Randolph says:

    By the way, Adam’s comment wasn’t merely “slightly rude”, it was thoroughly snotty, smug, and obnoxious (not to mention rather cowardly, coming from someone who doesn’t allow comments on his own blog where he attacked Bill.)

    I suspect that Adam is a vegan not because of any ethical principles or health concerns, but rather because he enjoys making a display of indignation so that he can pretend to feel superior for a little while. It’s the kind of personality that you would often find in the churches that subscribe to the “Ha, ha! God’s going to kick your ass!” school of theology.

    Adam, for the record: Bill is a better person than you are.


  4. JonBen says:

    I think you two should calm down a little, we have all admitted that Adam’s post was not nice, assaulting his character is putting you on the same level as the person you are criticizing…

    JCR — If the decision to exploit animals only affected you and I (or humans in general) than I would agree that trying to convince others one way or the other would be equivalent to convincing someone to side with you on any number of personal choices. However in this case it isn’t for your or my benefit that I would like to extol vegan ideals, it’s because those animals have an interest as well, and they ought not to be exploited by humans for any of our self-centered whims (culinary or otherwise).

    There are clear moral issues, as I’ve already presented above. You can of course not agree that animals deserve moral consideration, but the argument for doing so is clear and logical. Saying that we are on the top of some supposed food chain (an idea that is extremely out of date, modern parlance is of food webs and interconnectivity) is just another way of saying that might-makes-right and that because humans assume they are better than animals, it justifies our actions. A human who assumed it was right to use animals put us on the top of that ‘chain’, so using it to defend relationship with animals is nonsense.

    This is not a question of democratic voting, when the rights of a group are being violated we do not vote on whether or not we should continue. For example human slavery was economically beneficial for many people, and if there had been a vote to abolish it would not have succeeded, at least not in the South. It was abolished because the minority of people, who recognized it was wrong, could not in good conscious allow it to occur.

    Luke — Veganism isn’t about treating animals well, it is about respecting their right not be owned or exploited by humans at all. That their skin, tissues, or excrements are useful or tasty to us is irrelevant, because that is not justification to harm another being who feels pain and has in interest in not being harmed. In no case is the use of animals necessary!

    There are huge differences between animal welfare, and the abolition of animal exploitation. The former acknowledges that humans have a right to use animals as they see fit as long as those animals do not experience ‘too much pain’ (whatever that means), the latter rejects the notion that humans have this right and insists that animals have a right to be free of our needless exploitation.

    To imply that breast milk isn’t vegan is silly, that coupled with your continued insistence that there are nutritional deficiencies in a vegan diet lead me to believe that you are not very well acquainted with any facts about veganism. Breast milk is the product of a human and they have every right to feed it to their child, there is absolutely no moral issue here, this is clear from how I’ve described veganism in this and previous posts. There are also ZERO health risks associated with being vegan, as a child, as an adult, as a pregnant mother, etc… There is plenty of information about eating a balanced vegan diet, just as there is information about any dietary habit.

    People are understandably unfamiliar with a vegan diet and where different nutrients come from, of course people are also typically equally ignorant about their own diet, so attacking the vegan diet just because it’s different is not really fair. Everyone should be aware of what they are eating and what they need at different stages of their lives, ALL pregnant women should see a nutritionist to ensure that their specific nutritional requirements are met! An omnivore will eat different things than a vegan and both will have equally beautiful and healthy babies.

    The reason I posted here was to avoid anyone “lambasting bbum” and I don’t feel that I’ve “spit in people’s faces”, it’s clear that we don’t agree, and that this conversation had an unfortunate start… I hope that I’ve helped teach you a bit about what it means to be vegan, you have –understandably– many misconceptions and if I’ve given you greater insight into why vegans choose to live the way they do, then I feel this has been productive. This is the last place I would look to change anyone’s mind, but since we had this chance encounter at least we have had friendly conversation.

    I don’t know if chickens get sad when their eggs are taken… but I do know that chickens are capable of feeling. Through abuse they often exhibit symptoms of psychological damage, showing that –at least in some way– their minds are not very different from our own. A mother cow and her calf scream out when they are separated shortly after the calf’s birth, which I believe to be a clear indication that they are not pleased with the situation and would take great comfort in being together. Do I know what these feelings are like for them? Of course not, but I don’t know what your feelings are like for you either. I believe that their feelings are as important to them as yours are to you, and I would not act to cause either of you bodily harm or emotional torment… at least not intentionally.

    For your own information, there was a recent study describing that fish exhibit personalities, that is, some are shy, some are risk takers, etc… It’s also clear from several studies that fish feel pain, I won’t conjecture as to the complexity of fish emotions… but it isn’t outside of the realm of reality to suppose that they have them. We are very similar to so many animals to assume that we alone have emotions is completely illogical, it would seem much more likely that animals have a capacity for emotions from which our own evolved.

  5. bbum says:

    WordPress, in its infinite wisdom, has decided to duplicate this article when I attempted to update it to respond to Adam’s silliness.

    Go here for the new-and-improved article:

    I’m going to close comments on this one. Take it up over there, please.

    (And — again — I thank JonBen for responding with patience and civility. I may disagree with the content, but I appreciate the presentation greatly!)