Turkeys on the Table

Reader Contribution by Laura Berlage and North Star Homestead Farms

80 turkeys this year. They all made their appearance in June. Two rounds of turkey hatches emerged in our walk-out basement from the incubator, starting as carefully selected speckly eggs hurried into the house beneath my jacket to keep them from being chilled. Then an additional 50 white “peepers” came in the mail, needing warmth and their beaks dipped.

Then they grew into lanky teenage-hood, always getting into trouble, escaping, hanging out on top of the coop roof or randomly roaming the lawn after flying over the fence.  But this last week was the last week for the turkeys (other than the breeding stock we’ll overwinter for next year’s hatch).

Thanksgiving is approaching, but before the tables can be set, there’s another phase in the turkey experience that is required — butchering. After an exhausting day of processing the last 30 birds, this poem came to me as I sat on the floor in front of the wood stove, trying to drive away the chill.

The Day that Turkeys Died

The day that turkeys died,
It was the last
We all wanted it to be the last
Day for butchering.
Since mid-July every Monday
Or sometimes Tuesdays
And even one Saturday
We were butchering,
Churning our way through 400 meat chickens
Old roosters
The lame duck
And then turkeys.
Sometimes five of us
Sometimes only three of us
Often times only three of us
Working the stations with tired,
Bruised hands.

Turkeys are hard
They beat with wings so strong
Legs so long sporting talons
They know how to put up a good fight
Know better than to want to be caught
Like the unsuspecting meat chicken
Blobby, white basket balls
Of juicy breast meat
Topped by tiny, curious heads.

Turkeys have tiny heads too
Which gets them into trouble
Their curiosity calls them forth
To adventures
For which they are completely unaware
Of the risk.
But turkeys do know
That if you climb into their tractor
Again and again
To catch their friends by the ankles
And carry them away
Something is amiss,
Very amiss.

The last ones are always the feisty
Strong, quick, sly ones,
Harder to catch
They bounce and spring and flap,
Tearing at your cheek with wing tips,
Beating at your arms and legs.

I’d rather they would stay
Plump and happy.
But their time is coming
When all the wayward turkeys
Are called to the table,
Called to task,
Called to duty.

I can’t keep them all winter,
Can’t feed them all winter
And soon their beloved grass
Will be covered over with snow.

Those turkeys are now safely in the freezer, awaiting their Thanksgiving homes.  If you’re still looking for a delicious turkey fresh from our pastures, maybe we’ll see you down at the farm sometime.

Laura Berlage is a co-owner of North Star Homestead Farms, LLC and Farmstead Creamery & Café. 715-462-3453. Read all of her MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

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