My earliest years were spent on a diversified family farm. Our operation included sheep, cows and chickens. We phased out of raising animals and farming altogether when I was pretty young - at about 8 years of age. I was old enough to have an awareness and memory of the work involved, but too young to really contribute any meaningful labor.
30some years later (yesterday) I finally got the hands-on experience at Laughing Stock Farm southwest of Eugene. Part of the agreement of purchasing a turkey from Laughing Stock is that it is a participatory act. We and more than 50 other members of the community were invited to the farm to share in the labor and to meet and spend time with one another.
The birds were pasture raised organically. The breed is a heritage type, the name we hadn’t heard before and now cannot remember. According to Paul, the farmer, it is a rare breed that was recently near extinction and sourced from central Oregon.
We arrived in mid-morning under bright blue skies. We parked alongside the entry road and then walked up to a group of outbuildings where several tables and large barrels were set up for the various jobs of the day.
The first step is the slaughter. This was not a participatory act as each bird was handled by a couple of experienced helpers. It was conducted in the open and those who wanted to observe could. Many did.
Moments later we had possession of our turkey, still fully feathered. We proceeded to a large caldron, where we dunked it in a hot water bath and let it soak for several minutes. The primary purpose of the bath is to loosen the feathers from the skin so they are more easily removed. I got some help on the defeathering and removal of the feet and head, which took about 15 minutes altogether.
Then we went to the next station to remove internal organs. At this point we again had assistance from experienced helpers who made precision cuts and then gave us the option of finishing the job. I opted to do it. We salvaged the gizzard, heart and liver - the giblets that are traditionally minced and folded into a wild rice stuffing recipe our family has made ever since I can remember.
The hard work is now over and the body is placed in a large barrel filled with ice water for nearly an hour. This time went quickly as we cleaned ourselves up, poked around the farm and enjoyed some of the food and refreshments others had brought to share.
After the ice bath, we bagged our turkey and weighed it in at 16.5 pounds. Although Paul encourages bartering for those who are equipped to offer something in trade, we simply cut a check for ours.
It was an incredible experience. Our Thanksgiving meal this year and going forward will be different as we have gained a new perspective and deeper appreciation.