November 21, 2012

A Turkey’s Thanksgiving Story. ~ Brenda Ostrom

Photo: Brenda Ostrom

Our relationship started in the summer during the long hours of June. I was two days old.

The summer days were warm but the nights were cool; I used a hanging heat lamp to stay warm. Our time together was typical of most summer romances: we spent the most time together when we first met, checking on each other constantly throughout the day.

From the perspective of others, the only unusual component might have been the addition of baby chickens. I learned by watching them: that is how I knew about drinking and eating and staying warm.

As things progressed I moved from inside the garage to outside in the backyard, and finally to the farm. Each spot had something special: the coziness of the garage; the shed, soft green cool lawn and tarps used for hammocks in the backyard; and the wide open pasture and space of the farm that was surrounded by forest.

Photo: Brenda Ostrom

Besides my regular meals, at each spot we also shared special treats: yogurt in the backyard and salads of lettuce and tomatoes at the farm. Late in the summer you added a mix of grains and seeds, similar to muesli. Then in the fall, apples!

Besides the physical contact we shared when we first met, snack time was particularly interactive. We touched one another and typically ended up with food all over ourselves.

Once we were all out at the farm, in a space that lent itself to a lot of walking around, we used to follow each other like dogs following their owners. We would hang out close to one another, just out of reach but touching when the other was caught off guard. That is when there was petting and hugging.

Photo: Brenda Ostrom

At the farm there was also a lot of chatter, talking, laughing and gobbling as well as posing for one another, fluffing and strutting. September and October are the peak harvest months; the farm is in full swing, busy with workers and our hosted guests.

November brings a sense of waiting. The activity of the summer is over, it is colder and the shorter daylight hours are noticeable. I enjoyed more of my special snack mix of grains and seeds and we spent more time together in one of the greenhouses. It is planted with grasses and clover and stays pleasantly warm even on rainy days.

We still stayed busy. There were plenty of projects to keep us entertained: cleaning out the chicken houses, trimming trees and brush and, as always, weeding. Eventually things ended, or, rather, they changed.

For us it was the Saturday before Thanksgiving. This particular year was warm and rainy. The change in our relationship was no secret. Neither of us avoided our roles, and we stayed close and present with one another during the entire process.

There were two noose knots hanging from a branch for feet to slip into and a red-handled knife for neck slitting. Of course, we had hugs for each other. After being gently lifted upside down and secured, I was hanging.

We waited until we were both relaxed. Then—a single stroke of the knife to the side of my neck.

After the death stillness, there was a rinsing of my body, followed by a scald in a 140 to 145 degree Fahrenheit hot water tank, and then the removal of my feathers. All was done by hand. Then came the removal of my feet, head, neck and scent gland, followed by my innards and crop. My feet and neck were saved, along with my gizzard, heart and livers.

Everything was either pulled or sprayed out clean, including my lungs and kidneys. Next I went into a kosher salt ice water bath to cool. Once I was chilled and stiff, I was bagged, weighed and packed on ice.

Alternatives? I could have grown up indoors in a crowd, been transported in cages by truck and processed en masse by machine, or simply not have existed at all.

Photo: Brenda Ostrom

We have at least four more days together like this. I am packed on ice and back in the garage where our relationship began. There is no less care or attention between us than at other points during our relationship. It is intended that the beneficiaries of all this will appreciate us once I leave the garage and we are physically separated for good.

Is it worth it? Perhaps this is a question better posed to those who receive and eat me, a turkey raised and processed by you, Brenda.


Brenda Ostrom owns and operates Mountain Meadow Farms, a small farm and local produce delivery service near Yosemite National Park. Her specialties include heirloom tomatoes and poultry. She raises small batches of chicks for eggs as well as raising and processing some for eating. This year’s turkeys were Broad Breasted Bronzes, and once they were dressed out for cooking, they weighed between 18 and a little over 36 pounds. Brenda also serves on the Board of the American Pastured Poultry Producers Association.


Editor: Jayleigh Lewis

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