5 Turkey Butchering Tips
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I love raising turkeys here at Clucky Dickens Farm. Today I will share our experiences of the first time we butchered turkeys here at the farm, as well as some updated tips and changes we’ve made over the years. I considered completely rewriting the article to reflect the methods we use now as opposed to the first year we did it, but decided that seeing the journey is important. Besides, some of the ways we did it the first year might still be best for some homesteads.
Note: this is not a step-by-step, how to butcher a turkey post. If know how to butcher a chicken, you can totally butcher a turkey. The birds are put together the same way—a turkey is just much larger. In fact, some people like butchering turkeys better because the body cavity has more space in it so there is more room for your hands during evisceration.
Having said that, there are some things you should know about the process. Spoiler alert—they all focus on pretty much one thing: turkeys. are. big.
Turkey butchering tip #1: Think out your plan of action for dispatching.
With chickens, my oldest grabs a chicken, holds it upside down by both feet and brings it to the kill cone.
But chickens are much smaller than turkeys.
I won’t lie. My (at the time) 14-year-old was more that slightly concerned that he would need testicular protection if he even thought about carrying a live turkey upside down by both feet. Especially since a friend confirmed that her husband would have appreciated having said testicular protection during their most recent turkey butchering day. I mean, have you ever been beaten with turkey wings?
I was pretty hard core convinced that the most humane way was with a kill cone. (Which also brought us to the realization that we needed a bigger one—see tip #2.)
When it came to dispatching turkeys our first year, it was me who gathered the turkeys from the coop. Why? Because they knew me as food lady, they liked me, and stayed calm. (Farm life is rough, yo. The circle of life.) I stood over them and gave them a big bear hug from above, making sure I had their wings pinned in with my arms. Then I carried them out of the coop.
Turkeys. are. heavy.
My sons and hubby were ready to help me tip the bird into our kill cone (and to help me if any of them tried to get away before making it to our homemade kill cone—none did.)
How did it work?
I’m not usually involved in the march of death, so that was a little different for me. But I think it was the most humane way for it all to happen, so yes, I think it worked well.
**UPDATED TIP #1.5**
Our first batch of turkeys was super friendly. Our subsequent batches weren’t (probably due to the fact I didn’t spend every waking moment with them oohing and aahing over their awesomeness.) The second (and subsequent) years we raised turkeys, they were not about to let me pick them up to accompany them on a death march. We actually switched to using “the feed sack trick” instead of picking them up/kill cone. I explain more in Updated Tip #2.5.
Turkey butchering tips #2: You need a bigger kill cone.
At some point it occurred to us that neither Jimbo nor his friends were going to fit in even the largest homemade kill cone that we had. We had some friends that told us using a feed sack with a corner cut off works well for a turkey kill cone. Another friend suggested a traffic cone.
But you know us. We have to try something different. So my husband found a 15 gallon barrel in our shed and said, “I have an idea”.
With some cutting, the use of a heat gun, and some special nuts and bolts, we created our first prototype for a giant kill cone.
How did it work?
It was definitely big enough and they fit inside with room to spare, but unlike chickens, the turkeys were so powerful that when they started flopping around, they tried to kick themselves out of the cone—and sometimes succeeded! We had to stand there until they stopped moving to make sure they weren’t going to flop themselves out of it. My husband suggested that with a little tighter fit they wouldn’t be able to move as much.
** UPDATED TIP #2.5: **
The second and subsequent years of raising turkeys, we used the feed sack method of dispatching. You’ll need two people for this task, unless you’re some kind of super human.
- Cut off a bottom corner of a sturdy feed sack, effectively making a hole at the corner of the sack. You only need to cut an inch or two up.
- Person one secures the live bird, usually by bear hugging/pinning them from above (but not picking them up).
- Person two slips the feed sack over the entire turkey (this will take assistance from person one) and pulls their head/neck through the hole in the corner of the feed sack. Make sure the bag goes over the whole bird—you want the wings contained. Person one should also make sure to have a hold of the turkey’s feet once the turkeys head/neck is through the hole.
- Person one and two carry the turkey in the sack to wherever the dispatching will take place.
- Our method is laying the sack on a trailer, pulling the neck all the way out the hole, and using a knife/machete/ax on a block of wood.
- Could you still carry this sack and fit it in the giant kill cone? Perhaps. We’ve not tried that.
Turkey butchering tips #3: Make sure your scalding kettle is big enough.
My husband thought he remembered a large kettle in his parents’ garage and we went ahead with our plan to use that as the perfect size to dip a giant bird in before plucking.
Well, you know how plans go. As it turned out, The large kettle was no longer in existence (having rusted out and been taken by another family member to use as a flower planter). So we sat and thought about our other options.
And then, my husband had another idea.
Why, yes. That is brand new metal 30 gallon garbage can on a propane burner.
How did it work?
I will admit I was skeptical of this. I thought putting a metal garbage can on a propane burner was a guaranteed way to start our entire property on fire. But it worked awesomely, and my husband was even gracious enough to not say I told you so.
It took more time to heat the water up than if we were using a 30 quart turkey fryer type kettle. But once that baby was ready, she worked slick! There was a slight amount of dripping from the bottom seam of the can (that was the same moment we saw the label on the can that said “for dry storage only”) but as soon as the first turkey was dipped to scald, the leaking stopped. My husband assumes some feathers and “stuff” came off the turkey and plugged the seam.
** UPDATED TIP #3.5: **
We no longer scald and pluck the turkeys. The weight of the turkeys was very hard on our plucker! Now when we butcher, we lay the turkey on its back, and carefully open the skin along the breast and down the legs. (A bit of air through a bicycle tire nozzle from an air compressor will help separate the skin from the meat.) Then we take the breast, thighs, and legs. We brine that turkey meat, then throw it in our smoker, and then package it for the freezer.
Turkey butchering tip #4: You need to know when you’re planning to butcher turkeys.
While you can slack off and move chicken butchering a week or two without much problem, you’re going to be in trouble if you do the same thing with turkeys—especially the Broad Breasted Variety.
Turkeys are big. I think I’ve mentioned that already.
There is a big difference in butchering a bird that dresses out at 4 pounds and one that dresses out 20 pounds larger. We have had a few friends who waited too long to butcher and ended up with turkeys so big they couldn’t fit the dressed bird in the roaster (or even the oven!) without cutting them in half.
We butchered 9 turkeys at 21 weeks. We got 164 pounds of meat from those 9 birds. Our largest bird (Jimbo) dressed out 24 pounds. Our smallest bird (significantly smaller than the rest, who tried to convince us she was actually a chicken) was 13 pounds.
** UPDATED TIP #4.5: **
We no longer package our birds whole. Not only because whole birds take up a lot of room in a freezer (see below), but also because I found it really hard to bake a 23 pound bird without it drying out. Smoking/packaging the breast, legs, and thighs worked better for space in the freezer and for our enjoyment of the meat.
Turkey butchering tips #5: Make room in your freezer.
When we butchered turkeys, we butchered 30 Red Rangers at the same time. We already had 50 Cornish Cross in the freezer from a couple months earlier. (Read more about our Cornish Cross vs. Red Rangers experiment!)
You guys, turkeys take up a crapton of room. Let me give you a visual of 8 turkeys in one of our freezers.
Did I mention three weeks after the turkeys were butchered, we needed to have room in our freezers for three pigs?
We have four freezers on our farm. And having full freezers is a great problem to have. But seriously, y’all—make sure you have room in your freezer(s).
There you have it—five turkey butchering tips from our first experience butchering turkeys at our farm (with updates as we learned more). Hope they were helpful! If you have any questions or turkey butchering tips to share with us, please do so in the comments!