About a month ago I came across an ad on the Pennswoods website. I won't tell you WHY I was browsing the livestock category. It's just kind of an addiction for me. (Actually, I'm on the lookout for a weed-eating goat that I can tether out - a friend talked about how much they enjoyed theirs and how it really helped cut down on their weed clearing chores. But I don't want it until spring [unless and awesome deal comes along!])
In my browsing, I saw that a man down in Altoona, PA had bourbon red turkeys for sale. These are a really interesting heritage breed of turkeys. It just happened that I was going to be driving by that way and I couldn't resist. I made the call. Needless to say, after some terrible mishaps, I have five red bourbon turkeys. The first two are almost definitely jennies and the other three are a bit young to tell quite yet.
When I called about the turkeys, I asked the elderly gentleman on the line if I could get a jake and hens. He chuckled and told me, "I can't tell the difference between them, (his very young turkeys) but you're welcome to try." I researched around and couldn't really find any information that let me know how to tell the difference. One person wrote that you would be able to tell by their "attitude." Jakes would have a more aggressive attitude It was pretty tough to detect attitude in a bunch of skittering, running away, panicked baby turkeys! So, if I find I have all jennies, or all jakes, I'm going to call the nice man who sold them and try to work out trades with some of his other buyers. Cross your fingers!
The American Livestock Breeds Conservancy has a wonderful page about Bourbon Red turkeys with links that you can find here.
But a few notes about bourbon reds:
Originally named "Bourbon Butternuts"
They're named for Bourbon County in Kentucky, but actually started in Pennsylvania from dark buff-colored Tuscarora turkeys.
Dark red plumage with white flight and tail feathers.
Recognized by the American Poultry Association in 1909.
Young toms are about 23 pounds, young hens are about 14 pounds.
Bourbons were an important commercial variety in the 1930s and 40s but not able to compete with the broad breasted varieties. Their ability to breed naturally, hardiness, and superior flavor has increased interest in the birds.
My turkeys will spend the winter in a chicken wire surrounded stall of the barn. Its a touch warmer, and hopefully, safer for them. I was told that they shouldn't be put in with chickens because there are diseases that chickens can pass on to turkeys. Bourbon Reds are known to be great grazers, so in the spring, they'll be moved outside to their own turkey house and paddock.
They're very interesting to watch. There are a lot of natural wild turkeys in our area and the bourbon reds move and act exactly the same way (I'm not sure what I expected to be different!). They seem to be much more flighty than the chickens. I hoping that over time they'll calm down a bit.
They are beautiful birds. This Thanksgiving the Bourbon Reds are safe. They're much too small to make much of a feast. Next year, I hope to be able to sell these pasture-raised, heritage-breed, (and I'll hope to report) great tasting Thanksgiving turkeys!
Its getting cold here. I have to start hauling buckets of hot water to make sure the critters all stay hydrated. I bring the big buckets into the house and fill them with the hottest water I can while I do other little chores. A wagon works well for hauling the buckets while the snow is low, but I switch over to hauling it on a plastic sled when the snow starts to accumulate (and it will accumulate!).
The chickens and ducks have their water, in the metal waterer that freezes easily, emptied at night and refilled in the morning. When the temperatures drop to consistently below freezing, the water gets moved inside the coop where the temperature stays warmer.
The turkeys get their plastic waterer filled morning and evening (I have to pour hot water over the waterer to thaw it out!)
The piggies get their water filled every morning and evening (after I break the ice out.)
Dogs and cats have their water inside - no problems!
Oh, the little things are so much more difficult in the winter!
“A lot of people like snow. I find it to be an unnecessary freezing of water.” ― Carl Reiner
The chicks have grown large enough to butcher, the weather is cool - o.k. cold - and I've set aside the time. Although it was sooo cold yesterday, I'm happy I got it finished, because its snowing like crazy today!
This blog post is honest. If you don't like pictures of chickens being butchered and detailed descriptions of the process then do not read on.
The absolute best tutorial - the one I review every year before butchering my chickens - is Survival Skills With Russ on Youtube.
He makes it look soooo easy! Maybe, someday, after I've butchered a whole bunch of chickens I'll be able to do it as fast as he does, but now I'm much more slow and methodical.
The only criticism I have about this video is that he doesn't talk about the connective tissue. The craw he talks about? It's connected to everything with a thin, almost transparent layer of tissue and if you're fingers aren't strong enough to pull it away (mine are not) then you must very carefully cut it away. You do not want to cut into that craw!
There's connective tissue under the skin as you cut around the bung hole. Including some tough little muscles back by the tail area. Again, be very, very careful. You don't want to cut into the intestines and get pooh everywhere. And finally, everything inside the chicken is connected with that tissue also, but its possible to break it loose with your hand as you reach in and pull out the entrails.
Russ just reaches in, grabs the lungs, and pulls them out. The lungs are spongy little things that are firmly attached to the ribcage, so it takes some work to get your finger up under them and pull them out. You're lucky if they come out in one piece!
I hang the chickens the way he does. That way they don't flap around all over the yard. To be kinder to the chicken, this initial cut is not a time to be tentative. Cut firmly and deeply. I cut their throats and step well back. You'll find that the chickens flap their wings as their heart stops and the death flaps will spray blood all over the place - including all over you!
Dip the killed chickens in the pot of hot water. You can cut off the heads before this step or wait until after. I tend to wait until after. There seems to be less blood getting in the water. To heat the water, I use a propane turkey fryer. I surrounded it with chairs to keep the wind from blowing out the gas. If your water is hot enough (I found that 160-degrees or even a bit more), you should be able to dip and swish the chickens for about six or seven seconds, pull them out a bit, and test to see if the feathers wipe of the legs. If they wipe easily then its time to pluck.
I now have a strong appreciation for the amount of work done by our foremothers. Plucking is hard work! If your water temperature was right, you can use your thumb to get most of the feather and little quills out and they come easily. But my arms and hands were very, very weary after a few chickens. I started with the legs, then the crotch of the legs, the breast, the wings, thighs, and then back. I didn't worry too much about tail or neck feathers as I would be cutting those off anyway.
Butchering. Have a good sharp knife. Watch the Survival Skills With Russ video. Be sure not to feed the chickens the night or morning before (only water) - it makes for chickens with much cleaner insides.
Good luck and I'd be very happy to hear any tips, hints, or questions anyone may have.
I have a lot of fruit trees and my own little vegetable garden and chickens. And every time I eat, I bless my food; I say I'm grateful for for it and let it nourish every part of my body.