Slaughtering and processing your own turkeys on-farm can be a rewarding if messy, experience. Learn the basics of slaughtering, processing and butchering turkeys safely and humanely.
Can You Process On-Farm?
If you are going to sell turkeys at the farmers market, to restaurants, or otherwise bring the turkeys to market, you'll need to make sure your facility is USDA-approved and meets all your local and state requirements for poultry processing. If you are going to sell directly from your farm to customers, you may be able to process without using a USDA-approved facility - check with your local extension service to find out.
You'll want to have all your supplies gathered and your slaughter area set up before you begin. A turkey-sized killing cone should be mounted to the side of a building or a framework built out of wood. Here's what you'll need:
- Knives. Be sure your knives are sharp. Four to six inches in length is ideal. Two or more knives are needed.
- Killing cone. Find a turkey-sized killing cone at a farm supply store or order it from your hatchery. Some people DIY it with an orange traffic cone.
- Buckets and pails. A bucket or large plastic garbage pail underneath the killing cone and scalding area catch feathers and blood.
- Water. A hose with fresh, clean water is a necessity.
- Table. You need some kind of surface to process the birds on.
- Scalding tank. A very large pot or tank on a burner that can heat to 140 degrees F. Make sure the scalding tank is large enough to dunk and swirl the birds to remove the feathers.
- Cooler or tank with ice. A large cooler or tank filled with ice and cold water is necessary for chilling the birds after processing.
- Paper towels.
- Cutting board.
- Plastic bags for storage. There are heat-shrink bags available from farm supply stores that shrink tightly around the bird and prevent freezer burn.
Process the Turkey
- Grab the bird. Grab the bird's feet first and let it hang upside down. This calms them as blood rushes to the head. Place the bird in the killing cone.
- Cut the artery and vein. Pull the bird's head firmly through the bottom of the killing cone and hold it. Using a small, sharp knife, cut just behind where the tendon for the beak and tongue attaches. Your aim is to sever the jugular vein and carotid artery. Use a firm hand and slice deeply on both sides of the neck. Pull the head down firmly and allow the blood to drain.
- Scald and pluck the turkey. With your water at roughly 140 degrees F, plunge the turkey into the scalding tank, head first (hold the legs and feet). Swirl the bird in the water both around and up and down. Every few seconds, check to see if the feathers remove easily. When they do, remove the bird, secure it by the legs (a couple of nails in a board will hold each leg), and pluck the feathers.
- Process and eviscerate. After plucking, give the bird a good rinse. Remove the feet by cutting between the joints. Cut the head off with a sharp knife or cleaver. Slit the neck skin, loosen the trachea and esophagus all the way down to where they enter the body. Loosen the crop and pull it free from the body. Insert the knife about one inch above the vent, slitting the skin carefully up to the breastbone (make sure not to cut into the intestines). Cut around either side of the vent and remove it.
- Reach into the bird and run your hand along the ribs to free the entrails. Feel the gizzard - a hard organ - and pull it out. The entrails will come with it, and so will the trachea, esophagus, and crop if you've loosened them already.
- Next, remove the lungs. There are special "lung scrapers" you can use, or you can just reach in and pull them out.
- Remove the neck by cutting the muscle tissue around it, then bend it and break through the bone.
- Rinse and pack. Rinse the bird thoroughly, inside and out. Place the bird into a cooler filled with water and ice. Make sure the turkey is completely submerged. After chilling for at least 30 minutes (preferably an hour), remove the turkey and pat dry. You can then package the bird however you like, whether a large zip-close bag, a heat-shrink bag, or vacuum sealer.
- Age. The freshly butchered turkey should age for a few days before eating or freezing to avoid toughness.
For visual instructions (using a chicken, but similar), read this step-by-step.