Tuesday, November 20, 2007

My busiest day of the year

Yesterday was exhausting. I woke up at 3 a.m. after only four hours of broken sleep. By 4:10 we were driving down the road towards Arthur, where we get our turkeys processed. We pulled into the parking lot at 6:35 and waited almost two hours to start unloading. We had the misfortune to arrive after a couple of trailers that had a few hundred turkeys in them. As we were waiting, I said to Katherine, "You know, I've never seen a bird get loose here." Then I immediately knocked on something I thought was wood.

When it was our turn, Katherine caught the turkeys, handed them to me, and then I handed them to the man who was responsible for hanging them upside-down by their feet on an overhead conveyor system. Another man quickly cut their throats, and within seconds, they were dead. It is probably a much better end than the turkeys at home will have, and it was something that I thought about yesterday. We kept two turkey hens here -- we still have a gobbler from last year -- hoping they'll hatch poults next year. But we've also been having coyote problems, and dieing in the jaws of a coyote is not a pleasant way to go.

We had almost finished unloading. Only two turkeys remained, and as Katherine tried to grab one, the other decided to make a break for it. She flew right past me. I tried to grab her, but she slipped through my fingers and started to fly. The first thought that flew through my head was, "Damn heritage turkeys!" and I realized that the reason none of the trailers full of turkeys ever have any escapees is because they're all broad-breasted mutants who can't fly! Lucky for us, she landed between a car and a wall, so she was trapped. A man grabbed her before she realized she could have run under the car, and she is now in the refrigerator.

After the turkeys were unloaded, we went to breakfast and then shopping at Beachy Bulk Foods and Country Salvage. I love buying kitchen equipment down there because unlike most Americans, the Amish cook at home, and not being wealthy, they buy good-quality, practical kitchen supplies. It is the best place to buy knives -- the only place I've seen that sells something called a "butcher knife." I bought several knives and a diamond knife sharpener, as well as a variety of flours and grains not available at the average supermarket.

We arrived back home at 4:30, which is when the real work begins for me, if you don't count the five hours of driving as work. Katherine called out the weights of the individual turkeys as I wrote them on a pad of paper. Then I came inside and started matching them up with the weights on the reservations. I also realized that we didn't have enough room in the refrigerators for the turkeys, so we had to make room for them. That meant taking out a lot of milk and making cheese! I poured milk into a pot on the stove to be pasteurized while I sent out emails to all the turkey customers, giving them their weights, balance due, and expected time of delivery on Wednesday. Then I went back into the kitchen -- it was past 10 p.m. by then -- to make cheese.

I'm glad I only have one day like this once a year. We did have a few moments of insanity as we were trying to get all the turkeys into the refrigerators, and oddly enough, it was my oldest daughter who was swearing off turkeys next year, rather than me. The good news is that everyone is happy with their turkeys, even though some are as much as 3-4 pounds less than what they'd requested originally. I do think I'll raise turkeys again next year, although I am contemplating ways to make it less crazy. Probably the biggest factor in "craziness" is having the turkeys processed just before Thanksgiving. So I am considering a processing date well in advance of the holiday. That would mean the turkeys would be frozen, but it would also mean a much calmer process for me.

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