Monday, 22 December 2014

Do they know it's Christmas time? I'm talking turkey!

Yesterday marked the winter solstice. I'm no more one for celebrating pagan festivals than I am for celebrating Christmas. But have no fear, this is not another bah humbug post.

However, the ebb and flow of the seasons has a huge impact on our lives now that we live off the land. The shortest day marks the time for planting out shallots. They'll be ready for gathering on the longest day. I was kept busy taking cuttings yesterday, so the shallots went in a day late. The soil at the moment is delightful to work.

Anyway, back to our Christmas celebration and this year, for the first time ever, we have been raising our own turkeys, a stag and two hens. For one of them, the shortest day really was the shortest day! What's more, they seemed to sense impending doom. All morning they were behaving oddly, first refusing to come out of their stable, then wandering to parts of the farm to which they had never previously ventured.
The two turkey hens even jumped the gate and mixed it with the sheep in the top paddock. I don't think the stag (that's the boy) is physically capable of jumping a gate any more as he has been making a decent effort to fatten up for Christmas!
But the sheep got curious which resulted in a hasty retreat by the hens... into the sheep shed. I looked away for a moment and, when I looked back, three of the sheep were in the shed. They don't usually spend much time in their unless the weather is foul, but they stayed in there for over five minutes, just staring into the corner. In the end I decided to end the stand off. The poor turkeys were just standing in the corner, hemmed in and completely puzzled about how to extricate themselves from the situation.

So, about 3 o'clock in the afternoon I led the turkey trio back into their stable, as I do every day. But from there I headed to the kitchen to put a large pan of water on to boil. I then got ready an old table top and a broom handle. I'll leave the rest up to your imaginations! (Don't worry, the broom handle's not for bashing them.)

A suitable sunset for the turkey stag to go out on.
While we had everything set up, we decided to thin down the Cayuga ducks as somehow we had ended up with three drakes. Choosing which would go was straightforward, as the biggest of the drakes was also the one with a little too much white to count as a proper Cayuga... He'll be rueing those white feathers now.

An old photo of the Cayugas.
They never stay still long enough for me to get many photos.
This was the first of our ducks we had ever killed for eating.

While we were on a roll, we decided to dispatch our first ever guinea fowl too. Evening is the time for this, as they can simply be plucked (excuse the pun) from their roosting perch. Catching them during the day would be a different proposition altogether.

The best time to catch a guinea fowl.
To cut a long story short we ate the guinea fowl last night. We'd eaten them before, in East Africa, so were keen to see how our own birds would compare. Considering that this bird was well over a year old, it tasted very nice indeed. In fact we'll definitely start 'harvesting' our guinea fowl on a more regular basis from now. The duck we prepared last night and roasted today. Again we were not disappointed. All those slugs from the vegetable patch have obviously given the ducks a very special taste!

As for the two surviving turkey hens, they have spent the whole of today inside their stable, despite the door being open for them to wander at will. Sadly, I think they have been calling for their 'man'.

Earlier in the year on our poultry dispatch and preparation day.
It may not be everybody's cup of tea,
but our birds have great lives and are dispatched quickly.

The turkeys have really surprised us with how gentle and friendly they are. They are a social animal too, never straying far from each other. I really hope that the two birds we have left can get over their loss quickly. When their time comes, which will be later in the winter, they will both go at once since it would clearly be unfair to leave one on its own.

Meanwhile, the days are getting longer now. The chickens have started laying again and tomorrow I've got bean trenches to dig and compost to spread in preparation for the next growing season.


  1. I've done the deed using a broom stick with hens (never something I relish) but how did it work out with something as big as a turkey?

  2. Turkey was not really any more difficult than a chicken (thin neck). I was lucky that back in March I was able to practice on a couple under the expert guidance of Mick Matthews from Cambridgeshire Self Sufficiency Group.
    Broomstick is definitely the best way to do the deed. It's easy, efficient and humane.


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