***** This post contains pictures of a turkey being humanely killed*****

Free range turkeys

This weekend Bill, Vivi and I drove to meet our future Thanksgiving turkey and to learn how to butcher him. It was a cold morning and snow was just a few hours out but we bundled up and drove 25 minutes to a nearby town. 

I love meat. I think meat is really healthy for you. But I am very picky about the meat I eat and I am very picky about what meat I consider healthy for you. The pork, chicken, beef and turkey that my family eats comes from local farms, raised by farmers who deeply care about the animals and do right by the animals. The animals are pastured, for the most part organic and always raised by kind farmers. I grew up eating meat but for the most part was very sheltered about where the meat came from. It arrived at the store processed and packaged. My mom did drive to Kalona once in a while to pick up chickens from an Amish farm but it wasn’t ever really discussed how the chickens came to be packaged up, cleaned and ready to go. I am of the belief that if you eat meat, you need to be able to stomach seeing the animal alive, killed and cleaned. It’s a respect thing for me. I have never understood those who shudder when they see a whole pig on a spit but will gobble down bacon without a thought. I want my children to understand that the chicken they eat was once alive and had a great life pastured on an organic farm a handful of miles away and that in order to enjoy the delicious meat, that chicken had to be killed and cleaned. I teach Vivi the different cuts of meat and the animals they come from. Vivi’s favorite sardines are the ones with the tails attached not the boneless, skinless ones, she understands that sardines are fish and not just packaged food.  So this weekend I took my 4 year old to watch a turkey get butchered. My decision was questioned but I held firm that at 4 years old, a child can understand the circle of life. 

P1050385We drove up to the acreage to find the owner riding on a beautiful horse while working with another large and gorgeous horse ( just like Vivi, I love horses and think all are just stunning) with a dog running along doing his job of herding. Nearby were the turkeys with more room to roam than they could ever need. They were a group full of personality and the most unique faces I had ever seen.  The proud owner, Quinn, happened to be incredibly friendly and personable which is always nice to find.  I have been to farms before where the farmer is not nearly so outgoing.  Quinn decided to start raising turkeys as a gift to his young daughter and all the money from the turkeys goes to her. He is going to start branching out into raising other livestock because he is fed up with how animals are raised in factory farms and feed lots. He is simply someone who wants to do the right thing and is actually doing it. He took the time to tell us his history and then the history and story of his birds and horses. How many of the turkeys were lost to hawks and other predators. What some don’t realize is the “natural” death for these animals is much more painful then the death they receive at the hands of the farmer or hunter. We then chose a bird to butcher and headed to a nearby tree.


Meanwhile I was watching Vivi grow assertive with the flock of turkeys who wanted her to play with them. Pecking away at her, Vivi learned quickly to take charge and keep them where she wanted them. It’s always fun as a parent to watch nature take over parenting for a bit and teach your child a lesson. Vivi had never been around turkeys before but figured out how they worked and that they weren’t anything to be feared despite being nearly her size. Quinn strung the bird up by his feet to a branch and quickly slit the turkey’s throat while covering the eyes keeping the turkey calm. There was not dramatic flapping of the wings, struggle or noise. I watched Vivi’s reaction to the blood pouring out and the transition of life to death of the bird. She was not scarred, frightened, traumatized. She simply took note of the blood and that the turkey was not moving. Quinn chooses to kill the birds this way instead of the chopping of the heads. She then watched us pluck the feathers and still did not freak out by the sight of the bird changing in front of her eyes. When it came time to cut the head off she simply pointed out that now it looked like the chickens we get from the farm. And as a child who is fed organ meat, pulling out the gizzards didn’t faze her. Watching Vivi, watch the process, reminded me that we don’t need to shelter our kids from these sorts of things. We don’t need to lie about where chicken comes from, what bacon really is or that a hamburger once was part of a cow. As an adult this was my first time plucking the feathers from a dead bird. To be honest, I was nervous that I would have issue doing it, but was happy to find that it was no big deal. We learned the process of butchering and processing the bird because we plan on going back and picking out a turkey next week and butchering it at our house for Thanksgiving. Vivi then had a dream of hers come true when Quinn offered her a ride on Einstein. Vivi has talked about how she got to ride a horse “without a saddle!” for days now.  I am happy that my money is going to a good person and not just a factory farm, handing money to the farmer and not a store can be very empowering.   

I know that this year I will have more pride, respect and admiration for the turkey I serve than any year before.  At my cookery school I try to source everything locally and more importantly know the source personally.  I feel good about the fact that the turkey served at my table this Thanksgiving has lived a good life and I have the responsibility to make sure his death occurs with respect.  Animals are killed in all aspects of agriculture.  Your vegetables if bought from a store are responsible for the death of many critters who get killed during the harvesting of said vegetables and those deaths are much more brutal than the quick one that my turkey will receive. More importantly I will feel very good that my turkey did not arrive at the slaughterhouse like this or in this condition:

Take pride in where your turkey comes from this year. I believe that the more we connect with our food sources the more we will appreciate what good food is. Our disconnect from our food is very new relative to our history on earth and I hope we can turn it around with my generation. With the increase of backyard chickens, young families choosing to create their own homesteads, farmers markets and restaurants sourcing locally, I am hopeful that the days of blindly buying food without a thought about what is in it or where it is from are over. 

Free range turkeys

If you are in the Iowa City area and are interested in buying a turkey from Quinn, contact me.

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