Reporter’s Notebook: A thoughtful turkey day

This holiday season my Thanksgiving and Christmas feasting experiences were hands-on.

This holiday season my Thanksgiving and Christmas feasting experiences were hands-on.

Instead of unwrapping a turkey from tightly stretched plastic to protect its perfectly plucked skin with its giblets tidily placed inside, Ralph (my partner) and I decided to source our own turkeys.

Though a lot of reasoning and logic led us to the decision to obtain our own meat to complete the picturesque and traditional vision shared among many holiday tables, it took a conscious effort to remind myself of that same logic and reasoning in the midst of slaughtering the turkeys.

When you buy a turkey, it’s typically neatly wrapped, gutted and plucked. With no head or feathers and often an oddly plump body, I’m easily removed from the fact that what I’m about to consume is a turkey that at one point was a living, breathing, fully feathered creature.

I enjoy eating meat, but to say that the notion of transitioning to a vegetarian diet while slaughtering the turkeys never crossed my mind would be a lie. However, as long as I choose to consume meat and have the ability to responsibly source where the meat I eat comes from, I’ll be sure to do so. The concept of knowing and fully appreciating food, especially meat, is reinforced by Ralph and his thoughts, too.

Growing up on a small farm with animals and hunting and fishing continuing to be a part of my adult life, I feel I have a fairly secure sense of life and death, but slaughtering turkeys was a first for me and certainly reinforced the magnitude of taking another life.

Like how many of our adventures and misadventures seem to begin, the search for a farm-raised turkey started on Craigslist. With only a few days until Thanksgiving, Ralph connected with a small farm owner in Quilcene who had a few heritage turkeys for sale.

Heritage turkeys are of a domestic variety of turkey that have retained some historic characteristics and are more comparable to wild turkeys.

Multiple breeds of heritage turkeys exist, but all tend to have longer life spans and are much slower growing than turkeys bred for industrial agriculture. Additionally, unlike most industrially bred turkeys, heritage turkeys can reproduce without artificial insemination.

Equipped with a sharp knife, cooler and high hopes of distancing ourselves from the mass production of turkeys, Ralph and I drove to Quilcene. Upon our arrival we met the farm owner, still in the midst of processing a couple of turkeys of her own.

The turkeys typically freely roamed, roosting in surrounding trees, hunting and gathering their food with some grain supplementation, but had been locked up for our catching ease. After being handed a large net, we were pointed to the direction of the chicken coop and adjoining poultry yard.

The turkeys were beautifully marked with metallic feathers. They were fast, tall and lean, but still plenty filled out. After picking out what appeared to be a fairly large, healthy young tom ,we herded the turkey to the corner of the yard and successfully netted him. Holding him upside down by his legs kept him calm while we carried him to the side of a building where brackets were placed to slip his feet into, keeping him upside down.

I held the wings and in a single breath Ralph killed the turkey using his knife and then helped to support the bird while it bled out.

The act of slaughtering the turkey was swift and done as humanely as possible with no struggle and both Ralph and I quietly thanked the turkey again and again for its life.

After a few minutes the turkey was bled out and we dunked it in 140-degree water, which allowed us to pluck its feathers before cleaning, separating and keeping whatever organs we desired. Something a bit unexpected while helping Ralph process the turkey was its organs, such as the liver and gizzard. They were far larger, fuller and healthier in appearance than those found in a commercially raised turkey.

Having emotionally and mentally survived the new experience of killing my family’s soon-to-be Thanksgiving centerpiece, Ralph and I decided to repeat the process with one more turkey for Christmas.

Although slaughtering turkeys may be quite common for many, it was a first for me and proved impactful. Having intimately participated in the steps that eventually led to a dinner filled with laughs and joyous memories left me with a deeper appreciation for the food and overall holiday dinning experience.

I felt more connected and had expanded my sense of awareness, not to mention the turkey tasted phenomenal.


Reach Alana Linderoth at