Housewives learn how to slaughter turkeys

Nancy Martin and Susan Bedard had to know whether they could stomach the other side of a turkey dinner – production.

Finally ready to pursue their dream of ditching suburbia to take their husbands into the country to become farmers, the women first wanted to sort out whether they could handle some of farming’s less romantic chores, such as slaughtering turkeys.

“Susan and I, when our kids were younger, when they got a boo-boo, we would tend to it then go lay down,” says Martin, a 52-year-old stay-at-home mom from Pelham, N.H. “I’m a little nervous about the process. So we’ll see.”

For their first experience bringing food from stable to table, Martin and Bedard signed up for a one-day turkey slaughter class at the Remick Country Doctor Museum and Farm, a 200-year-old farm in Tamworth, N.H. The course is part of the museum’s effort to teach basic agricultural skills and traditions.

“This is sort of the last ditch effort,” says Bedard, 49, of Salem, N.H. “We’re not getting any younger. It’s either now or never.”

Instructor Virginia Taylor makes no apologies for the process, but assures the women they could handle it.

“We take care of them the best we can for a long time and then they take care of us, and that includes humane slaughter,” she says. “Does it get messy sometimes? Yes it does. But we try to do it humanely and gently and get it done.”

The National Turkey Federation estimates 46 million turkeys will be consumed this Thanksgiving. Most of those will be slaughtered in commercial, USDA-inspected facilities, where processing is partially mechanized, says federation spokeswoman Sherrie Rosenblatt.

But the old-fashioned method taught at the museum is fairly personal.

First Bedard must dive into the turkey pen and pursue a big-breasted white turkey, eventually seizing it by the legs and hoisting it upside down. That technique has a remarkable calming effect on the bird.

Hefting the bird outside, the women watch – Martin with a hand on Bedard’s shoulder – as another attendee wields an ax and lops the head off a bird his 10-year-old sister had nabbed just before Bedard caught hers.

When it is the women’s turn, Martin volunteers to do the chopping while Bedard holds the turkey.

“We’re going to put the turkey’s head right in here and kind of stretch its neck out so we can cut the neck off right here,” says Taylor. “When that happens… You’ve heard the chicken with its head cut off? That’s what happens. The nerve endings go crazy.

“There will be a lot of flopping. There will be a lot of blood and it will splatter all over the place.”

With a grimace, Martin raises the ax and swings. Then again: The first chop didn’t quite go all the way.

There is lots of flopping and plenty of blood, especially on Bedard. But soon the bird’s body is set in a bucket to drain and settles down. The women exchange looks of relief. And pride.

“I thought it was going to be a lot more traumatic on me,” says Martin. “I thought it would be more traumatic on the bird. It was very quick and painless.”

After dunking the turkey in a cauldron of hot water, the women yank out handfuls of feathers and remove the innards. Thirty minutes later, they have something that resembles what one might find at the grocer.

And they have an answer to their question.

“That was just an amazing experience,” says Martin. “It was fine. I can do this. We can do this. Now I want to cook it. I want to taste the fruit of my labor here.”


Remick Country Doctor Museum and Farm