BaltimOregon to Maine

Locavore Cooking with Southern Efficiency and Northern Charm

Before & After Turkey: From Farm to Slaughter to Oven to Table

with 12 comments


I was especially thankful for turkey this year, because I hand-selected our bird at a local farm and participated in its slaughter and butchering in a visceral, almost spiritual way. Why would I subject myself to the blood and gore? And how could that not make you go vegetarian and swear off poultry forever?

But I am increasingly convinced the more we know about our food — where it was cultivated, who tended it and under what conditions — the more it fully nourishes us as we humbly accept our place in the web of life. Our massive tom turkey came from Afton Field Farm on the rural outskirts of Corvallis. Little did I know I could take part in the butchering when we ordered it at the farmers’ market in October.

But the farm’s young proprietor Tyler Jones invited us out and so I went.dsc01202 The Corvallis native and OSU grad learned how to run a small-scale sustainable livestock operation while interning with Joel Salatin of Polyface Farm in Virginia, which featured in Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma.

Afton Field Farm raised about 55 turkeys this year, slaughtering, cleaning and packaging them on the Friday before Thanksgiving on the grounds of Jones’ wooded childhood home near Bald Hill Park.

The first bird I pointed out seemed too wimpy, but little did I know the next one I selected was a whopping 26.8 pounds, the second biggest the farm sold. We’ll be eating turkey tacos, soups and casseroles for the next year!


Then its neck is slit in a pain-minimizing kosher-style way that people have used to slaughter their meat for thousands of years. It just felt right. These turkeys had a good life at Afton Farm and are hopefully meeting a relatively painless end.

Thank goodness we didn’t have to pluck the feathers by hand. Instead, the birds were scalded in hot water and choppily spun around in an open washing machine.DSC01224

Feeling and learning about the turkey’s internal organs were another treat (and the warm cavity felt good to the hands on the briskly cold day). I helped them rip the head off, cut the feet, remove the esophagus and wind pipe and gut the bird. I also cut open the giblet gizzard (what’s the difference between the two, again?) to remove the sack of grass and rocks and other debris turkey and chickens ingest when they peck at their food.


Though trying, the experience didn’t gross me out. I came to the Thanksgiving table with a renewed sense of reverence. And the turkey, which we gave a salt rub the night before, tasted better than ever this year.


Written by baltimoregon

November 28, 2008 at 2:38 am

12 Responses

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. those are funny/disgusting pictures. you should keep them and send out thanksgiving cards next year of you holding the bowels of a turkey and grinning.

    that said, i think it’s pretty cool what you did. i can understand how it gave you a new appreciation of the holiday.

    was it just you and dan this year, or did one or more sets of parents come out? that’s a big turkey for just 2 people.


    November 28, 2008 at 7:29 am

  2. I’m very impressed! Not sure i could do it, but i’m glad to read about you doing it. Seems like a very Oregon experience. Did Dan go to the slaughter too?


    November 28, 2008 at 8:02 am

  3. Tom, Nancy and Carolyn are out visiting Laura and Dan, and the turkey was really delicious. I think we maximized the number of cooks in the kitchen- even Dan’s Thai friend Kosan was drafted as a gravy maker.
    Laura did a great job on turkey, mushroom stuffing, roasted fennel potatoes, etc, and the pumpkin tiramisu from fresh roasted pumpkin was amazingly good after too much food.
    We’re really loving the fresh produce from the farmer’s market, abundant wild mushrooms, great pinot noir- lots of good stuff here!


    November 28, 2008 at 11:17 am

  4. Heh, no I went to the slaughter alone b/c Dan was busy with students. We still have lots of leftovers we’ll freeze, even though the family was out visiting. I didn’t mean to pick such a big turkey! Next time I’ll choose a smaller bird.


    November 28, 2008 at 12:46 pm

  5. What a unique experience, Laura….we’re usually so far removed from the foods we eat –and definitely more comfortable that way than being arm-deep in turkey guts. We actually went to visit Polyface Farm, just about an hour’s drive from here, a couple of years ago after reading Michael Pollan’s book (and bought farm-fresh eggs and chicken there, though they don’t do much retail business). How neat that your Corvallis/OSU guy learned the tricks of the trade right here in Virginia!


    November 28, 2008 at 5:44 pm

  6. Wow, that’s a lot of blood, did the bird struggle when it was put into the chute? I too have witnessed the slaughter of a farm animal (a goat), but it went through a lot of pain. It was slaughtered according to the host family’s culture, and bled to its death through a slit in its neck. I still haven’t quite decide whether i should be quick to judge that it was an inhumane thing to do, or just respect and accept that it was part of a different culture.

    Rose G. Knight

    November 29, 2008 at 9:34 pm

  7. No the bird really didn’t struggle. And they seemed to cut the neck in a way to minimize pain and make the death more swift. It’s in the chute so it doesn’t flap around and cause itself more pain. So are you a vegetarian?


    December 1, 2008 at 12:15 am

  8. […] right this year. And I had the stock and shredded turkey meat all ready to go in the freezer. If this bird had to die, at least we are using every inch of its […]

  9. […] Sunday night dinner stumps you, it’s a treat to discover bags of still flavorful shredded Thanksgiving turkey in the freezer. We sure got a lot of life out of that bird. I had wanted to try Turkey Picadillo, […]

  10. Hey, cool tips. Perhaps I’ll buy a bottle of beer to that man from that chat who told me to visit your blog 🙂

    Jane Goody

    April 22, 2009 at 12:06 am

  11. […] Oregon State- small farms […]

    {in the news} «

    September 22, 2009 at 7:14 pm

  12. […] was the problem? It felt ominous to have the feathered friend in the fridge. Why did this bother me when I handled (with assistance, of course) the turkey at Afton Field Farm with no […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: