Pete's random thoughts

Saturday, October 14, 2006

It's that "in between" time of year

It's that odd, in-between time of year.

You can go outside in short sleeves, but not once the sun starts to go down. The leaves are turning color and falling.

We stopped for gas tonight as we were coming home from the grocery store and when I went inside to pay, there was a display of stuff that you just might need. Impulse items. The funny part was that they were all on the same display. Only at this time of year in New England would you see the following list of items in the same display space:

-sun screen
-windshield ice scrapers
-bags of charcoal
-lock de-icer
-bug spray
-collapseable car snow brushes

It's like the little store has to be ready for whatever tomorrow morning brings, be it 80 degrees and sunny or be it a surprise snow storm.

For the record, it is supposed to be 55 degrees and partly cloudy. We are planning on going apple picking over in Vermont and dropping by the fall social being held by the Woodland Confederacy a few towns to the south of the orchard we are going to. It's that time of year where it's a crap shoot, maybe it will be 55, maybe it will be 75, maybe it will snow!

Sunday, October 08, 2006


Wendy was getting dinner ready tonight and aked me to take Caleigh down here to the shop and entertain her for 10 minutes so she could concentrate on cooking. We sang a song that had wanted to sing, then began sorting through a box of "stuff" from the old house. A few minutes into this, Wendy yelled down that I'd better come quick because it sounded like the coyotes were in the chicken coop. On the way out the door, I grabbed one of the house guns and a maglite.

When I got to the animal pens, the goats were a little shaken up (maybe because of my running towards them with a flashlight, they startle easily), Rocky the steer was lying down in the goat shed, looking at me with his big dumb cow eyes as if to say "Hi Pete, what brings you out here this time of night?". The ducks were in an uproar, but that's normal for them. The only thing that seemed out of place was the eerie howling and yipping coming from the woods on the far side of the pens.

They sounded like there were 4-5 of them, yapping away maybe 25 yards into the brush. I considered bushwacking around them up the old logging trail, but thought he better of it because I had already showered and hadn't yet put my belt into my clean pants. Since I have lost over 30 pounds on my 18th century diet, my pants don't do a good job staying up without a belt. The last thing I need is to be stumbling in the dark up a trail covered in thorny raspberry canes with a loaded shotgun with my pants falling every few steps. Wendy shouted something to me from the house, 40 yards away, and I answered, which shut the coyotes up for a while. Apparantly they hadn't noticed how close I had gotten until I spoke.

Now I've got my belt on, shoes too. Since I started to type this two hours ago, I've been back outside twice. There have been a few funny moments, like when I was stalking along the logging road near the pig pen and all of a sudden the pigs did a little panic stampede, then froze. I assumed they had seen something in the woods and froze myself, waiting for a noise or motion. A few moments of this frozen stuff passed, and it occured tome that it was me that the pigs were scared by. I spoke to them and they unfroze to go about their business, which meant coming over to see me in case I brought food this time.

I'll share one more funny moment, then I'm going back upstairs: There I was, standing silently against a big tree stump out the logging trail. I heard a twig snap, then another. Then silence. A few moments pass. Then I hear a low, ominous growl coming from really near by. My first thought is that they had out flanked me and we alarmed at suddenly spotting me or smelling me. Nope, it was my full belly settling after a big dinner.

This might be a long night.

Butchered turkeys today

Today we slept late and after eating leftover stuffed acorn squash for breakfast, went about setting up our butchering system. Two folding tables (the ones we use on the road in our sutler shop, on the road we cover them with fabric), a propane stove I salvaged from the dump last year, a trash barrel, a cooler, a big pot (actually an old water-bath canner), a scalpel and an orange highway cone.

The first step is to not feed the critters until after butchering is done so their crops aren't full. Even if we fed the pigs, the chickens etc would sneak into the pen and steal their food.

The highway cone is hung upside-down by a rope from a tree branch. Some folks secure them to something solid, but the rope allows it to be hung at different heights and to be hosed out easily.

Of course, our twisted little 5 year old daughter found out that we were going to hang the turkey in the cone and she shouted "Pinata party!!!". Man, if we ever sent her to public school we'd be visiting the guidance councilor every other day...but that's a story for another day.

You catch the turkey, a pretty simple operation because turkeys are pretty dumb. The best way to carry poultry is by the feet, in fact, chickens will sort of faint from being upside-down and all of their blood rushing to their heads. Not turkeys. The just bend their long necks until their heads are right side up. The cone had to be cut to allow for the large body of a turkey to fit inside, but we saved the small part that we cut off to drop inside for smaller birds.

The turkey's head sticks out the bottom of the cone (remember, this is the small end because it's hanging upside-down) and he looks around, baffled by his predicament. After a minute of two, he calms down and gets used to his new posture, and then you hold him by the head and cut his jugular vein with the scalpel. The blood gushes out onto the ground, but doesn't spray over a 25ft radius like it would if you just held him by the feet and chopped his head off. Less blood spatter makes for a better marriage.

The turkey bleeds out in a few seconds, and the cone keeps the body from convulsing, flapping and breaking it's bones. Then you take the bird by the feet and dip him in the pot of hot (not boiling) water. The hot water loosens the feathers by relaxing the skin that holds them in place. Then you start plucking.

We saved the wing and tail feathers for pens, decoration, etc. The rest of the feathers go into the trash. We could compost them, but the all of our organic waste that would normally go to a compost pile goes to the critters first. After all of the feathers are out, we remove the feet (which go to the dog as one of his favorite treats).

Then we open up the body cavity by cutting around the vent and up towards the keelbone. You reach inside and pull out the innards, which get dropped into a waiting bucket. Of course, a bunch of chickens are underfoot the whole time, waiting for you to drop a piece. They are so bold as to reach into the bucket and try to run off with entrails. While working on that end of the bird, we'll also remove the oil gland that the bird uses to preen his feathers.

On the other end of the bird, you make a slit up the neck and loosen the skin from the neck. Inside the skin is a trachea, an esphogus, and a large crop that must be removed. The neck is then severed by cutting the tendons and twisting. You hose out the bird and drop it into a cooler full of ice water to cool off slowly. After it cools for a while, we'll bag it up in whatever kind of plastic bag it'll fit in and let it sit in the fridge for a few days until rigor mortis passes and the bird is tender once again, then it's off to the deep freeze.

We packed it in for the day when the mosquitoes started to come around. I cleaned everything off, dumped the guts bucket for the pigs, and fed the rest of the critters.

We had to get rid of the turkeys. They weren't serving much purpose other than pets since the hen ran off with the flock of wild turkeys, so it was time for them to go to the freezer. The nail in their coffin was when they became aggressive towards Caleigh. The last thing she needs is to be spurred by a bird nearly as big as she is!

We'll use one for Thanksgiving, one for Christmas, and one for the Hinsdale's Garrison winter gathering. As rare as these birds are, you use them for special occasions only.

They were fun to have around and magnificent to see strutting around out there, so I'll probably get more in the spring. These are heritage birds, an old New England breed from colonial days called Narragansetts. They are a mix of a European domestic bird and a Northeast wild turkey. It is a breed that was on the verge of extinction a little over a decade ago, with just over 60 pairs of them in America. Thanks to preservationists, today there are over 2000 breeding pairs. One of which was mine until my hen ran off.

That's enough farm fun for one day. Tomorrow we start butchering ducks.