The bucket of hot water burbled gently above a gas burner, just behind a weathered wood chopping block. Jutting out from the edge, the ax rose with elegant, curved lines, primeval and practical in function. The preparations were set; today, a living being was going to die.
There had originally been two turkeys at Barbialla Nuova, but the first one had fallen victim to a fox the night before it was slated for slaughter. The second turkey had been given a temporary reprieve because she had just laid a bunch of eggs. Though there was no male turkey in the vicinity and the eggs were unfertilized, Ken kindly snuck a few fertilized chicken eggs into the nest so that the turkey could see a brood of chicks come to fruition. Alas, just as the eggs were about to hatch, the turkey inadvertently crushed the emerging chicks and killed them. And so, the sole remaining turkey on the farm was getting a bit “clucky,” restless and lonely without her friend, and was now due to be given “the chop.”
Aside from my mother killing live lobsters, I had never seen the slaughter of a live animal before, so I asked Ken if I could tag along and watch the process. Bright and early the next morning, we gathered the necessary ax, sharpener, hanging hooks, and a large tub for holding hot water to dip the bird into.
“You can either chop off their heads or twist their necks so that they strangle,” Ken explained, “but I’ve always thought it more decent to do a quick cut. I suppose the end result’s the same though.” He went to the poultry coop and grabbed the turkey by the legs. “Come on girl, I hate to do this, but it’s time to go,” Ken clucked to the turkey. As if she already knew her inevitable fate, she remained calm and dignified as she was placed onto the wooden stump. With a swift motion, Ken swung the ax high and brought it down with a crack. The turkey’s head rolled off onto the ground, and her wings flapped and flapped and flapped, beating the air furiously for a short eternity. A vivid spray of blood littered the ground. Finally, the muscles slowly stiffened and Ken straightened his back, breathing heavily with exertion. “See, the trick is to hold on to the bird’s legs as you do it, or else the body will take off running. Like the saying goes, running around like a headless chicken.” He flipped the bird upside-down, and tied it to a hook to let the blood drain out. The wings gave one last lazy twitch, then shuddered to a stop.
“Ach, just goes to show you can’t trust anybody, eh girl?” Ken sighed. “One minute you’re friends, and the next minute they’re holdin’ a bloody ax to your neck.” I stared at the upturned carcass, dripping with fluids and unrecognizable as meat. After the ground had been hosed down, Ken dunked the turkey in the tub of hot water to open up the pores of the skin. Working as fast as he could, he deftly stripped the turkey of her feathers. The edges of wings were badly scraped, probably from the turkey thrashing against the ground just a few minutes before. Soon, the turkey was entirely nude, and lay against the block like an oversized chicken. “She’s got some fine meat on her,” Ken commented. “Just look at all this fat!”
With a French Opinel knife, Ken began to slice into the turkey. “The important thing is to be very careful that you don’t cut into the intestines,” he said. He pushed his hand into the body cavity and began to feel around the insides. “Here’s the lungs, and here’s her windpipe.” With a loud squelch, he pulled the rest of the guts out and they spilled onto the ground. “Some of this can be eaten, the gizzards and so on, and the rest of it can be used as cat food,” said Ken. “You’ve eaten tripe, right? The stomach lining?” I nodded. Ken teased out the stomach from the mess of entrails and began slicing it open. The undigested last supper of the turkey fell to the ground, along with a mass of stones. “Chickens and turkeys eat small rocks to help them digest food,” explained Ken. “See this white layer? That’s tripe, except they take it from cow stomachs.”
Yasmina walked by with a quick wave before turning away. “You know, she became a vegetarian after she started working here,” said Ken. “I wouldn’t do it myself, but I can understand why people choose not to eat meat. I grew up on a farm so killing our own meat has always been a normal part of life, but at the end of the day, you have to sit back and think about how many animals died so that you keep living. It’s a sacrifice, and all too often people these days don’t have that connection to their food or any inkling about where it comes from.”
We solemnly packed up the equipment and tidied the area. Ken handed me the pile of gizzards to bring back to the kitchen. They were still warm in my palms. “So, would you like to go have a cup of tea now?”