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From Camille Woodruff - 13 Dec 2005

Hi again

I posted to the turkey list to find out if anyone in the NE was interested in being a contact for you; I'll let you know. I'm in the NW, and don't produce "market poultry", so I'm not much help in that respect.

Most of the people who are doing the kind of alternative livestock ag I'm talking about are small producers who don't use large commercial slaughterhouses at all. They are either 'farm-dressing' where it is legal, or using small custom processing plants. By far the majority are doing the processing themselves or using co-op systems (SlowFoods is a good resource for this kind of info).

I do NOT process poultry, at all. However, there are regular discussions of this on the turkey list and off-list, so I can tell you the basics. I personally find almost all slaughter methods too barbaric and 'slow', nonetheless there are better ways than the commercial processes.

The most important difference is that each bird/animal is killed individually, not as part of a production line. I've been to custom slaughter plants for poultry, and most of them use a scaled down version of the commercial plants' system, unless the customer specifies otherwise.

Non-assembly line methods:

Shooting: single forehead or base of skull shot, as is used with 'farm kill' hoof stock. This results in a lot of activity, but it is extremely unlikely that the animal feels anything because, to put it bluntly, there's no brain left.

"Sticking": One person holds the bird, a second person opens the beak and inserts a narrow blade through the gap in the palate into the brain. Death is instantaneous. This method has to be taught by someone who knows how to do it correctly, so not too many people use it.

Bleeding: A Scalpel or similar blade is used to puncture the jugular vein.

The bird bleeds to death in less than 3 minutes. People who use this method report that if the bird is set down immediately, it will return to eating (or whatever), then sit down. Usually, however, the bird is set into a "killing cone" which is a metal cone rather like a canning funnel, with the head and neck sticking out the bottom. Poultry retrained in this position for other purposes (if they are not handled roughly) are not agitated or frightened, but seem mostly confused.

Electrocution: I've forgotten the size battery that's used for this ... An insulated, wired alligator clip is attached to the bird's lower mandible (contacting the wet interior) and another to the vent, then each wire is connected to one of the poles of the battery. This is reported to be instantaneous also, with no residual CNS discharge flapping and thrashing; the bird just stiffens, goes limp, stops. This does not allow much time for 'bleed out', which most poultry customers require.

As I said, I find all this to be barbaric, with birds, because of the way their nervous systems are set up.

Ages of turkeys: Most commercial breeds will live no more than three years, because they are structurally defective and suffer hip dislocations, cardiac problems etc. Heritage varieties remain fertile for about 7 years; most of them don't live past 7 or 8 but a fair number make it to 10, and there have been a few records of older turkeys (hunter tales about 30 year old "longbeards" are strictly tall tales) Normal lifespan for a Wild turkey that has not been habituated to human surroundings, handouts etc is 5 or less; pen-raised Wilds are about the same as Heritage varieties.

Some of the "facts" from poultry experts about poultry are in reality statements of "the way it is" that have been passed along, unchallenged, for decades.

One of the classics is that hens don't have beards and don't gobble - oh yes they do! And lay eggs and raise poults while doing so, too. So you have to check a lot of the information from poultry experts; and keep in mind that most poultry experts were trained to work with commercial production poultry, for the benefit of Agribusiness, so often have only been given a selected part of the entire picture.

Turkeys suffer from arthritis, kidney problems, tumors and other age-related problems, much like our own "senior" health problems, which reduces their life expectancy. Under absolutely perfect conditions, even 25 years might be possible.

Dallas OR

Reply from Frank and Mary

Dear Camille:

Thank you very much for all the information. and we look forward to hearing back from you if there are any takers about going to a farm.

What you've said about slaughter methods have confirmed much about what we've learned and heard about free range farms.

In the Love of the Lord,

Frank and Mary

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