Friday, November 26, 2010

The best laid schemes of ice and menus...

"But Mousie, thou art no thy lane,
In proving foresight may be vain:
The best laid schemes o' mice an' men
Gang aft a-gley..."

(Robert Burns, To a mouse, on turning her up in her nest with the plough, November, 1785)

Normally our first holiday turkey slaughtering is planned for the Monday and Tuesday before Thanksgiving. This year I spent extra time in planning and organizing this event. We were expecting several people to come up and help with the slaughtering, some of whom were going to process the turkey they were buying from us. We were also listening with some apprehension to the weather forecasts: The barometer was falling, as were the temperatures. The chance of snow falling, on the other hand, was rising. While the predictions were for "snow showers," with possible accumulations of 1-3 inches, we both felt it would be prudent to have a Plan B in case conditions worsened either before or during the slaughtering.

On Sunday, November 21, it snowed lightly here most of the day; by the time the snow quit in early evening, we had maybe an inch on the ground. It cleared up that night, the temperature dropped to the mid-20s, and it was still clear when I got up Monday morning. "Great," I thought, "No more snow overnight. People won't have trouble getting up the hill." ("Snow showers," I reminded myself, "1-3 inches.")

Well, about 7:30 that morning, it started snowing again. A little before 9:30, our friend Giles drove up, bringing with him a large turkey he had raised and planned to slaughter here. At that point it was snowing harder, and there was about 3 inches of snow on the ground. We were pretty busy then, finishing the final preparations: I had a big pot of homemade minestrone on the stove, a kettle of water keeping hot for coffee and tea, the woodstoves were stoked. Outside, the tent was set up with the plucker and a table inside, and gloves, paper towels, knives and sharpeners, and cutting boards in place. The 20-gallon scalding pot was heating up on the propane burner outside the tent, and a large bucket of ice water stood ready for cooling the freshly-scalded birds prior to plucking.

This is our third year raising and slaughtering turkeys, and this was the first time we have had snow to deal with. It's usually cold, and of course the days are short, which is why we have previously done the processing over two days. This time we hoped to get all 12 turkeys slaughtered on one day, since we were expecting helpers. We had also done most of the setup on Sunday, thinking we would get an earlier start on Monday.

Shortly after Giles arrived, we started getting phone calls. It was snowing just as hard in Sequim and Port Angeles, and in the end (not surprisingly) Giles was the only one who made it to the farm. By late morning, it was getting windy, and the visibility was very poor. Because of the conditions, the guys decided to get three turkeys ready for eviscerating at once, instead of doing them one at a time. (We usually do the killing, scalding and plucking outdoors, then bring the birds inside to do the eviscerating.) The snow was piling up fast at that point, and I had to keep knocking it off the tent about every 10 minutes. The footing was very slippery, which slowed us down, too. Finally we took the three turkeys inside, grateful for a chance to warm up (the high temperature that day was 22F), get a bite to eat, and get out of the snow for a while.

While David and Giles worked on cleaning the turkeys, I gulped down a cup of tea, then headed back outside to check on the birds' feeders and drinkers. It was snowing pretty much sideways then, and the feeders and drinkers were accumulating snow, although they were under shelters. I also had to top off the drinkers with warm water, as the water freezes fairly quickly when it's this cold.

While I was outside, noticing that the snow had piled up to nearly 12 inches, I thought I had better go knock the snow off the tent again. I looked over toward the slaughter area, and guess what: The tent had disappeared. Between the wind and the snow, it had just come down. I went back in to report this to David, and we all agreed it was a good thing we hadn't been in the tent at the time! Although the snow continued to come down thick and fast, we were able to raise the tent again pretty easily. However, given the wind, the time and the cold, we decided to move the plucking operations indoors.

At that point, it was nearly 3:00. Since we knew that we would have only about another hour of daylight, we decided not to process any more birds that day. That evening, I got on the phone to most of the customers on our "turkey list," to let them know there was a possibility we wouldn't be able to get all the turkeys processed in time for Thanksgiving. Also, given the amount of snow on the ground, and the swiftly dropping temperature, it seemed questionable whether they would be able to get to the farm to pick up their birds. Everyone was very understanding, and several of them will be getting a fresh turkey sometime in December.

Monday night, our low temperature was 7F. (As David said, "You know it's cold when you have to bring the coolers with the turkeys indoors to keep them from freezing overnight.") On Tuesday, David and I slaughtered two more turkeys. Thankfully, it was sunny most of the day Tuesday, although the high that day was also 22F. We knew  it would get pretty cold that night if it stayed clear, and it did; our low temperature was 0F. We processed one more turkey on Wednesday morning, and went out past our gate to meet the customer, in case she couldn't get through the deep snow in the half-mile between the gate and the house. Fortunately the road crew had plowed Fish Hatchery Road as far as our gate, so she was able to make it that far.

We definitely learned a lot from this experience. Although I had spent extra time planning and organizing, all that went pretty much out the window as the snow piled up outside. As the snow was coming down hard that Monday morning, I had said to David, "I suspect the key to today will be flexibility." That certainly turned out to be the case!

On the positive side, the customers who didn't get their turkey in time for Thanksgiving will be getting a slightly larger bird, as we will not be slaughtering them for another couple of weeks or more. (We only sell our turkeys fresh, partly because we have no means of freezing them here, and also because we believe that when it comes to poultry, fresh is preferable to frozen.)

Once we had a chance to catch our breath and relax, we couldn't help but stare out at the gorgeous view: The frosty-looking Blue Mountain to the southwest, the beautiful snow-covered cedar and fir trees around our property, and our two pigs playing happily in their pasture, seemingly oblivious to the weather. Although the days before Thanksgiving didn't go much as we had planned, it all turned out all right, and we are truly thankful that we are safe and warm here at home in the beautiful Olympic Mountains.

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