Killing the Turkeys – January 1910

“I can catch the turkeys myself, but I’ll require somebody to hold them while I twist their necks,” said the poultry-woman, drawing on her galoshes over her big boots, and tying her skirts round her waist to bring them up to her knees, for the snow was fairly deep in places, and the fowls were still roosting on their perches, timid of the cold carpeting of the ground.

Two cocks were brought in loudly protesting at the indignity to which they were being subjected and, after their legs were tied with a stout string, I got the easy job of holding one while the other was executed. The mistress of the operation was doubtful whether her arms were long enough to hold the turkey’s legs in her left hand while she dislocated the neck with her right, so she asked the strong man of the house to hold on to the legs of the 19lb bird while she seized its head.

Seated calmly on a bench at the opposite side of the kitchen, waiting with a truly masculine air for a little amusement at the expense of his womenfolk, he jerked out — “Bring it over here then!” . . . “Well, I like that! Stand up and hold it as high as you can! What is the use of being big if we cannot have the advantage of your size?”

Then followed a tug-of-war, which ended in the turkey careering round the kitchen on its head and wings; and while its executioner was explaining to a few shrieking members of the family that the turkey was dead sure enough and that this violent spasmodic motion was merely the result of reflex action, her assistant slipped away, saying he had had quite enough of killing turkeys, and it was high time the cows were brought in from the watering.

When I offered my assistance to put the next one to death, you should have seen the superior little smile with which she half glanced at my hands and arms and you would have admired her air of determination as she strode to the door and hung her victim by the feet to a stout peg.

The neck was dislocated successfully, and she was pulling the head with great force to break the blood vessels, when suddenly the peg gave way, bringing a piece of the door with it and there was such a terrific commotion for a few moments that we hardly knew who was dead and who was alive.

It was at this stage of the slaughtering that the wearied head of the business remembered that she had sold her turkeys alive last year and somebody else remembered how we had been conducted into his back regions by the poulterer in order to see how he suspended his big birds from the ceiling quite above his head, and had thus more power with both hands.

“I’ve got it!,” she cried triumphantly and immediately fetched a sort of four-fold crook used in cleaning harness straps and hooked this into a ham-crook in the ceiling. When the third turkey was strung upon this, we surveyed it with secure satisfaction. That cannot break, we thought. “But the ceiling might give way!” whispered one apprehensive voice.

Nothing gave way until the huge wings in the convulsions of death, flapping wide and strong, struck so violently the head of the woman holding grimly to the neck that she drew back involuntartily and the bird swung free. In ever wider circles, the long four-fold crook swung from the ceiling, the great convulsed wings nearly touching each of the four walls at every sweep.

“Take care of your head!” they shouted at me. “It will give you a terrific blow!” For I was boxed in a corner and could not safely move out of it. “Oh, it’s going through the window!” came the alarmed cry as head, wings and body made some violent jerks in that direction. At that moment, the whole thing slipped off the crook of the ceiling and the atmosphere was filled with dust, flying feathers, beating pinions, and shrill cries of alarm.

For the next and last, a long stout string was tied securely to the ceiling and a meek little hen turkey of 9lb weight suspended from it. I climbed on to a chair in order to pull it high enough from the ground, seeing that the big men of the family had betaken themselves to more important duties outside.

The panic subsided, the mistress of the ceremonies was explaining to me, as she twisted the neck of her last victim, that “This is a man’s business, you know. I can feel that my hands are not big enough, nor my thumb strong enough to break the neck of a cock turkey with the necessary ease. And look at the difficulty we had to hang it high enough! A man’s arms are so much longer than ours.”

A male voice at this juncture interrupted us — “Is that a Suffragette I hear saying that a man is useful for killing turkeys? I thocht ye could dae everything better than he could, and ye wantit a vote tae let him see that?”

“Not at all!” was the swift reply: “We want a vote to protest against doing the hardest work for the poorest pay. If you great strong men would always do the hardest things, and pay us well for doing the nice things, you would never hear a cheep from us!”

“Ah, weel!” he began, but apparently hadn’t a sufficiently crushing reply lying ready to hand in his brain. Tomorrow, at dinner time, we shall be getting it.

This entry was posted in Farming, Feminism and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Killing the Turkeys – January 1910

  1. Pingback: Digusting Description – January 1910 | Gretchen

  2. Pingback: In Defence of Poor Gretchen – January 1910 | Gretchen

  3. Oh, man, I’m glad I live now and not then. I read the next few posts, too, in response to this one. What a hoot. I especially love the scottish brouge (sp?) in the quote. Great picture of life back then!

  4. Pingback: Death of a Prairie Chicken – February 1910 | Gretchen

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