Russ Gates admits it can seem a bit morbid to others, but each year on the weekend before Thanksgiving, slaughtering Meadowsend Farm’s 65 or so turkeys is a big family affair, grandkids and all.
“It’s kind of fun,” the Hopkinton farmer said. For the 15 years he’s raised turkeys, Gates said, “It’s the one time you all get together for something.”
This past Sunday, Gates’ son Brian Walters brought his family over from New York for the day. Gate’s other son, Mark, and Gates’ grandson, Andrew, live in Hopkinton and were in the barn to help. A couple family friends came, too, including James Johansen from Deering, who said he was “just a poor sucker” that received a phone call from Gates the night before.
Each person manned a different station, from the actual killing to plucking to eviscerating to the final step: tossing the ready-to-cook turkey into a bucket of cold water on the back of Gates’ truck.
Everyone seemed to be having a good time, whether they were wrist-deep in turkey guts, getting splashed by turkey water, or on break and munching a doughnut.
“I enjoy it,” said 16-year-old Mitchell Walters. “It brings the family together.”
(Warning: Some photos below are graphic and may upset the viewer).
Meadowsend Farm in Hopkinton slaughtered its five dozen or so turkeys on Sunday, Nov. 20, 2016 for local families’ Thanksgiving dinner. Farmer Russ Gates said on the day they kill the birds, it’s the one time each year his whole family gets together to come and help. ELODIE REED—Monitor staff
Russ Gates gets his day-old chicks from a hatchery each July. They grow up free-ranging until about six weeks before Thanksgiving, when he keeps them shut in the barn away from predators. Though he usually tries to split his flock between half toms, half hens, he said he mostly got male turkeys this year. When a visitor stepped into their enclosure the Thursday before the slaughter, the turkeys crowded together, ruffling their feathers and emitting a wave of gobbling. “They are the goofiest things,” Gates said fondly. ELODIE REED—Monitor staff
Mark Gates picks up a turkey by its legs before the bird’s final moment Sunday. Asked if it bothered him to do the slaughtering, he shrugged his shoulders. “I grew up with it, so it’s just kind of natural,” he said. ELODIE REED—Monitor staff
Russ Gates said his family has picked up a few turkey processing lessons over the years, including using a cone-like holding device for the turkey. This was hard-learned during the first year Meadowsend processed birds, when, after the deed was done, Gates found himself chasing someone’s Thanksgiving dinner a quarter mile down the road. ELODIE REED—Monitor staff
Once a turkey is dead, it is dipped into hot water to loosen the feathers. ELODIE REED—Monitor staff
Bryan Walters, the son of Meadowsend Farmer operator Russ Gates, removes a dead turkey from scalding water Sunday, which helps loosen the bird’s feathers. ELODIE REED—Monitor staff
After a turkey is slaughtered and is dipped into some hot water to loosen its feathers, it then is dropped into a plucker, which uses rubber fingers to remove all the plummage. ELODIE REED—Monitor staff
Mark Gates, left, his son Andrew, 11, center, and Andrew’s cousin, Mitchell Walters, 16, all pull out turkey pinfeathers Sunday, the last step before the birds are eviscerated. ELODIE REED—Monitor staff
Andrew Gates, 11, pauses while pulling pinfeathers from a dead turkey at Meadowsend Farm in Hopkinton Sunday. ELODIE REED—Monitor staff
It took close to two hours for farmer Russ Gates, his family and some friends to process the first 14 of the five dozen or so turkeys at Meadowsend Farm Sunday. ELODIE REED—Monitor staff
After processing its turkeys, Meadowsend Farm buries most of the waste, though they do keep some parts for soup stock or, Mark Gates’ favorite, fried turkey liver. ELODIE REED—Monitor staff
Kameron Green, 6, of Hopkinton, picks up a heart tossed at him by family friend and farmer Russ Gates Sunday. Gates, who operates Meadowsend Farm, has family and friends come the weekend before Thanksgiving every year to help process his five dozen or so turkeys. ELODIE REED—Monitor staff
Farmer Russ Gates, left, and family friend James Johansen, right, remove the giblets and undesirable body parts from turkeys before they are cleaned, weighed and labeled. ELODIE REED—Monitor staff
A turkey is weighed and labeled after being eviscerated and cleaned Sunday. ELODIE REED—Monitor staff
Melinda Walters, the niece of Meadowsend Farm operator Russ Gates, tosses a ready-to-cook turkey into a tub of cold water Sunday. Walters was one of several relatives and family friends to help Gates process his five dozen or so turkeys in Hopkinton. ELODIE REED—Monitor staff
Melinda Walters makes sure water completely covers the processed turkeys at Meadowsend Farm Sunday. ELODIE REED—Monitor staff
A turkey foot sits in a slot on Russ Gates’ truck Sunday. Gates had family and friends over at Meadowsend Farm in Hopkinton to help process his turkeys for Thanksgiving. ELODIE REED—Monitor staff
Mitchell Walters, 16, and Kameron Green, 6, take a doughnut break while helping process turkeys at Meadowsend Farm in Hopkinton Sunday. ELODIE REED—Monitor staff
Kameron Green steps over plucked feathers at Meadowsend Farm in Hopkinton Sunday, which slaughtered its turkeys for Thanksgiving. ELODIE REED—Monitor staff
Andrew Gates, 11, and Kameron Green, 6, take a break from helping process turkeys at Meadowsend Farm in Hopkinton Sunday. ELODIE REED—Monitor staff
Farmer Russ Gates eats a doughnut after finishing the first round of turkey processing at Meadowsend Farm in Hopkinton Sunday. ELODIE REED—Monitor staff
Russ Gates eats a doughnut and chats with family friend Julie Green, center, and his niece Melinda Walters, right, on Sunday. ELODIE REED—Monitor staff.
Bryan Walters cleans off turkey giblets during a break in processing the birds for Thanksgiving at Meadowsend Farm in Hopkinton Sunday. ELODIE REED—Monitor staff
Mark Gates hands a ready-to-cook turkey to his father, Russ Gates, at Meadowsend Farm Sunday. ELODIE REED—Monitor staff
Mark Gates hands off turkeys to his father, Russ Gates, on Sunday to put in a tub of cold water until customer pick-up the next day. ELODIE REED—Monitor staff
After being processed Sunday, turkeys were kept in a tub of cold water at Meadowsend Farm in Hopkinton to keep them cool until customers picked up their Thanksgiving bird on Monday. ELODIE REED—Monitor staff
Fully processed turkeys sit in ice-cold water at Meadowsend Farm Sunday. The birds sell at $4 a pound and average between 22 and 30 pounds of dressed Thanksgiving meat. While farmer Russ Gates said some people hang up the phone when they hear the price, he said he has loyal customers, plus some new ones, every year. “They want more locally grown (meat).” ELODIE REED—Monitor staff