Randy Walker prepares to feed his flock of Broad Breasted White turkeys while performing his nightly chores on the farm that he owns with his wife, Sarah, in Siletz, Ore., on Monday, Nov. 13. The Walkers raised and sold about 90 Thanksgiving turkeys this year, but Randy hopes to eventually stop selling the birds as he continues to struggle with anxiety from killing the animals each year.
Randy laughs at a story Sarah tells about the farm while they sell meat and eggs at an indoor farmers market a few days before Thanksgiving. Sarah handles the logistics of what they call “Turkey Week,” the days before Thanksgiving during which she must coordinate with customers and businesses that ordered birds throughout the year.
Randy selects the next turkey to slaughter and clean while preparing the flock for sale a week before Thanksgiving. “I’ll be so much happier when this is done,” Randy said about the killing process, which he dreads before the holidays.
Blood covers the feathers of a turkey on the slaughterhouse floor behind the Walker’s farm. The Walkers are one of only a few farms in the state licensed to grow and slaughter their own animals.
A farm hand dunks a dead turkey in a poultry scalder while preparing the bird for cleaning in the slaughterhouse behind the Walker’s home.
Dried blood speckles Randy’s face after a morning spent killing and cleaning his flock. “I really hate this part, I actually have nightmares about this,” Randy said, adding that he grows attached to the birds while raising them from chicks.
Randy checks the temperature inside a cooler before delivering the birds to Side Door Café in Lincoln City where the turkeys will be offered on a special Thanksgiving menu. Randy sells the vast majority of his meat to customers within in the county and said nothing is sold more than 60 miles from his farm.
Sarah calls a customer who had reserved a turkey earlier in the year, but due to an abnormally rough season the farm is now struggling to fill that order. Sarah said the farm should have produced about 160 turkeys this year but only raised around 90. An issue with predators killed 85 percent of the farm’s initial flock in less than a week while the Walkers tried to figure out what was happening.
“They really are wonderful animals,” Randy said while working in the turkeys’ pen one morning. “They say turkeys have 32 different vocalizations, I think I can hear most of them now.”
The turkeys kept alive for the Christmas harvest shy away from Randy as he stops by the pen for a morning feeding the day after the family slaughtered the majority of the flock. “They’re smart birds,” he says in response.