Butchering day. My morning begins at 4:30 as my alarm jolts me awake. I roll out of bed, throw on some crappy clothes, make some tea and pack up egg sandwiches to eat on the road. Not making the same rookie mistake as our first time going to the processing facility, we loaded up our cargo, 30 enormous turkeys, yesterday evening so we can be on the road by 5:00 and not wrestling with those monsters the morning of. It is a long drive, six hours round trip, but USDA facilities open to small farmers are few and far between.
I could send Steve off by himself, but I know it is a boring drive so the company is appreciated. Besides, if I stay here on the farm I miss all of the action! You see, small USDA processing plants are a real hoot. The facility opens and begins unloading at 8:00 sharp. Even though we usually arrive by 7:50, we are typically several back in line.
By 8:00 the unloading area of Williamsburg Packing takes on a carnival feel, with those in line looking like a parade of organized chaos. One would assume that it would be a neat row of pros in pick-up trucks with shiny stock trailers in tow, but it is anything but. Those waiting in line run the gamut from true farmers to the “cousin Joe” types who occasionally raise something that they want to eat. And the mode of transportation confirms this because it is a hodge-podge of everything from livestock in the trunks of cars, to rented U-Hauls filled with crates of critters.
I settle into the passenger seat of the pick up and just watch. I survey today’s lot. Directly in front of us is a guy who had about 100 chickens on a makeshift flatbed trailer. Because it is only 25 degrees this morning, he has “weather-proofed” the front of it with, what looks like, the blankets off of his bed and blue tarps, all held together with duct tape. The homemade chicken cages are tucked in behind this “windshield” I’m guessing to help protect them while he drove here. Hey, it must have worked because none of the chickens look frozen solid.
Behind us is a guy with a variety of chickens and a couple of small turkeys crammed into the back of his station wagon. Yeah, that smell is gonna stick. Just wait until the heat and humidity of summer bucko when that stench really comes alive! You’ll be reminded of this fateful trip again and again.
Behind him is a young man with a large pig in a dog cage. I don’t want to break the bad news to him, but this is Monday and Monday is poultry day at the facility……he is a day early; Tuesday is for pork. I can only sit and wonder why in hell he didn’t phone ahead. Rookie.
But the best show is three trucks up, near the front of the line. A woman has brought 50 ducks to be processed. No, she doesn’t have them in crates; they are in a makeshift chicken wire pen about 2 feet high, sitting on a flatbed trailer. She is literally crawling in to retrieve ducks one at a time. As she wiggles out a duck breaks free and begins to fly away. Holy crap, she and her buddies are trying to chase down the duck. Yes!!! This. Is. Awesome. I’m quietly cheering for the duck and do a fist pump when it makes its over the far fence and flies into the wilderness. I’m silently wondering how many more of her ducks will get a shot at freedom today.
I’m ushered back to reality by Steve tapping on the window. Time to put on my game face…..it is our turn to unload. Seriously, who would have thought I would look forward to getting up at 4:30 a.m., for a 6-hour road trip to rural SC, hauling 30 gigantic turkeys? Let me know if any of y’all care to join us next time!