I combed the forums, and gleaned what I could, but, wanted to post the outcome of our attempting to butcher two turkeys using the most humane methods we could find.
So, here goes.
We purchased chickens as novices, really only half way thru the research and learning process, because my dear husband knew I wanted chickens for eggs and he stumbled on chicks at our nearby feed store last March. Due to our not knowing one breed clearly from another as babies, we relied on the clerks to guide us to selecting hens, which, as we have since learned, is a best guess by the most experienced person, and in this case, I doubt the clerks would have been able to do much more beyond reading the bin "pullet" label. So, we ended up with three roosters, one of which was a meat chicken, and 5 hens, one of which was also a meat chicken. We had to rehome one of the roosters, but, chose to butcher the other, along with the two meat chickens. In the process of raising them, we had gotten quite attached, and we found it so difficult to just chop their heads off. We did it, but, it was an emotional experience we hoped we might ease if we did it ever again.
Then, with all the fuss about a possible turkey shortage coming from the bird flu, I picked up a couple of Bourbon Red turkey poults with the intention to butcher them in time for Thanksgiving. Again, my research was not as good as I had hoped, and we found out further down the road that Bourbon Reds don't typically reach their full meat potential in such a short time, but, we forged ahead and considered just keeping them thru the winter and assessing their status in the spring. With the shortage not really happening, we didn't need to butcher them so soon. That is, until the Tom started attacking my hens, and just couldn't be trusted out with them, and with our backyard not being large enough to set up a big enough pen for the turkeys to really get much foraging and what we provided was far too small to spend an entire winter in, we knew we had to make a tough decision.
No one wanted a Tom turkey, and certainly didn't want two turkeys, and their butchering weight didn't warrant offering them as meat. We were hoping to keep the hen, but, knew there was a chance she would become depressed without the Tom. I researched everything I could find all over the internet regarding humane euthanasia, but everything focused on killing pets. Any treatment of euthanasia of poultry was for sick or injured birds that were not gong to be eaten. We wanted something that would ease our birds to sleep, and make chopping off their heads less traumatic for them and for us. I found references to various gassing methods, and a long article from an organic chicken processing factory that is using gas to sedate the chickens before they enter the rest of the process. Several references were regarding the use of ether to put the bird to sleep, and it sounded like the answer, except, we could never get anyone to tell us how much to use for a large bird, most focused on chickens, and nothing spoke to any concerns. It sounded simple and effective. So, we tried it.
Before I go any further, please, know that we are still going through quite a bit of emotional anguish over how it all went down. I am only posting this because I don't want anyone else to make the mistake we did.
We followed the instructions, soaked a couple of rags with ether laced starting fluid, and contained them and the Tom in a large, and I mean comfortable large, plastic container with some air space to allow the gas to gradually mix with the air. I stayed nearby, but, the Tom didn't seem too concerned even when we gently put him in the container. He was immediately relaxed, and just sat and chirped a bit. The hen was out in the yard, and after initially chirping looking for the Tom she went about her business. After ten minutes nothing was happening. We presumed we didn't have enough gas in the container, and so my husband put in another rag. Again we waited. This time the reaction was bad.
The poor thing started to rock back and forth, and then suddenly flopped backwards, and he looked dead. I thought, well, that was easier than I expected, and I was relieved he didn't seem to suffer. Then, he convulsed violently, and before we could get to him it was over. I hope he didn't feel any pain, and that the convulsion was involuntary and after he had passed, but, I can't be sure and it haunts me that he may have struggled and died in terror.
After we got him out of the container we immediately took him and cut off his head. He did flail again, but, as there was no sign of any breathing by then, I am pretty sure that was just nerve ending twitching.
As far as continued reaction, that came in the form of the smell of ether permeating the feathers, the skin, and the internal organs. It was so bad that we couldn't even save the meat. We had done what we had set out NOT to do. We had caused an animal to lose it's life and for nothing. His life was wasted.
We knew we could not, absolutely not, do that ever again, so we have chosen to keep the hen and perhaps consider butchering her in the summer, or maybe not til next Thanksgiving, and this time, whether we like it or not, we will just chop her head off the old fashioned way. Quick and clean. We will not use a killing cone either, as no one can convince me that hanging upside down, restrained, with their throat slashed and left to slowly bleed to death is any more humane than what we witnessed using gas.
I hope this helps someone else, as it would have helped me if anyone could have detailed what to expect when using the gas method. I know many use the vinegar baking soda method, and I can only imagine it has the exact same effect. It's a horrible thing to watch, and I haven't slept since.