Thursday, May 24, 2012

Let's Talk Turkey

With all the work we do... to get animal housing finished; fencing installed, moved around, and secured; feeding and watering accomplished; hoofs trimmed and animals inspected; manure scooped and composted; garden boxes built, filled, and planted; lawns mowed, garden beds weeded, goats milked; eggs collected... and so on... around here adding another breed of critter might seem incongruous to our goal of simplifying our lives. And, if we were going to begin breeding, say peacocks, or parrots, or llamas, I would agree. But, let's talk turkey.

Does THIS look like free range?
Most families in the United States roast, at least, two turkeys each year; 40 million turkeys are the center piece for thanksgiving celebrations alone. Since the 1970's, commercially raised and processed turkeys have been selectively bred to create excessively large bodies with lots of white breast meat. These hybrids can't fly, can't naturally reproduce, and are often prone to horrible health issues. According to's website, " The Broad Breasted Bronze Turkey and the Broad Breasted White Turkey are the two main breeds of today's commercial turkey industry... these particular breeds have been strictly managed and bred for maximum meat production and minimum cost. The two strains of Commercial Turkeys that we offer will not reproduce naturally and are specifically developed for their efficient feed to breast meat conversion rate. They are the perfect choice for farmers looking for the most efficient turkey meat production." Additionally, states, "...these birds are typically raised in factory conditions, sometimes thousands to a barn, and may be treated with growth hormones to enhance their size and antibiotics to prevent disease... Many factory-farmed birds are injected during processing with a solution that might contain water, stock, butter, or other seasonings to make the bird plumper, and more flavorful." These birds may be labeled as "free range" since they are not kept in cages and are allowed to roam, though often with no more than 3 sq ft or space each. Put that way, it doesn't sound very appetizing to me.

Top Left: Butterball turkey; Top Right: Young pastured turkey;
Lower Left: Wild turkey; Lower Right: Mature pastured turkey
Our plan calls for us to buy and raise a small number (for breeding stock) of heritage turkeys much like how their wild counterparts live, minus the worry of predators and attack. Sean and I are planning on fencing off some of our lightly wooded land, (not currently in use between the goat pasture and raised garden beds) adding a out-building for shelter. First, we will rotate some goats to live there for a week or two to help clear out some of the brush undergrowth to open it up for pasturage to grow to this new area. Then, we will inspect the area to make sure it is suitable to our new additions later this summer. When our poults are fledged out and ready to be outside, they will move into their new home. We will not be eating our new turkeys. These, like all the other animals on our small and admittedly dysfunctional farm, will live out their days in peace and safety. But, they will earn their keep. We will, collect their eggs and hatch batches of heritage turkey poults to sell to neighbors who want to raise their own turkeys to feed their families. Heritage turkeys take longer (at 24-28 weeks) to grow to maturity, but every review I've read agrees they taste better and they are not treated with any of the chemicals or additives described above.

Bourbon Red Toms
Sean and I have thought it through, researched the benefits and costs in terms of time, care, and our ability. With all that in mind, our new breeding stock of six Heritage Bourbon Red Turkeys have been ordered from Muddy Hoof Farm in Lubec, Maine. According to our research, mature toms weigh about 30 pounds; hens, 12 to 14 pounds. The Bourbon Red is ranked No. 2 for taste. They are curious turkeys. Anything in their area is subject to close examination by them. They are calm, friendly and often underfoot during feeding time. They’re good sitters and mothers, but also tend to go broody early, so we'll need to keep an eye on that. We will be driving to pick up our guys from the farm on August 9th. I can't wait to meet our new guys and for this new adventure to begin.

Sonja ♥

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