When you shell out the extra cash for a heritage bird, what are you really paying for?
Inspired of course by American Thanksgiving, BUT also by this article: Meet the $300 Thanksgiving Turkey we bring to you three EOM Turkey producers sharing their thoughts on the ups and downs of Free Range Turkey Production.
“Raising them is hard enough, but transport, processing and storage are a whole other dimension. They are too big to put in crates like chickens, so a large trailer is required. Transporting them 1 1/2 hours to the closest inspected facility isn’t very efficient. Picking them up afterwards requires a large freezer truck with a good reefer capable of freezing such a large body quickly. They don’t pack efficiently either, due to their shape. So that large freezer quickly becomes small and interferes with other animals freezing/storage.”
“We have a small 4.6 acre farm. We raise a few heritage breeds (Narrigansett turkeys, Dominique chickens, Silkie bantams & Silver Fox rabbits) for our own use, preservation and also to show.
We have been raising Narragansett heritage breed turkeys for over a decade. Mostly for our own use, show and preservation, we don’t sell processed birds or anything. We don’t do organic and use regular layer and game feed, and they also are supplimented with table scraps and free ranging, so our costs aren’t as high as the organic farms. I don’t know how it could possibly cost $300 for one turkey, unless they feed it top notch food and it is HUGE! Heritage breeds do take longer than the fast growing Broadbreasted “frankenturkeys”, but I can guarantee they taste better, fill you up better and are worth the wait! A heritage turkey going for $3-7 per lb is not outrageous, with the care and time they take and their quality. The hardest thing about them is not getting attached… turkeys have great personalities and are very lovable.” 🙂
~Lily Marie Plasse
Then we have Bosmere Farms!
“I had 30 heritage scrounge for most of their food in absolute free range pasture last year; no confinement of any sort. Diet was primarily grass/weed seed, bugs, apples, pears, plums, blueberries, and hazel nuts. I did feed a half ton of grower pellets over the course of 6 months.
Weights ranged from 10 to 16lbs. Processed them myself and sold them for $4/lb. I kept the punching bag male for myself, he was all bruised up, I did cut out the bruises before eating him tongue emoticon . I had rave reviews from customers on their flavor and texture. They were very rich, and probably firmer than you would expect, but in a good way.
I tried to do the same for a commercial breed (BBW) this year and it was a bust. They did not thrive in a more hands off approach, they refused to forage, wouldn’t/couldn’t roost, dumb as bricks with feathers. They eventually were all taken by big cats. The heritage I ran last year (Black Spanish and Holland White) were almost too smart. They were both independent and mostly trusting. They all roosted in fruit trees, and we only lost 2 to predation late in the season. One Black Spanish male ran off with the wild (introduced) hens. We still see him out with the ladies occasionally, but he is now wild and making mutt babies out there. Some of the new wild turkeys look about 50% darker than the rest, I assume they are his…
I wouldn’t recommend commercial breeds for this sort of endeavor (unconfined and left to forage), they require too much input to be successful. Lessons learned, it will be smart, self-sufficient, pain-in-my-rear heritage birds next year.”
“At Roots Underwood we raised 40 heritage birds this summer, bourbon reds, 15 of them were hatched on farm from last years birds and we’ve kept 5 hens to hopefully hatch 50+ we let momma do it all no incubator and hopefully no brooder. We move them to fresh pasture every 3-5 days. They had a portable roost and were contained by electric net fence. Which was kind of a joke they can jump right over it but had a tendency to wanna stay near their flock/shelter. Predators were an issue and we lost 10 birds. In addition to their pasture it took 2 tons of feed to bring them to an average weight of 13 lbs and cost an average of $4/ bird for slaughter. We choose non gmo feed as we have no local sources for bulk organic…”
~ Matthew Sargent