Blog Update!
For those of you not following me on Facebook, as of the Summer of 2019 I've moved to Central WA, to a tiny mountain town of less than 1,000 people.

I will be covering my exploits here in the Cascades, as I try to further reduce my impact on the environment. With the same attitude, just at a higher altitude!

Friday, November 21, 2008

Talking Turkey for T-Day

Eat Local for Thanksgiving 2008It's been getting around the parents at my son's school that I bought a $95 turkey for Thanksgiving this year. The consensus has run somewhere between general disbelieve and the statement that my turkey sure better be laying some golden eggs to justify the expense. So, let me back up and explain.

Late last spring I heard a local farmer discussing his pasture raised beef on our local NPR station. The farm, Thundering Hooves, also offers pasture-raised, heritage turkeys, but you'd better get your act together because they sell out as soon as they go on sale in July.

Who wants to think about Thanksgiving in July? Well, I for one, and it certainly appears that plenty of others do as well. So, we dutifully ordered our turkey as soon as we could and have been diligently waiting ever since. The turkeys were processed a few weeks ago and we picked ours up last weekend. We'll be roasting it rather simply since we want to be able to really taste the meat and see how it compares to the standard breeds.

How's it heritage?
This bird is a rare heirloom Unimproved Standard Bronze. Thundering Hooves keeps their own flock and so the eggs are produced and incubated on site (rather than chicks purchased from another grower). According to their website:

"... there are extremely limited numbers of breeding flock [of unimproved turkeys] left in the country. The American Livestock Breeds Conservancy estimated that in 1987 there were 'less than 300 breeding hens' found in America with the possible exception of a limited number of turkeys used by hobbyists and show goers."

These birds are becoming endangered simply for the fact that turkey growers are breeding birds that have larger amounts of white meat. I'm sure you've heard of some commercially grown broad breasted birds that are so busty they can barely walk and are so far removed from nature that they don't know how to mate and must be artificially inseminated in order to breed. A more thorough examination of the issues with commercial turkeys is made in Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle.

Out to pasture
Most commercially grown turkeys are raised in confined and cramped quarters, given little access to the outside (if at all) and are fed a limited and unnatural diet. This makes for a very low-quality life for the turkey and some argue that it results in a less flavorful and nutritional meat.

Pasture raising is a method of raising flocks that is more than just "free range", which generally means that the birds have access to a small outdoor area that they may or may not actually use. On the other hand, our pasture ranged turkey roamed freely in the fields, eating bugs, grasses, and vegetarian feed. The birds on the farm are free to roam about as they please and their roosts are periodically moved throughout the field. This is generally referred to as pasture rotation and it allows the birds access to new areas of grass and bugs for their dining enjoyment.

Eat Local for Thanksgiving
Not only was it important for us to purchase a turkey that is raised sustainably and preserves a heritage breed, but it was important for us to buy local. Each year I host an Eat Local campaign urging individuals and families to choose local foods for their Thanksgiving table. Not only does it help support local farmers, but the reduction in transportation of foods also results in lower carbon emissions, some say as much as 2.2 lbs of CO2 per plate of local foods chosen.

So, if you are interested in joining the movement to Eat Local for Thanksgiving, stop by and sign the pledge!

[Don't miss out! The book giveaway for Eco-Friendly Families is still going on until 6:00 pm tonight!]


Chili said...

Our local free range turkey prices have risen to $5.69/lb in Central Pennsylvania. I can't justify that price with my family and I certainly can't buy a commercially produced turkey and my family knows that too. Not sure what to do this year - I may sell some useless collectible sitting around collecting dust to pay for the bird.

Robin Shreeves said...

I've chosen the expensive, but lived a happy life turkey from a local farm this year, too.

I also ordered a much bigger bird than we need this Thanksgiving. It takes the same amount of work to cook a big turkey (just more time in the oven) than it does to cook a smaller one. And with the leftovers, I'll have sandwiches, soups, pot pie... Makes the added expense even more worth it when I know I'll have meal options for a couple of weeks after Thanksgiving.

I did hesitate before spending the money, though. There was a part of me that kept saying in this economy, nobody would blame me for buying a cheap turkey. But then I realized that in this economy, it's extra important to support the local farmers. I'll be at my farmer's market this Saturday, too, buying my vegetables for Thanksgiving.

In my area, it's the last weekend for the farmer's market until next spring. So I also plan on stocking up on the local canned tomatoes, honey, and anything else that I can keep on a pantry shelf. I want to do what I can to give the local farmers one little boost before the season ends because I'd hate for them not to be back next year.

Caron said...

Last year, we bought a free range organic turkey for Thanksgiving, through our CSA. For weeks before T-day, my sister's family gave me an awful time about how silly it was to spend that much on a turkey. But when they tasted it, they agreed how delicous it was. We ordered an 18 pounder in July, a size estimation by the farmer. It ended up being 25 lbs- because of all of the free grazing. This year we will be away, so no heritage turkey for us. sigh.

Michelle said...

I don't host Thanksgiving, and I never realized how much I was saving :>)

But, really, when you carefully and thoughtfully spend your money on what is important to you, you will find yourself with a lot less junk laying around while supporting those industries that are important to you.

Unless you are in the local food line or borrowing money from relatives to make ends meet, who else should care how you spend your money?

Jenn said...

I have four huge, all-natural, all-organic, entirely free-range turkeys I've raised from chicks. They've spent their lives wandering around my farm to their heart's content, eating bugs, plants and pecking through horse poop, sleeping in the sun and bathing in the dirt. They are quite healthy and extremely happy. We weighed the largest one last weekend and he's up to 40#!! They cost me a grand total of $2 each as chicks, and since they are free-range, wander-as-they-will turkeys, I've spent nothing on feed once they got out of the brooder. In the brooder, they cost me maybe $10 total in chick grower feed.

Butchering is this weekend and I can hardly wait to roast the big one for my family! One will go to a friend and the others will go in my freezer. If I had known how much I could charge for a happy, free-range, organic turkey, I certainly would have asked for more than the $2 it cost to buy the chick!

Crunchy Chicken said...

I think a bit of the cost comes from it being a heritage bird because I'm pretty sure the same farm, which also sells the "improved" broad breasted turkeys, sells them for less per pound. Maybe because they buy the chicks? Or maybe because the demand for heritage is greater or since they are raising their own the survival rate needs to be taken into consideration? I'm not sure of the economics there...

Greenpa said...

Pricey, but cool. I'll be very interested in your flavor/cooking assessment. We had a pasture raised heritage turkey last year, a Burbon Red. It was good; but really, just- turkey.

Not that there's anything wrong with that!

Be prepared for people (including your kids) looking at the bird on the table and asking "wow- was it sick or starving or something?" The modern birds have all had breast muscle mass increased more than twice. The heritage birds look very different.

I think much of the cost is demand- it has been ridiculously high the last couple years, including from top restaurants, which were buying out whole farm production around here. That may change.

Jenn said...

It probably is supply and demand. People want organic, people want free-range, and some people want the older breeds. It takes more space to raise free-range organic birds than it does to commercially raise a flock in a giant barn.

There are several heritage turkey breeds available, if you know where to look, and I've yet to see the chicks sell for more than $4-$5 apiece. The larger "improved" breeds actually end up costing breeders more in the long run because chick morbidity is quite high, due to the breeding for larger breasts. The large-breasted, improved breed chicks have a tendency to fall over and are often unable to right themselves (flip-over disease). If they flip onto their backs and aren't found and uprighted within a couple of hours, they die. The older breeds don't do that because their genetics haven't been muddled with.

QuarantinedKiddos said...

We're getting our turkey from a local farm, 11.1 miles away. We're only up to $3.09/lb, and the birds are "grown in barns and outdoor pens, free to move around as they wish." I wish I could buy more pastured food. I find it very difficult to locate in my neck of Massachusetts.

Cave-Woman said...

Mississippi has a healthy wild turkey population, and we have family who hunt---so our bird will be provided a la brother-in-law.

The thing I'm struggling with is finding local dairy of any kind.

I don't want to give up milk. I've signficantly reduced by consumption---but I want to keep it in my diet. Any suggestions on getting the most local milk possible?

If I venture into making my own cheeses, I'd like to do so by not buying milk in a big plastic jug in order to make my cheese. It just doesn't help me reduce plastic like I'd like. Thus, one of the reasons I'm looking for local milk.

Jamie D. said...

Everyone has to decide how best to spend what money they have. And if those people who are looking down on you for spending more on a turkey would think about it for a minute, they'd see that they spend the same amount (or more) on things you probably don't (like cable, or another faux christmas tree). It's all about priorities, and I really can't see why anyone would fault you (or anyone else) for spending the money to ensure a healthy, locally raised turkey for your Thanksgiving dinner.

I'm just hosting brunch so no big turkey needed here. But if I needed one, I'd certainly at least try to find a local one, and skimp on other things so I could afford it if necessary.

Gretchen said...

Dear Crunchy
Your post has given me pause to think about my buying habits: I would like to incorporate many of the suggestions you have made about buying from local growers. However, I am SO not in that circle of friends or acquaintances that I wouldn't even know how to find local growers (beyond the familiar farmer's market). I mean, I'd love to buy a free-range bird, but I have no idea where I'd order one. I'm not asking you to furnish me with a name or phone number or web address, but rather, could you maybe give some suggestions for a "starter eco-learner" as to where to find growers and producers in their own area. I live in a large metropolitan area but I think it might be even harder in smaller rural areas. You can answer me on e-mail or in comments, whatever.

Tara said...

This would be my preference, but it just isn't in the budget this year, so I won't be cooking a turkey. I'd really like to raise my own in coming years - I've got more than enough space and we're not squeamish about the butchering. Due to some other circumstances, it just wasn't in the cards this year.

Tara said...

Texan Mama: I'm not sure where in Texas you are, but if you're anywhere near DFW, try Burgundy Pasture Beef. I've been buying pastured meat from them for awhile now - their product is very high quality and a lot of it is VERY reasonably priced (I can't afford the fancy steaks, but their everyday cuts are quite affordable for me). In addition to beef, they also have pork, lamb, chicken and cheese/eggs. You can pick up from them, or they deliver within a pretty wide area. They don't do turkeys, but this year they were coordinating with another farm to provide them. It's too late to get one for this year, but you might keep that in mind.

That said, if you're not near DFW, I can't make any specific recommendations, but check That should point you in the right direction. Best of luck!

Jenn said...

Texan Mama...start with your local extension office or the state Ag Department..they can point you in the right direction.

cheflovesbeer said...

I always buy run around birds. Whether its turkey or chicken. It is more expensive but at least they got to run around like birds are supposed to do.

Turkeys and chickens are ground birds sure they can fly but mostly they run around.

Greenpa said...

Cave Woman- I'd love to hear how your wild turkey cooks and tastes. We have a growing population, and one of these days I expect to have on on the table. One of my information sources says the breast of wild turkey is not white; but dark like the thigh. That sounds pretty interesting to me, from many standpoints.

One being- our domestic turkeys are not actually derived from our wild turkeys- but from a different species that the Aztecs had domesticated. Those were the ones that got back to Europe and became widespread domestic birds; and those were where our farm turkeys came from.

Crunchini- how about a "turkey feedback" day here?

My own bird just walked in the door, unexpected. A gift from the deer hunters we let hunt here.

Crunchy Chicken said...

Chili - What we did this year to help out with cost is split it with my brother since he'll be coming over for dinner. We still haven't resolved the issue of who gets the carcass. I think we'll either do the proverbial wishbone over it or hack it in two.

Jenn - I know a few broad breasted celebrities that probably have flip-over disease, but they just don't talk about it.

Texan Mama (and others looking for local stuff) - as another person said is a good place to start. When in doubt just try working the Interwebs. Try typing in "heritage turkey" and your state or city into Google and see what comes up. You might be able to find out what's available.

Greenpa - That's an interesting idea. A veritable turkey taste test! I'll host a turkey post-mortem, if you will, and get people's feedback.

Crunchy Chicken said...

Oh, I also forgot about this one. This is the link for heritage and pastured meat in Texas (they have listings for national farms):

Eat Wild

Hannah said...

As for finding dairy:

While there are small dairies that pasteurize their milk, much of it is raw. Some local sources can be found at the link below. Many farms with dairy cows also sell pastured meat, eggs, etc.

I know raw milk is quite an issue and I don't at all mean to start debates in these comments. Whether it is even legal or not varies by state.

It took me an awfully long time to feel comfortable about raw milk, but I realized that it was perhaps the only way for small diversified farms to maintain their livelihoods.

Caron said...

There is a nice meat CSA at Chestnut Farms in Hardwick,MA. They have monthly pick ups in central MA, Natick and in Boston. Also, there is a certified Raw milk Dairy in Foxboro, called Oake Knoll Ayrshires and many people car pool out to central MA and up towards the North Shore.

Sue said...

@Texan Mama -

Have you done a search at Local Harvest? That's where I would start looking, if I was new to this.

We aren't having Thanksgiving this year, since we're driving to Ontario to visit family, and they had Thanksgiving last month. So no turkey for us. My 4 year old and I are going to help butcher turkeys this weekend, though. She's insanely interested in the whole "where does my food come from" question, and has been asking about it 4 six months - ever since she first dissected a chicken (which had been killed by a dog. The chicken belonged to a friend of ours). I told her this morning that the farmer said we can watch but not be there the whole time, and she was quite put out. She said - "but I want to help kill the turkeys. Please?" Understandably though, the farmer wants to tread lightly where 4 year olds and poultry slaughter are concerned. Honestly, though, I think she'll be fine. She's kind of a freak like that.

Jenn said...

Poor turkeys.

I have three house cats you might as well eat, just swing by Oakland.

Man. Turkeys need rights.

Crunchy Chicken said...

Jenn - Thanks for the offer, but I don't think kitties make very good gravy.

I think you're barking (gobbling?) up the wrong tree here. Animal rights and their edibility are a very good topic of discussion but would you rather I be promoting cheapo commercially raised/tortured turkeys? It certainly would be fitting given the current state of the economy.

Many of us go way out of our way to make sure the bird we do choose has as good a life as possible. I know you will argue that choosing no turkey for Thanksgiving is the best option and, for many people, that is true.

But for the vast majority who do side with tradition, wouldn't you rather they select a pasture-raised "happy" bird than the alternative?

Your comment doesn't help promote animal welfare, it just turns a lot of folks off and shuts down the conversation.

Scribblin' 'Possum said...

I beg to differ. I'm not turned off by Jennconspiracy's comment at all. I couldn't help but think the same thing: Poor turkeys. The idea of someone eating my cats also came to mind - and I found the whole idea abhorrent. The whole topic is really bothersome on many different levels.

Robj98168 said...

I choose (chose?) to go with a nice local beef roast this year. It was raised on Vashon! Bon Appetit!

Anonymous said...

This year we are in a tight spot. Our daughter works at the local grocery store and got a gift card for a tortured tukey.

If we hadn't had such a long run of things going wrong..from medical emergancies to transportation breakdowns we'd do the free range turkey as we have in years past. Of course we could go w/out turkey and give the turkey from store away.

We grew alot of our own food that we canned etc. I grew several pumpkins to be used for pies. Cranberries bought from a local cranberry grower. A good deal of our Turkey day meal will be homegrown, bought local and made from scratch. Stillfeel guilty about that tortured turkey though...

Lynnet said...

We've had heritage turkeys on the table for several years. The flavor is truly exceptional. The configuration is different: the breast meat runs back along the bird instead of right out in front, but there is almost as much.

This year we have a charming little 8 lb bird, just right for the two of us.

I tried raising heritage turkeys. When they got to be teenagers, up and over the fence they went. That was it. Heritage turkeys cost more to raise because they grow more slowly, and because they need loads more room than the dumbed-down broadbreasted breeds.
They are very intelligent and personable. They can interbreed with the wild turkeys.

For the last couple of years, we've gotten our turkeys at Eastern Plains Natural Food Coop here in Colorado. The price on those is $3.95/lb this year. This is a great organization for people in northern Colorado (they don't ship meat).

I just don't have any desire for the commercial turkeys any more; I get tired of the taste long before we've finished eating it. Besides the poor diet, the overcrowding, etc.

kate said...

I got a small turkey for $6.50 at a local chain grocery store while I was out of town. It was a big sale, and I got one of the last five left.

I have no problem with people spending as much and choosing what works for them. I just have never been fussy about food, though I favor healthy stuff.

I just came from my property in rural Vermont, where I spend half my time. My favorite view of turkeys is running across my dirt road, not cooked on a platter. It changed something, seeing that beautiful and funny sight. Not sure how I made the connection, but it made me decide to get a $6.50 small turkey because it was there in the bin, a goner.

I like that we see and do what we choose and it can be all across a spectrum.


Anonymous said...

All the turkeys that live here on the island in the lesser Antilles that I live on are heritage and they just run around and eat whatever the hell they find, and it being the tropics, bugs abound. I'm also partial guinea hen stew, and those wonderful birds also just wander and flit wherever they please. Oh Yeah, Greenpa, will you be munching some guineas one day soon? Stew is the way.
I thought Jenn had the best comments and pricing understanding.
The heritage bird that Crunchy got was overpriced by at least 100% and I wonder why she doesn't just raise one in the yard?

Anonymous said...

You got a deal mine cost about $50 more but in addition to wanting to buy heritage that is humanely raised I realize that now more then ever we need to do whatever we can to support the farmers that are raising these are other animals humanely. If we don't they will be forced to go out of business and that isn't good for any of us.

Cave-Woman said...

Thanks for the tips on local dairy...
I've contacted my local CSA, and am awaiting a response to find out the best source...if there is one.

If you do a post on turkey taste-test---I'll respond. That would be fun.
I'm intrigued to try wild turkey---this will be my first wild bird.

Susan Och said...

The American Livestock Breeds Conservancy had a heritage turkey tasting, read about it here.

Laura said...

So your Happy Turkey cost...
~About the price of two tanks of gas, when gas was $4.50.
~Less than a couple going to see 5 movies at the theater.
~Less than three hair cuts at a salon.
~Same price as a good massage or facial.

I'd say that's a bargain.