Want to try a Heritage Turkey?


In honor of America's Thanksgiving holiday this week, I'm reprinting last year's post on Heritage turkeys - something a lot of folks may have never heard about. If it's too late to order one this year, at least it gives you something to think about for next year!

For Thanksgiving, have you considered something other than a traditionally farm-raised turkey? Most families eat the standard “large white” or “broadbreasted white” turkey; 48 million get consumed every Thanksgiving, 99% of which are traditional factory-farmed birds. Those turkeys get raised just to be eaten. That means they can’t even run, fly, or mate - takes pretty much all the fun out of being alive doesn’t it? They are engineered to grow plump quick, and often pumped with antibiotics and hormones. Christine Heinrichs, author of How to Raise Poultry and publicity director for the Society for the Preservation of Poultry Antiquities, also has a great post about the various labels you might encounter on her blog post, Thanksgiving turkey.

Thanksgiving Flock A flock of heritage turkeys. Image Courtesy Springfield Farms in Maryland

Huffington Post featured several farms that raise heritage turkeys - a great option if you want to support small farms, organic, local and/or ethically raised animals. Hope this provides some 'food for thought' if you want to explore other options for your Thanksgiving meal! Most of them require you to pick up the turkey from the ranch, so if you don’t live in these areas, try searching for heritage turkeys in your region.

Three generations of three families run Maryland’s 67-acre Springfield Farms, which sustainably raises four types of turkeys including heritage varieties as well as traditional white turkeys. They’re free range during the grass growing season, and do not get fed or injected with anything synthetic like hormones or antibiotics.

In California, the Slow Food USA Russian River Heritage Turkey Project has turkeys you can order online for pickup near Santa Rosa. Slow Food USA partnered with the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy (ALBC) in 2001 to encourage local farmers to start raising heritage varieties that were perilously near extinction. The project has had great success. When they began their project, ALBC estimated only 1,200 breeding heritage turkeys of eight varieties lived in the U.S. and by 2004 that number increased to 4,000.

In Tampa, Kansas, the Good Shepherd Poultry Ranch raises heritage turkeys and their website says, “Birds are grown on outdoor range using vegetarian feed with the highest animal welfare standards.”  Texas has the Rehoboth Ranch, near Dallas, that grows heritage turkeys that raises tuerkeys on organically managed pastures "untainted by pesticides, herbicides, or artificial fertilizers," and their animals are never given hormones or steroids, and fed organic grains. Narragansett and Red Bourbon heritage turkeys can be purchased online from Kirschbaum Family Farm through Local Harvest, or you can pick up turkeys from the farm in Kewaskum, Wisconsin.

Huffington Post highlights another company, Mary’s Free Range Turkeys highlighted in a Discovery Channel  How Stuff Works video . They take seven months to raise these birds. No doubt the conditions here are far better than those in traditional factory farms, but also different than conditions on small farms where birds that can truly roam to their heart's delight. Small farms can't produce as many turkeys, though, so it's a tradeoff.

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