Kevin and I have a close relationship with turkeys as we’ve raised and processed thousands over the last 20 years. Turkeys may not be the brightest birds. They’re bred for big breasts, not brains. However, they have certainly taught us a few farming lessons.
Turkey Newbies Raise Birds
Back in 1998, we were turkey newbies. Unsure of how long it would take to raise turkeys to market weight, we started brooding them in May. By the time Thanksgiving rolled around, the birds were a whopping 25-40+ pounds. They were massive! Apparently, employees grump a lot about lifting monstrous beasts and customers don’t have roasters big enough to contain them.
Of course, we at the leftover 42 lb. turkey that no one wanted for our Thanksgiving dinner — I wedged it in my Grandma Loewen’s roaster that I inherited. We hosted 15 people for dinner and carved only a portion of one breast and one thigh to feed our crowd. We ate turkey leftovers for weeks.
Lesson: It takes 15 weeks (not 20) to raise a turkey to 15 lb. size and that’s what most customers (and employees) want!
Comic Relief from Turkeys
From 2001-2003, we encountered extreme drought and plagues of grasshoppers on the farm. It was the worst time to be farming and our spirits were low — in the tank along with commodity prices and crop yields. The only thing that brought joy (it was most cathartic!) was to watch the turkeys go after the grasshoppers. Imagine watching 100 turkeys roaming outside, clouds of dust and grasshoppers rising with every step, like Pigpen in Charlie Brown cartoons, plucking the bugs rapidly out of mid-air, swallowing them whole and chasing after more. Ha! Take that, you dirty rotten, crop eating grasshoppers!
Lesson: I don’t know if there is one here, except that free range turkeys taste fabulous when fed grasshoppers.
As our turkey business grew, we needed to raise more than 100 birds, which is the limit that non-quota holders can raise (turkeys are a supply managed agricultural commodity). Curiously, one does not need production quota to raise wild turkeys. Hmmm, we could raise as many wild turkeys as we want — what a brilliant idea!
As an experiment, we ordered 100 wild turkeys. We thought this might be our ticket. Not only does it beat the quota system but they’re also a heritage breed which would be easily marketable.
All was fine and good until one day, the wild turkeys escaped the safe, netted coop. Somehow, the door came unlatched and some of the turkeys flew out! Perched high in the trees and goodness knows where else, we tried to coax them back in the pen to no avail.
When we finally processed the remaining wild turkeys, we discovered that although they ate a LOT of grain, they did not gain weight, their breasts were paltry and their black feathers left black rings around every pore and looked dirty. Not the turkey to which we have become accustomed!
Lesson: You never know until you try. In this case, stick with Plan A and find a way to raise birds legally. Hence, we now have a turkey Partner Producer who raises the most beautiful birds to a 15 lb. average weight, fresh for the holidays, with the most excellent flavor.
Despite the hard work and occasional farming mishap, we love turkeys. We love turkeys mostly because a turkey dinner brings people together to share around the table and reminds us to be grateful. What other bird can claim that?
If you would like to reserve your fresh All Natural turkey for Thanksgiving, give us a call at 306.239.4763 or order online.
You’ll also find our fresh turkeys at your favourite health retailer, Saskatoon Co-ops and Prairie Meats. A complete retailer listing can be found on our website.
We guarantee it will be the best tasting turkey you’ll find anywhere in Saskatchewan. And now, back to tending turkeys . . .