The BEST Turkey Dinners are Raised at Home
Just the mention of Thanksgiving prompts a "Turkey and Gravy" image for most.
Turkeys are fascinating animals. They are sensitive and smart and will sing along to music. They make outstanding parents, they form close knit family bonds,
and will often come together for mealtimes.
Homestead raised Turkeys love to be stroked and will purr with pleasure. The males in particular like to be noticed. They follow their favorite person around, puffing out their magnificent chests and body ruffles, just asking you to admire them. They will call out for you when they miss you, they enjoy roosting in the trees at night, and generally will not leave the property that they are raised and fed by. Turkeys are very easy to get attached to, they will guard their properties and keep their eyes on the farm activity.
Turkey babies are called “Poults” and look like very similar to chicken chicks in the beginning. The only noticeable difference is their "Snood", which is just above their Beak. You can see it right away, and it looks almost like a pimple at first. Their sound is much different too, almost like a calming whistle - especially when they call out for you or each other.
You can order them from most local farm supply stores that supply chicks, or you can order them yourself online. You can order most poults anytime from early March until late August, depending on your turkey needs.
A White Broad Breasted meat bird can be ordered ( as a poult ) as late as August and be ready in time for the November dinner table. On the flip side, the Heritage Turkeys take almost a year to gainthe proper weight for processing.
Local Availability of Turkeys include:
Broad Breasted (in white and bronze)
They all taste the same — the only difference you will notice is in the Skin after they are butchered. If they are not white feathered, like the Beltsville and White Holland, you will see the “pin” marks from their feathers on the skin. Its just a cosmetic issue for some consumers, so for the mass produced grocery style turkeys, they choose to raise the white feathered turkeys only.
How Turkeys Got Broad, White Breasts
The Broad Breasted Bronze used to rule the roost, so to speak, for only about two decades. It gave way to the now-ubiquitous Broad Breasted White, developed in the 1960s. Efficiency is the benefit of this breed, which now dominates the market.
The birds were bred specifically to produce maximum meat at minimum cost.
This increases the Commercial Industry’s Profits because these new improved Turkeys will reach a processing weight in a much shorter time. Because of the bulk of their hefty breasts, they notoriously cannot mate naturally; the hens must be artificially inseminated at the factory.
According to the National Turkey Federation, a Female hen takes about 14 weeks to get to a post-processing market weight of 17.5 pounds; and a Male Tom takes 18 weeks to reach a market weight of 38 pounds.
Turkeys are now FOUR times the size of their wild ancestors
and this rapid weight gain comes with a terrible price.
A Commercial raised Turkey who is prompted for quick weight gain, and lacks the opportunity of foraging and exercise in the sunshine will result in a very white, bland broad-breasted gobbler. These are the birds we feast upon at our local grocery store.
While there is a small movement of farmers and cooks working to bring back heritage turkeys, many homesteaders and lovers of healthy foods have taken it upon themselves to either raise their own birds, or make connections to the farmers who do.
If you have never had the pleasure of eating a Fresh, Healthy Turkey in your lifetime - I honestly encourage you to do so. The freshness is a revelation. It really matters. The meat is tastier, juicier and excellent. I became hooked immediately.
How much does it cost to Raise a Turkey from birth to processing?
Dollar for dollar, we feel like turkeys make more sense than chicken. Broad Breasted White Turkeys will get to about 15-25 pounds. When we got our turkeys processed last year, ours ranged from about 18-25 pounds. Our Turkeys really do free range all over our property - they are not destructive, and they eat alot of the forage that our goats and cows have already picked over. So what is the cost of raising turkeys for meat? When we figured out how much we spent on feed and butchering, we averaged $3-4 a pound, and I suspect even with the 40% rise in feed prices this year, we will round out to about the same. Maybe closer to $4. BUT this is still significantly cheaper than “free range” turkey you find at the grocery store, and you actually know where the meat came from.
Modern Day Consumers have Lost Connections to the Foods they Purchase,
These days, Commercial Grocery Store Chains often promote a "Free Frozen Turkey" provided that you spend above $50 or so in their store. Has Turkey lost its value ??
Poultry of all types are very much a part of that loss. "Hot Wings" for example - makes one think of a good time appetizer at the local Bar and Grill. Most will not envision a farm chicken, much less grow their own chickens to make this delicious snacking favorite.
When I asked a few young people I know, I received a few surprising answers.
The most common answer I received eluded to the Turkeys being mass produced in a Lab or in a third world country and shipped to our local food stores. not as farm animals, but just another convenience item on a shopping list, Oh - and that eating Turkey is a great protein rich source for weight loss. The average person knows more about Diet Foods and "points", but not about how a Turkey is created in the first place.
No one wants to visualize what we are eating, - ( including me ) but then I was raised on a farm, and there were no real questions of where my food came from.
Commercial - Factory Raised Turkeys = Very Sad Story
( I do not want to spend time on this topic and I will be brief and not attach Photos)
These Turkey Birds experience a Horrific 1-4 months of life.
"Commercial Free Ranged" Turkeys = Overcrowded locked in a Dark Barn
They are not in "cages" but on the ground - thousands of them -wing to wing in a closed barn, lights out to reduce the fighting with each other for their own lives. The crowded living conditions and poor ventilation of factory farm units can also lead to difficulties in breathing, eye problems, and bacterial and viral infections. The birds also develop ulcers and burns on their feet and legs from standing in contaminated litter for long periods.
"Commercial EXTRA Large Breasted" Turkeys = Broken Bones / Death
Their joints become inflamed, their bones break, and they may be in too much pain to even stand. It is not uncommon to see birds using their wings to crawl to food and water when their legs can no longer support their weight, or immobile birds trampled or starved to death. Their large frame also puts pressure on their hearts and lungs, and consequently, heart attacks are common. Together, lameness and heart disease account for a major proportion of premature flock mortality.
There - it had to be said. This is True, and this is Legal.
It is how the corporate business man feeds the masses.
I don't like it at all. How can anyone?
I am a Farmer, I thank God that I have developed the skills to offer my livestock a healthier and better livelihood, and Thank God that my family is blessed to be able to consume healthy Dairy, Produce, and Meat.
For the Health Benefits of Turkey, Further reading below
notes see https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/turkey#benefits
notes see https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/turkey#uses
notes see https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/turkey-vs-chicken#white-meat
notes see https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/turkey#salt-content