Three weeks ago, I noticed a sore on my son’s Boer doe’s cheek. I hollered at my husband, Matt, to go out to the barn to take a look at Mae’s cheek to see what he thought it was. At the first quick glance, I thought it was an engorged tick, with the surrounding skin inflamed and swollen. After determining it wasn’t a tick, but some kind of cut that had become infected, Matt decided that we needed to make the 25-mile trek to the farm-supply store to buy medicine for the wound.
Once there, he headed off to the medicine cabinet, and out of the corner of my eye, I spotted the troughs of chicks by the feed section. “I’ll be over here when you’re done,” I called out to him. You know I can’t resist taking a peek at the lil' peepers!
So, I made my way around the troughs, seeing the usual breeds sold at these types of stores: Golden Buffs, Rhode Island Reds, Barred Rocks, and the Cornish meat birds. This store also had Pekin and Khaki Campbell ducklings. And, finally, I saw two troughs with clearance stickers: the turkeys!
I could not believe the price on the clearance sign: $1 each. (Gasp!) Over the years as a poultry producer for farmers’ markets, I have raised a fair share of turkeys for our customers’ Thanksgiving feast. (I’m sure it was a fun story for them to tell their families because I’d arrive at our swanky special holiday market with a vanload of frozen turkeys. Like, yes, I actually got this turkey out of a van in the shopping center parking lot. Can you believe that?)
Now, I usually spent $7 - $8 per turkey chick when purchasing from a hatchery. It’s a huge expense in my poultry budget, and I would have my customers prepay so I would have the money to purchase feed and processing. Let me tell you, it costs us about $50 just to raise a turkey, from chick to processing, and that doesn’t account for licensing, insurance, market fees, etc.
So, I instantly wanted these clearance turkeys. The store had both Broad-breasted Whites and Bronzes. I have always raised the whites, so I wanted to try the bronzes and hoped that one would turn out to be a tom to keep as a farm mascot (but don’t tell Matt that, ok?). There were six left in the trough, and the clerk working in the area told me that I’d be her best friend if I bought them all because they were constantly flying out of their trough and she had to chase them all over the store. They were on clearance because they weren’t considered chicks anymore, but rather pullets that had feathered out. They were marked as “senior birds” because of their age, which to me, is an advantage. The turkeys looked about two to three weeks old, and were already feathered out, so a brooder isn’t really necessary this late in the spring. The store took care of them to get them through a critical chick phase, fed them for a couple weeks, and were charging me less than the premium priced newly hatched turkeys!
Matt found me ogling the chicks, and I told him the news that we were buying these clearance turkeys. Now, I could just feel him roll his eyes at me, even though he didn’t. And, that’s why he can’t take me to the farm-supply store. What am I supposed to do? Not buy clearance turkeys?
We brought home the turkeys, and I cleaned out the pen we have used for all kinds of babies: chickens, ducklings, rabbits, and even our doe kids born this March. While we did lose one of the turkeys due to pasty butt, the five are eating, growing, and getting even more flighty.
They are just about ready to move to our mobile pen to finish on pasture, allowing them to chow down on bugs, worms, weeds, and whatever else they scratch up. You’ll never hear me say my poultry is “vegetarian fed,” and I have often been asked by my customers to explain what that means. As all poultry is omnivorous, eating both plants and animals, it is unnatural to feed strict diets of grain. Yes, there are advantages, such as feed ration consistency and rapid weight gain for commercial markets, but we always felt that raising our birds outside with the freedom to move in grass and eat a variety of protein sources would result in a higher quality meat, which we (and our repeat customers) believe we accomplished.
So far, we’ve got enough practice under our belts that raising five turkeys should be a walk in the park. It should take 20 weeks or so for them to get to a processing weight, usually around 25 pounds. (Our biggest was 39.9 pounds processed weight. We called him Champ, and he’s a legend.). And, since we no longer sell our poultry off-site, we can have them processed locally, rather than having to drive two hours to one of the few state-inspected poultry facilities required by law to sell meat at farmers’ markets.
And once you experience the taste difference of a pasture-raised turkey, you’ll never go back those generic birds sold at the grocery store. No, this is something special.
Long story short (too late), because of a minor goat injury, we’re now raising turkeys for our family and friends’ Thanksgiving meal. Farm life’s unexpected like that. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.
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