These are my neighbors broad-breasted white turkeys. When you drive down the road past their farm, if it is a nice day, you are nearly guaranteed to run into this roadblock.
I am reprinting (with a couple minor revisions) a piece I wrote last year just before Thanksgiving about the turkey you will buy, eat, celebrate, and give thanks for this year. The turkeys that I advocate for buying will be more expensive to you, the consumer, but they are a tastier bird, they are a bird that lived well. They are a bird that you can be truly thankful for and proud of at your dinner table. They are birds raised on small farms, by good animal welfare-minded farmers.
If the cost of a humanely-raised turkey proves too much for you, I urge you to think of alternatives for your holiday table, like a humanely raised chicken or duck. Your guests won't be appalled, they'll if anything be grateful for the change in menu and meat.
I would also like to offer my googling/emailing/craigslisting services to ANYONE who needs them, in trying to find a locally raised small farm turkey near them. Please write me at kathryn.maclean (at) gmail.com. I helped several readers find local eggs last spring and I would love to help any of you find a good turkey this year.
There was an article in the Times about the price of turkey last year : In the Labyrinth of Turkey Pricing, a Reason Under Every Giblet. The article was in the business section of the paper and investigates why some turkeys are sold for 49 cents a pound and others can go for $6.50 a pound and What You Are Paying For.
I highly recommend you read it. The interesting point the author makes is that nobody is making money off turkeys. Not those selling confinement, non organic birds at dollar candy prices. Not those selling free range, happy healthy organically raised, humanely raised birds. The cost of feed is too expensive. Corn and soy prices have shot through the roof in past years and the consumer refuses to take on the burden. The consumer chooses the less expensive option, almost always. In fact it is the consumer that expects, Every Year, that the Price of anything will go down. Especially the Price of a 16lb butterball turkey. And so the Price does.
Seeing signs at supermarkets for 49 cents-a-pound birds makes me literally laugh aloud. Having raised turkeys in North Carolina I can only imagine what sort of cost-cutting measures these farmers are taking to at least break even if not lose money on turkeys this year. Even the organic turkeys for sale at Whole Foods, advertised at a whopping $1.49 at our local store, can't possibly reflect the actual cost of raising the bird. In order to grow a turkey from late spring, when they are born, to weight at Thanksgiving, you need to feed them a lot of grain.
But forget the farmer that is losing money. Forget the supermarket that will most likely make no money on these Thanksgiving birds. Forget how much breast meat you are hoping to have afterwards for the prodigal leftover. Forget how much food you intend to heap on to your plate that afternoon. Forget the feelings of guilt about how much you need versus how much you take.
And try to remember the life of the bird this Thanksgiving. Try to remember where she was raised. Try to remember if that bird ever got to see the light of day, or smell fresh air, or keep her beak, or her toes, or her wings.
Try to remember whether or not this bird was grown and fed so quickly that her breast grew faster than her legs, so that at the end of his life she could barely walk.
I don't advocate on this blog To Not Eat Animals. Humans are omnivores. Have been for what seems like Forever. Will be for as long as animals continue to taste so good. But I do advocate researching the animals that you eat and what better time, what more black-and-white a time to do this than with the Thanksgiving turkey.
I've never been the best at the Cold Hard Facts so I urge you to give you some attention to the Turkey Welfare report from the HSUS to read about how a turkey is bred, raised, and slaughtered in our perverse modern industrial agriculture. Once you have read it I urge you to at the very least consider an organic bird, so that you know those birds aren't living in conditions where antibiotics are a base-line. I urge you to then consider a free range bird. A free range bird means only that the bird is not kept in a closed warehouse but can still be kept in a indoors with just one, small, open door. According to the HSUS report the stocking density in these houses is so high the average amount of space a turkey-hen gets is 2.5 square feet and these are big birds. Organic or free range or heirloom or heritage. The package could have any number of romantic adjectives in front of the word turkey. None of it matters though as most as the name of the farm it comes from. I most viciously, urge you to support a small, nearby farm this year when you buy your turkey.
According to this HSUS report:
"In 1910, the U.S. turkey industry was composed of 870,000 farmers raising 3.7 million turkeys, an average of 4 birds per farm, typically in free-ranging systems that allowed the birds to experience a varied, complex environment in which they could display normal behavior patterns. In contrast, in 2007, more than half of the nearly 265 million turkeys slaughtered in the United States were raised under contract in industrialized production facilities for only three companies."
The way we are raising the Thanksgiving turkey in this country is not only creating deplorable conditions for the birds but it is killing our family farms. Farms like mine. Farms like that of my neighbors who raise the free-wheelin' turkeys above.
I urge you this Thanksgiving season to think with your dollars when you are remembering the bird's life and the farmer who raised her. We all have so much to be thankful for this Thanksgiving. Let you count in your blessings at the table this year the bird whose life was given for your meal. And let it have been a good life.
Also please know that small farms sell out of turkeys fairly early. So, it is best to call now, before November really takes a hold.