I was cleaning out and reorganizing the freezer a few days ago trying to make room for 250 pounds of meat we were receiving, and I found three turkeys from last year's rafter. (I had to look that up. I had always thought that a group of turkeys was called a flock, but Google corrected me by explaining that a group of wild turkeys are called a flock and a group of domesticated turkeys are called a rafter. One's never too old to learn something new!) Anyhow, since I needed to make room for all the meat since my lovey wouldn't let me purchase another freezer, I cooked one of the turkeys and used the carcass to make broth and we enjoyed turkey sandwiches for the week.
Until I decided to grow our own turkeys, I really hadn't paid a lot of attention to turkeys. Not having been raised in the States, I didn't grow up eating turkey at holiday celebrations. Once I moved to the States, I understood enough to know that at Thanksgiving and Christmas, one cooked a frozen turkey that the local grocery store stocked ahead of those holidays.
When I started caring about what I was preparing for my family to eat and making sure that it was nutritional and healthy, and did more research into turkeys, I found that there's MUCH more to turkeys than my original understanding. There was also much that I didn't agree with!
Commercially Raised Turkeys
Those frozen turkeys available at the grocery store have been raised in much the same manner as most commercial chickens- in closed-in buildings, confined and jammed packed together, eating feed that is formulated with growth hormones, antibiotics, soy, and other ingredients I can't pronounce. YUCK!
A few days after hatching, the poults (baby turkeys) have their upper beaks snipped off to prevent them from pecking each other in the crammed spaces they are contained in. This also means the poult can no longer pick and choose what it wants to eat. In their natural environment, turkeys are omnivores, but in a commercial farm the turkeys are fed a diet of corn and soy based grain feed with antibiotics.
Turkeys in confined and packed spaces can contract many diseases which is why many commercial farms include antibiotics in the feed as a precaution to preserve the rafter from becoming infected and possibly dying. Most commercial houses grow the double breasted breed and since they grow so fast and so large, the turkeys can injure joints, break legs, or have cardiac and respiratory problems, which is another reason why most commercial feed include antibiotics in their formulation.
The commercial feed also includes soy and corn in its formulation to enhance the protein content and thereby grow the turkey quickly. Aside from soy and corn, most commercial feeds include pesticides to help prevent the spread of disease through the commercial house. Pesticides are chemically manufactured to kill bacteria, insects and other organisms, including the good ones.
Pasture Raised Turkeys
For a number of years now, we've raised our own turkeys for our own holiday celebrations. Our goal was to grow turkeys as healthy and as naturally as possible. As we've grown our production so that we could provide you with the same healthy, nutritious turkey, our practices and goal has not changed.
Our turkeys are purchased from a local hatchery and we receive them as one day old poults. We do not remove their upper beak- that's atrocious to think of. We place them in a brooder (contained space with a heat lamp, water and feed) for 2 to 3 weeks, and then transfer them to our turkey tractor in the pasture.
The turkey tractor is then moved along the pasture as needed to provide enough grass and bugs for the poults to eat. We supplement with a no soy feed, and they have all the water they need.
As they get bigger, we allow them to roam in and around their turkey tractor but contained within an electrical netting fence for their protection (we've lost many birds to predators, which is very disheartening after all the care we've given them and the investment in feed up until we loose them). At all times, they have all the grass and bugs they want to eat, and as healthy a feed as possible to supplement their growth.
They have never had any growth hormones, antibiotics, or soy (I've discussed our decision not to use any soy formulated feed for our livestock here and here), and are eating grass that has not been sprayed with any herbicide or pesticide 24/7.
We've had friends and family at our Thanksgiving and Christmas table rave about the turkey they've just eaten. They love the taste and the tenderness (if I haven't overcooked it) of our pasture raised turkey. When I explain how we've grown it, they also appreciate the freshness and the confidence that they've eaten a healthy and naturally raised turkey.
Our hearts swell with gratitude when we hear their lovely compliments, as we realize that all the work we're doing to produce and provide healthy food is being recognized and appreciated! It keeps us going and motivates us to make plans for more ways to provide you with food you would be proud to serve to your family and friends.
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