Tag Archives: heritage breeds

Pre-order Your Heritage Breed Thanksgiving Turkey

A Bourbon Red turkey relaxes on the fence enjoying the sunshine.

Spring is almost here!  That means that the turkeys are getting into the breeding mood and we should have lots of eggs soon from our small flock of heritage breed free-range turkeys.  Our turkeys free-range around our farm chowing down on grasses, seeds, and insects.  They fly very well and enjoy following us around as we do chores and take care of the other animals.  Their favorite afternoons are spent swinging on our front porch swing.  They truly are personable birds.  T’his year we are raising Black Spanish, Bourbon Red, Chocolate, and Narragansett turkeys.

Heritage breed turkeys were once common throughout the United States.  They are the quintessential American bird.  Unfortunately, with the rise of the factory-farmed industrial breeds like the Broad-Breasted Bronze and the Broad-Breasted White turkeys, the heritage breeds were almost lost.  Now these older breeds are developing quite a following based on their superior flavor, their ability to free-range, and their ability to be raised sustainably because they can both forage for their own food and breed naturally.

We need more people to help us preserve these heritage breeds that are so wonderful to raise and provide genetic diversity and safeguards to sustainable farmers.  We need to create a market for the heritage turkeys so that farmers like us can continue to raise them and the breeds won’t disappear forever.

How can you help save these breeds?  By eating them!

By eating heritage breed turkeys, you will ensure the breeds’ survival by encouraging small farmers to continue breeding and growing these wonderful birds.  If we all keep going to the supermarket and buying Broad-Breasted White turkeys (which can’t find their own food, fly, or breed naturally), then that will be all people will be able to raise.  The Broad-Breasted White turkey already has 95% or more of the American market.  If this trend continues, then other breeds may go the way of the Dodo bird.  That means less genetic diversity in our turkeys – one disease could wipe out great numbers of them.  Heritage birds not only taste better, but they provide genetic insurance against disaster!

From now until September 1st, Good Life Ranch is offering a special on a heritage breed free-range Thanksgiving turkey.  For $75 you can order your own heritage breed bird to be the centerpiece of your Thanksgiving meal.  This price includes free delivery to your door anywhere in Kentucky!  For the average 14-lb bird, you can save $23 on the normal price of $7 per pound and the normal price does not include delivery.  What a deal!

To order, please contact us by emailing geoff@goodliferanch.com or calling 606.787.4217.  We will then give you more information and answer any questions that you may have.  We will confirm your order by requesting a $25 deposit to hold your bird, with the remaining $50 due upon delivery.  Please don’t wait!  We only anticipate raising 50 turkeys this year and they are sure to go fast!

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The Cluck Stops Here

The sign greeting customers at SS Enterprises.

Today was our first poultry processing day.  #1 lesson learned?  Eight weeks is not enough time to grow birds out unless you’re raising Cornish X.

Our first processing day was a emotional minefield – excitement, sadness, pride, regret, sorrow, and gratitude all flowed through my system from 6 am while Lindsey and I were loading the broilers until 8 pm when we sat down to our chicken dinner.

Eventually we want to keep the processing on farm.  We believe that’s more sustainable and better for the birds.  Heifer Project International has even built a mobile processing unit that they sold to a university in Kentucky for $1 that we can use if we take a certification course and build the platform and hookups for it.  That may be in our future.  But for now, we’re taking our birds to the processor.

We called and got an appointment at SS Enterprises, a certified organic processor geared towards the small producer.  Our methods are definitely “beyond organic” even though we don’t care about label, so having a processor that cares about the organic process makes a difference to us.

Even though we are not labeled organic by the government, we are definitely Beyond Organic and it's nice to have a processor who believes in organics. And, yes, Kentucky's Secretary of Agriculture is named Richie Farmer.

There are only 2 USDA-approved poultry processors in the state of Kentucky.  SS is in Bowling Green almost 2 hours away.  The other happens to be 8 miles from our farm!  This time we used SS in Bowling Green because I didn’t find out about the other processor until after I’d made the appointment.  We’ll use the other processor for the next batch and compare the service and results to see which one we want to use, but I can tell you the 8-miles-away factor will be tough to beat.

I think the people at SS Enterprises share some of my political views.

However, the owners of SS Enterprises gave it a good shot.  They were extremely friendly and easy to work with.  I felt welcomed and at home from the first minute I drove up.  They introduced me to their staff and the USDA inspector, treated my birds with compassion and care, and walked me through the whole procedure of processing.  And they didn’t laugh at our small birds.

That’s right.  SMALL birds.

Other farmers who are pasturing poultry are mostly doing Cornish X broilers.  As I’ve blogged before, Cornish X have an extremely fast growth rate but that growth rate comes with trade-offs in terms of health issues and how well the birds are able to utilize fresh pasture.  We used White Rocks this time (which are the unlisted part of the Cornish X – it should read Cornish X White Rock).  The Salatins and others finish Cornish X at 6 weeks old and about 4 pounds in weight.  Nature’s Harmony finishes Naked Necks at 12 weeks, so I figured that White Rocks would be somewhere in between and probably closer to the Cornish X because of their role in the cross.   Hence we shot for 8 weeks for this first batch.

I thought wrong.  Our biggest birds dressed out at 1.5 pounds and the batch averaged 1.25 pounds.  Essentially, we have quail.

Lesson:  Right now we can’t hit an 8 week target date.
Adjustment:  Experiment with the cost of raising birds to 12 weeks and with a group of Cornish X.

Both experiments are going on with our second and third batches.  We’ve got a group of 50 Buff Orpingtons that we’ll raise out to 12 weeks and a group of Cornish X (they were the “free bonus chicks”) that we’ll raise to 6-8 weeks.  That should give us some real data from our land and our conditions to evaluate and allow us to make a good decision.  We would like to raise heritage breeds, but they’ve got to be profitable to be sustainable.  Birds that take 12 weeks to get to 4 pounds cost roughly twice as much to produce as birds that reach 4 pounds in 6 weeks.  So to be profitable with heritage birds we’ve got to have customers who are willing to pay more in exchange for the better taste of the older birds.  Any takers?

So, back off of the tangent, at the end of the day we did have 22 chickens cleanly processed and packaged.

Pastured chicken arranged in the freezer for storage.

These are too small to really sell profitably, so they will be for the two of us plus any family or guests who visit.  My father-in-law put it best, “At least you get to eat your mistakes as you learn from them.”  And I can now vouch – pastured poultry tastes WAY better than supermarket chicken.

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