Every Thanksgiving season, Americans purchase about 250 million turkeys that are factory raised indoors and in crowded conditions. They are injected with drugs to control infections and a salt solution to flavor their meat. Their beaks are cut so they can’t peck other turkeys, and they eat only corn-based grain feed laced with antibiotics. These turkeys are readily available at grocery stores for about $1.30 a pound; however, other turkey options are available.
Farm-raised turkeys that received superior nutrition, no chemicals and a much better lifestyle are available. Stores, such as Whole Foods, advertise these better birds, and some turkey farms will sell directly to local consumers.
Jackie and Donald King of Pursley, Texas, pose with one of their farm-raised turkeys. Photo Courtesy P.O.P. Acres.
Jackie and Donald King own P.O.P. Acres in Pursley, Texas, a town so small that it doesn’t have its own post office. They raise grass-finished beef, a product that can take three years to mature. This year they added the faster-maturing turkey to their product list.
All 26 members of the Kings’ first turkey flock are Broad-Breasted White turkeys, similar to what is found at the local grocery, but these were raised in a pasture and fed a meal free of soy, corn, hormones and anything GMO.
“Their feed contains herbs, trace minerals and whole grains, including sunflower seeds, milo and wheat,” said Jackie. Her husband Donald supplements their meals with apple cider vinegar. “We don’t use chemicals, hormones or antibiotics.”
The first three weeks of the young turkeys’ lives were spent indoors to avoid fluctuating temperatures, which can cause health problems. Then they were moved to a small outdoor pen and eventually graduated to a fenced pasture. “We have coyotes, owls and hawks that love to eat birds, so we have them corralled with poultry netting,” she said. “At night, they go into a large pen to keep safe.”
Jackie and Donald don’t use the words “organic” or “natural” to describe their flock. “We just tell people how we raise them,” Jackie said. “People attach so many meanings to these words that they don’t mean much anymore.”
Just short of their 5-month birthday, the turkeys will be processed, inspected, packaged and labeled in a USDA-inspected facility. They will weigh from 15 to 28 pounds when dressed and sell for $4.49 a pound.
“People say turkeys are dumb, but they are actually smart, and we love them,” Jackie said. “We’re thinking about raising them year round.”
As Jackie’s customers do, you may be able to find a farm-raised turkey by word of mouth, searching the Internet for nearby farms or asking your grocery store manager.
Pat Pape is a freelance writer and communications consultant. She lives north of Dallas on five acres, dubbed Pigs Fly Ranch, along with her husband, cats, dogs and pygmy goats. She loves a good Thanksgiving dinner.