Friday, October 26, 2018

Why Do You? - Talking Turkey

Every year, when the turkeys approach the point in time that they go to "the Park," "Freezer Camp" and then are "Guests of Honor" at various homes for Thanksgiving, we get a batch of questions about how we raise our birds and/or why we do things the way we do with respect to our turkey flock.  Sometimes these questions are directly posed to us and other times, they are implied.  Either way, we hear them and we'd like to take some time to answer at least some of your questions.  After all, we realize that we are definitely part of a small portion of the population that actually raises turkeys - so we should not expect everyone else to understand what goes on without a little bit of help.

Other Blog Posts that Talk Turkey
We have written about our turkeys multiple times AND we have even asked some of our turkeys to write blog posts.  We encourage you to visit some of these if they might amuse you or address your specific questions:

  • What does a turkey sound like?  You can at least get a sampling in this blog post.
  • Our most popular turkey post is the one that discusses the stages the birds go through on our farm.  This includes an introduction to some terminology.  Want to know what a snood is?  Go to this post.
  • Jake the turkey provided us with a very useful turkey perspective that many people also enjoy.  His perspective about "little bald turkeys" might amuse you a little.
  • Before you think turkeys are less than intelligent, Ima Turkey's documents revealed some of the research the turkeys have undertaken in the past.  
  • And, before you think everything is all 'honey and light' here, we do have a post that features dark humor about a situation involving rats in the turkey room.
Day Ranging Turkeys
Our birds are 'pasture raised' but we tend to prefer the much more accurate term 'day ranging.'  Our turkeys are given access to a nice pasture (see below) during the daylight hours.  But, for their protection, they go into a building at night.  This is especially important when they are smaller and might be more a matter of principle when they are larger.  Once turkeys establish a 'home' they tend to go back to it - even if they are a bit SLOW about it sometimes.  Tammy and I get a little frustrated with them when we just want to GO INSIDE OURSELVES and they aren't interested in marching right on in just yet.  This is especially true when it is raining.

Yes, turkeys stay outside, even when it is raining.  They could go inside their room because we leave it open for them.  The hens often go inside when it is raining, but turkeys do not.  They might try to stand under a tree or the eave of the building.  But, at you can see, the trees are still a bit small and the eave area can only accommodate so many birds.

They will not allow themselves to be herded into their room before it is night time, so don't even suggest that we try.  They want their outside time and they are going to get it, darn it! 
Oh look! Damp turkeys!
Why day range these birds?  Well, first of all, we feel that the turkeys are healthier than those that are raised in a confinement/building environment.  That does not mean we won't lose a turkey to injury or illness.  That's just a part of life.  However, these birds have the opportunity to find a corner of the pasture away from other birds if they want - though most of them just stay with the flock.  We stick with about 60 birds in our flock and they will often splinter into 'cliques' of ten to thirty birds - especially when they get out of their fenced pasture!

Because these birds are given the opportunity to forage, their diet is more diverse.  They are encouraged to walk and run which improves the overall muscle tone.  One of the positive results for carnivores who like turkey for dinner?  The quality of the dark meat is every bit as good as the white meat.  More of the bird is truly useful, so you get more bang for your buck as well.

Feeding Feed and Whatever Else They Find
Some folks have asked if we just let the birds forage for their entire diet.  The answer to that is definitely a 'no.'  While we understand that some people are asking because they want us to raise these birds more 'naturally,' we need to point out that we would need a significantly larger farm to have a prayer of doing this.  And, you have to consider the issues of protein and sufficient bulk to keep the birds happy.

If you look at the pasture photos, you'll see that the birds have trimmed the grass very short and there are no tall weeds for the most part.  They will eat bugs - and frogs - and whatever else that we haven't necessarily witnessed.  They receive veggies from the farm and they get straw in their room that probably has some seeds in it still.  We have aronia berries in the field that they also seem to enjoy.  The service berries were too good since we're not sure those plants will survive.

But, the reality is that the pasture does not hold a full diet for this size flock for the entire time that we have them.  The berries are there for a week or so.  Frogs learn to NOT be in that pasture quickly.  And, the grass doesn't grow much when the sun doesn't shine and it gets colder in October.

We are blessed to have a connection with the Canfield Family Farms.  Earl and his family do a fantastic job of raising diverse crops and creating feed mixes that are well-balanced with many grain types.  All of the grain products come from THEIR farm and we trust them to provide high quality feed in ways that are in harmony with nature and excellent farming practices.  This is how local foods is supposed to work - and we're very happy to be doing things this way with our turkey flock.

Late October Processing
We get the most questions that have some relationship to processing, the timing of that processing, the cost of the birds and the size of the birds.  That certainly makes sense since people who want a turkey are going to be looking at these things.

But, why late October processing when most people don't want a turkey until late November for Thanksgiving?
62 turkeys sitting quietly waiting to be taken home by their new families.
You asked, we'll answer the first question now and the others later:
  1. The pasture growth is slowing/stopping in October and won't improve in November.  We need that pasture to recover so it is available next season.
  2. Veggies aren't as easily available.  The diet becomes increasingly feed intensive at a time when they want MUCH MORE to eat.
  3. Our friendly, state-inspected processor in Greene, Iowa (Martzahn's Farm) is a small business with limited capacity.  They can't process everyone's turkeys in mid-November!  We like their work very much, so we work with the schedule they have (and yes, we schedule the processing date in the Spring, it's not a last minute thing).
  4. The farmers are getting tired of poultry by this time of year.  We've been managing four to five flocks for several months in a row and our help declines as we go deeper into the year.  
  5. Water is necessary to keep birds healthy and alive.  If you haven't noticed, water freezes when it gets colder. Huh.  Who knew?
  6. We've learned that if we want to get all of the turkeys sold prior to Thanksgiving, we need to have them for three to four weeks prior to that date. 
We Actually Do Miss Them - Sort of

Turkeys, wondering if they should have been ducks this year.
Our turkey flock does tend to interact with us more than the broiler chickens or the laying hens.  They are curious and interested in the world around them.  They crowd gobble at the crows that fly-over and taunt them.  They run in a knock-kneed fashion that is humorous to watch.  They get excited when they hear power tools for some reason and they think visitors are part of a rival flock that they need to impress.

And yet, we're still ok that they are now at Freezer Camp and will be going to other homes for Thanksgiving.  Except for the bird that has been invited to ours - that one can stay.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Thank you for your input! We appreciate hearing what you have to say.