We are currently participating in the 2013 turkey project as our daughter Taylor is very active in numerous 4-H livestock programs. She especially loved having her bird go to help to feed those in need. We are raising additional turkeys this year for the farm to sell. Originally we were considering adding some of the heritage breeds but in the end we stayed with Giant White as this is the same breed which will be shown at the fair (it is the only breed offered for the project).
The were many considerations that played into our continuing to raise this breed including: all of the birds could be raised together as their maturity rate would be equal (project and farm birds alike). This means everyone would be about the same size at the same time helping to limit if not eliminate bullying and injuries. The required time to get the birds ready for market would also be the same. Farm expense wise this equals one portable tractor and one processor trip instead of two. Those factors alone would save six hours drive time, two tanks of gas and $150 in construction costs. The savings were quickly adding up.
Feed costs were another consideration. Turkeys are large birds and require a great deal of food to fuel those growing bodies. Heritage breeds have a much slower growth rate and take many weeks longer to reach market weight. The poults themselves are much more expensive to purchase as well. These additional costs would have made it counterproductive for us to go that route.
A disappointing fact is that Giant Whites have been given an extremely bad rap by many in the organic/small farmer/pasture raised community. That is a shame. The type of bird is not the issue, it is the way they are fed and maintained that is the problem.
In case you haven't noticed by now, we are NOT your traditional farmer. We do not jump on bandwagons or follow the latest trends on social media. We prayerfully, carefully consider each and every animal we bring to our farm. We are their stewards and as such we are fully responsible for the quality of their lives. We truly put the welfare of each animal at the top of our priority list. We must be careful and manage all of our resources properly. Many small farms fail as the costs of farming this way are much higher and it requires a great deal of time and effort. In our mind, it is the only acceptable route and is well worth the costs. But we must have a plan to survive.
The following points explain more about our turkey management plan and some of the reasons behind what we do:
1. Feed quality rations. What do we mean by that? Our birds are given locally sourced and mixed feed that is produced in Franklin County. We add organic kelp at each serving. The kelp adds a high level of nutrition that is easily digested and is a natural source of vitamins and minerals. This type of feeding ensures steady, more controlled growth.
2. Our feed is strictly unmedicated. We are greatly opposed to the rampant use of antibiotics and other medications or chemicals in the raising of all livestock, including poultry. The continued exposure to these compromises the animal's natural immune system, making them more susceptible to illness while creating bacteria and organisms that are resistant. And worst of all, residues from these chemicals are commonly found in the harvested meat of animals. Our meat is residue free.
3. Raised on pasture. A common worry of many turkey producers is an organism known as Blackhead. Chickens are natural carriers of this and though it does not affect them, it has the potential to kill turkeys who share the same pasture or grazing area. The way we avoid any possible issues is by not compromising the turkey's natural immune system (point #2) and by intense pasture planning. Our turkeys are raised in a brooder until two weeks of age when they are placed on grass in a portable tractor. That tractor is moved every day and is located in a pasture that has not been grazed by chickens for at least 3 months. During that time span, other livestock graze the area. Goats, ducks, the cow and the horse will all use it prior to the turkeys but the chickens will be maintained in other pastures. We believe this is especially critical when the poults are young and their immune systems are just forming. We have never lost a turkey to blackhead.
4. Once the birds are large enough in size to help avoid attack by owls and hawks, they then move from their tractor to an uncovered, larger pasture area where they are free to roam. This area is regularly rotated as needed to avoid overgrazing. This prevents parasite infestation and many illnesses. It also allows the grazing to recuperate much quicker as the manure is spread thinly and breaks down at a faster rate, improving fertility. This lessens the amount of time the pasture must remain dormant before another animal moves in which aids in profitability for the farmer.
5. Processed humanely. Our 2012 turkeys were processed by us at home for our personal consumption. The 2013 turkeys will be taken to the same USDA inspected facility we currently use for our other livestock. What does this mean for our customers? Each bird will be thoroughly checked for illness or disease and it must pass inspection before it can be sold. If it fails inspection, for any reason, the carcass is condemned then discarded before we ever pick it up. Every bird you buy from us, including our chickens and ducks, has been inspected and stamped to be healthy and safe for human consumption. The processing methods at this facility are such that they are consistent with the standards set by the Animal Welfare Approved organization.
We have prepared the following slide show detailing the daily lives of our turkeys. Remember the phrase, "A picture tells a thousand words"? We'll let them do the talking from now on...