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Sustainable Table: Turkeys

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JACKSON COUNTY, Ore. – Each year in the U.S. an estimated 270 million turkeys are raised. Of that, just 30% are used as Thanksgiving dinner; that’s still about 81 million birds served up in less than a month’s time.

14 turkeys from Quail Glen Farm, outside of Ashland, will be the centerpiece at holiday tables this year, but for next year’s orders they’re trying something a different. After 25 years of raising white turkeys from day old poultry, it was the book, “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle”, that inspired Joan Hancock.

“They’re a heritage breed and apparently the heritage will reproduce itself and it’s good at foraging, as apposed to white broad-breasted turkeys,” said Joan. All those whites are gone, replaced by a male and two females: Opal and Bourbon.

“I am hoping that she and Tom will get together,” Joan said. Apparently finding alone time for Joan’s previous birds was difficult.

“They apparently cannot reproduce; they are too big because they are going to be Thanksgiving dinner,” explained Joan. “They are too large and they have to be artificially inseminated. I wanted something that I could maybe grow my own.”

The change of breeds means these are probably the last white turkeys Quail Glen Farm will ever put out. On the other side of the Rogue Valley the relationship between bird and human won’t quite have the same effect on your heart strings. The Butcher Shop in Eagle Point has placed the order for about 750 turkeys.

“I don’t think people realize, I had to order all of my turkeys we are getting in 2 months ago,” explained the Butcher Shop owner, Cam Callahan.

A good portion are white barrel chested free range turkeys from Zachey’s in northern California and some come from Rogue Valley farms. While Quail Glen Farm moves from white to brown, the Butcher Shop is doing the opposite next year; all their local turkeys will be white, Cam Callahan says the quality isn’t really in the breed itself.

“It makes no difference as far as the turkey goes,” Cam explained. “It’s what you are feeding them and how your raising them.”

The life for both The Butcher Shop’s local turkeys and the gang at Quail Glen differs widely from the typical and picturesque Thanksgiving bird.

“There are a lot of turkeys that are raised in confined spaces that the big conglomerates use. Our turkeys get nothing added to them, no hormones, no water solutions, no nothing,” Cam stated. The same is true for Joan’s.

“I can tell you what they are eating a combination of grains and alfalfa and such and then they get cracked corn, and grass. They eat frogs, they eat bugs anything that moves a turkey will pick it up and put it in it’s mouth,” Joan said. “I can tell you what kind of stress life they have.”

The most stressful thing these turkeys have ever encountered is NewsWatch12’s camera, so life at Quail Glen Farm is pretty good.

“And I feel like that goes into what we eat,” said Joan.

The extra care quality of life, and humane treatment add up the going rate this year $5.50 a pound, plus butchering and transportation fees, but no one’s complaining; Joan’s have sold out every year. Birds of a feather aren’t The Butcher Shop’s money maker, so they’re prices start lower.

“We know exactly what they cost us to raise and to clean,” said Cam. “They cost us $2.59 a pound. We charge $2.98 a pound.”

While it’s just a 39 cent increase it’s a far cry from the price many American’s are used to paying.

“You can buy a turkey at 79-89 cents a pound,” Cam explained. Of course, as Cam says, you get what you pay for. “If you read on your turkey it has a 3% solution added to it or it will say clear up to 15% added, so it’s a tenderizing solution with water that’s pumped into the turkey.”

If you want your turkey to come from The Butcher Shop you better act fast, because they start taking orders tomorrow and there is only one way to place those orders on Facebook. For more information on adding a local turkey to your holiday menu or if you know someone who is turning their kitchen table into a sustainable table, click on the GreenSpace Tab above.