Happy Thanksgiving to you all!
Our family has a tremendous amount to be thankful for this year; more on that in subsequent posts. But among other things, it seems we can be grateful that we’ll be feasting on a home-grown heritage turkey that would’ve cost well over a hundred dollars from any number of merchants.
Many small farmers sell their birds direct to customers for as much as $10 a pound, or 10 to 20 times the cost of a typical supermarket turkey.
That means a heritage turkey big enough for a large Thanksgiving gathering, say 18 pounds, can run $180. Even at that price, farmers who breed heritage turkeys are recording brisk sales.
Heritage turkeys are old-fashioned breeds that resemble their wild ancestors more closely than do modern breeds. Devotees say they are more flavorful and have a higher proportion of dark meat than the modern birds.
But even with high demand and prices to match, many of the producers say they are having trouble making money. That is because the old-time breeds — with names like Black Spanish and Bourbon Red — take longer and cost far more to raise than their modern competition, a turkey breed known as the Broad-Breasted White. Broad-breasted turkeys grow quickly, have lots of white meat and are docile enough that they can easily be mass-produced in large-scale poultry operations.
The whole piece gives some excellent background about heritage turkeys, and the market for them — but also explains why, despite the prices some are willing to pay, it remains difficult to make much money raising these birds. The poults are very expensive, and you’ll pay a lot of money to have them processed at a USDA-inspected facility.
Still, we find raising the heritage breeds to be very rewarding. They are special birds, and provide a truly unique eating experience that isn’t available in stores. If you’re really serious about going into this business, you’ll do like some of our friends in Illinois: they keep breeding stock, incubate and hatch their own eggs, do the processing on-farm, and only sell directly to consumers who pick the birds up from the farm. This way, they capture many of the dollars that otherwise would go to hatcheries, shippers, butchers, and so forth.
As for us, we’ll be enjoying a 15# Blue Slate tom turkey this year. And giving thanks we were able to raise it ourselves — and not paying $150 for the privilege.