In The Fresh
Customers Flocking Toward Free-Range, Local Turkeys
By Virginia Dean, Standard Correspondent
John Delaney of Mount Holly wouldn’t buy any other kind of turkey except free-range for his Thanksgiving meal.
A customer of the neighboring Parsells Family Farm for the last 10 years, Delaney said the reason he bought his 28-pounder this year is because he knows what the turkey’s life has been like for the last 18 weeks or so.
“Their turkey is so good,” said Delaney. “It’s so moist and flavorful. I don’t know what their process is but no one can compare with their turkey. You cook it with a little butter and some moisture, and there’s no fat in the bottom. But when you eat it, it’s so juicy it’s amazing. It’s a spectacular place and one of the cleanest farms I’ve ever seen.”
Delaney’s turkey was one of 58 this year purchased as poults, or young turkeys, from Murray McMurray hatchery in Iowa, said owner Julie Parsells who is an administrator in the Woodstock Sheriff’s office. Weights ranged from 16 to 28 pounds at a selling cost of $2.80 per pound. The birds were free-range and fed whole corn.
“People know they’re well taken care of,” said Parsells. “They’re only penned at night to keep them away from the coyotes. They’re not on any medications and are fed no scraps.”
Woodstock resident and customer Ruth Hunter related that her family has known the generational Parsells Farm for years.
“Their turkeys are very good,” Hunter said. “We see them running around free and know they’re stress free.”
Elizabeth Usilton of Pomfret bought her turkey from Runamuck this year for many of the same reasons.
“I know the owner John and where the turkeys have been,” said Usilton. “I know who’s handled them and what they’ve been fed. They’ve been really well taken care of.”
With Thanksgiving tomorrow, most — if not all — local farms have just finished the slaughtering process of these birds, having raised them from a couple of days old.
Boris Pilsmaker of Killington, for example, sold out his 100 turkeys a few weeks ago after finishing the processing around Nov. 1.
Pilsmaker, who owns The Mountain Creamery in Woodstock, has raised and sold turkeys since 1985. This year, he had between 80-100 New Holland birds ranging from 12 to 30 pounds. They sold for $4 per pound.
“It’s a challenge to keep them alive,” Pilsmaker said. “They’re not kind to each other. They’re very fragile.”
Purchasing the two-day old poult from a hatchery in Pennsylvania, the birds are first put in a garage with a heat lamp set at 98 degrees. Every week, the lamp is lowered by five degrees. Once they feather out, they can then be put outside.
“They don’t like getting wet,” said Pilsmaker. “They get cold easily.”
At 70 degrees Pilsmaker’s straight run (a mixture of toms and hens) has a soft light placed on them for the last couple of weeks of their short lifespan to take off any potential chill. They are fed on a turkey grower made by Poulin Grain in Newport.
Broad breasted turkeys are the most popular because they’re easy to dress due to their white feathers and they also grow to be one of the biggest types. Some, for example, can reach up to 45 pounds.
Other kinds of turkeys include the Midget White, Broadbreasted Bronze, Narragansett, Bourbon Red, Black Spanish, Rio Grande Wild, Blue Slate, Standard Bronze, White Holland, Chocolate, Royal Palm, and general Wild.
At most local farms, the cost of the poult to the farmer usually ranges from just over $7 per poult for up to 20 birds to a bit over $6 per poult for 60 or more. The selling price to the consumer ranges from $2.80 to over $5 per pound.
In Pomfret, the Emmons farm raised 63 turkeys this year, straight run. Their day-old poults came in the mail from Reicht’s hatchery in Pennsylvania. The family, known for its Black Angus beef cattle, has been selling the birds for about five years.
“I believe our customers want a farm-raised/pastured Vermont turkey, not a commercial bird that is grown in a cage or in crowded conditions,” said owner Cathy Emmons. “Our birds are well cared for. They enjoy the fresh air and sunshine every day as well as pecking about eating grass and insects.”
Cathy and John Peters of the farm Runamuck, in Woodstock, agree.
“We never lock them in except for the first four weeks,” said Cathy. “Then we move them to the garden and brook area so they can eat the bugs and seeds. They’re fun to watch. They definitely have a hierarchy. Our older Tom is the dominant one. He’s always puffed up, big and handsome. They’ve had a great life here. They can fly, run around and have lived stressfree.”
This is the first year of raising and selling turkeys for the Peters who offered their 20 birds for $4.99 per pound. Weights ranged from 19 to 28 pounds. They will also have fresh frozen turkeys from the same stock available for Christmas.
Unlike such larger bird farms as Misty Knoll in New Haven, and Stonewood Farm in Orwell, these local farms are prohibited from selling their turkeys to supermarkets, food stores or restaurants as they do not fall under United States Department of Agriculture standards.
This proscription, however, does not seem to deter the continual stream of customers local farmers enjoy, especially this time of year.
Lisa and Randy Robar of Kiss the Cow Farm in Barnard, for example, sold all their 16 Standard Broad Breasted white turkeys this year to area residents, many of whom belong to their current customer base.
“The turkeys were allowed free access to the outside,” said Lisa. “They were free-range so they had a wide variety of food in their diet. They were also solar-powered. People know they were well cared for and that their supplemental grain was high quality. They had no hormones or antibiotics put into them. They had enough space to grow. In our opinion, they were humanely raised animals.”
The Robar turkeys sold for $5.50 a pound, Lisa said.