A lot of eyebrows raise high when the price of free range, organic, or heritage turkeys is mentioned. I’m not sure why this is the case, as specialty turkeys cost more to raise. Consider how many meals a turkey provides; it is a bargain. If it is quality-bred, and fed only the kinds of foods that will make it strong and healthy, as opposed to ordinary mix that may or may not enhance the flavor of the meat, it is worth every penny of cost.
Free range defined
Basically, free range is another expression for allowing the turkey to live in the way of the turkey ancestor. The modern free range turkey can strut his or her stuff around the yard, sleep or rest on perches provided for their comfort, and participate in a great physical training program, so their legs are strong enough to support their large size. Turkeys have been streamlined into a perfect version of what a meat bird should be; many free range farmers purchase turkey poults, which are baby turkeys, and raise them, because the breeding specialists can produce better young than the farmer. That way, everyone can concentrate on doing their best; for the farmer, it is taking healthy poults and raising them for food.
How are specialty turkeys different, other than the room to roam?
The most significant difference between the turkeys found at the stores near Thanksgiving and the free range, organic, and heritage turkey is the diet and the care that is received by the turkey, and the price of the turkey. Specialty items require more care, and are more expensive to raise.
1. The Usual: We’ve all seen pictures of hundreds of turkeys crammed into a small yard, or several each in row after row of rabbit-wired cages or pens. Those turkeys are being mass-produced for consumption, and raised quickly with antibiotics, animal by-products, hormones, preservatives, and additives; if it makes that turkey increase in weight faster, it is probably used. That is the typical turkey that we purchase in the store.
2.Free Range: Turkeys are raised without added hormones, and generally no antibiotics or preservatives. This keeps the turkey meat tasty. A gluten free, vegetarian diet enhances the quality of the meat.
3. Free Range Organic: Turkeys enjoy a certified organic high protein diet, which includes vegetable proteins and grains. When a turkey has room to run, the living area is much cleaner, and the exercise program builds legs and wings. Again, there are no added hormones, antibiotics, or preservatives.
4. Heritage Turkey: Heritage Turkeys are part of an effort to conserve certain breeds of turkeys from disappearing altogether. LocalHarvest comments that The Slow Food USA’s Ark of Taste was created to rediscover and catalogue forgotten flavors through documentation of food products in danger of disappearing. Included on the list is the Narragansett turkey, added in 2001.
Some small farmers agree to raise the birds, allowing them the same freedom of movement as a Free Range turkey, and feeding a diet high in protein. Heritage Turkeys, selected for the table by ecofriendly holiday consumers, provide the great taste of the same type of turkey enjoyed by our ancestors.
To recap the information, the consumer has the choice of a cookie-cutter turkey, origin and diet unknown, or a turkey that has received care, feed, and exercise to make it one of the best birds prepared and eaten at the holiday table this year.
Cooking the turkeyDo not try to use the same scale for cooking this turkey as you use for the everyday turkey. Follow the instructions given at Mary’s Free Range Turkeys.
How do I find a Free Range, Organic, or Heritage Turkey?
You can order online from Taylor’s Market at 2900 Freeport Blvd, Sacramento, CA 95818. Their phone number is 916-443-6881, or 877-770-6077. When I talked to Jason, he said many people choose to pick them up, but they will ship, if needed. If you order your turkey online from Mary’s Free Range, Organic, And Heritage Turkeys, which is located in California’s Central Valley, 888-666-8244 , you may be redirected to Taylor’s, or perhaps another store nearer to your residence.
For those of you in Michigan or surrounding states, check out Hartland Farms in Hartland, Michigan, 810- 632-5737, regarding Free Range turkeys. They have been in business for years, and support 4-H. In addition, they have some great turkey recipes on their website.
LocalHarvest, Slow Food USA’s Ark of Taste
Mary’s Free Range, Organic, and Heritage Turkeys