It’s mid-July and in any typical year that would mean we’d be busy with summer farm tours. We’d have already hosted the annual Co-op Farm Tour and had an evening on the farm with the chefs and butchers that source our turkey. Of course, this is no normal year. Historically, these have been some of my favorite days each summer and I’m missing them tremendously.
Thinking of farm tours reminded me that I wrote in March about how our birds move through our farm in their younger days. I owe you a conclusion to that cliffhanger about how our turkeys live once they’re on range.
Each spring, when the age of our turkeys and our faith in a “real” spring weather forecast intersect, we chase our first flock to range and continue that pattern throughout the summer. When we initially move our turkeys fully outdoors, there is a pattern of adjustment as they adapt to new shelters, feeders, and water set-ups. I often imagine them to be like humans in a new home, just trying to learn where everything is. Although it’s easy to imagine turkeys living the good life on range, many spend their first day or two trying to find a way back to the barn they came from, so we gently coax them back toward their flock and necessities.
Once the flock has settled, we begin the process of moving the range set-up onto fresh ground each week. When I’m giving farm tours, I often say that everything is portable except the trees, and it’s not far from the truth. We hook onto each piece of equipment individually – shelters, feeders, water wagons – one by one with a tractor and slowly drag them ahead onto fresh tall grass. Thankfully, the turkeys move themselves by eagerly following the parade of equipment. We move to fresh ground each week for a couple key reasons. First, we want to make sure our flock is on dry ground with fresh grass underfoot. Second, we want to be careful not to overuse any of our pasture ground; that way the grass comes back nicely for the next flock. We manage the land carefully, so we never need to use any chemical or fertilizer.
Without a doubt, this is a more labor intensive way of growing poultry. There’s no automation on range, so we haul feed, move equipment, fix fence, and work outside in the elements to keep our turkeys well. The irony of it all is that we’re now considered to be using “unconventional” practices when this is the way everybody used to do it. Ask any old-time turkey farmer and they’ll tell you about the old range equipment they have piled up somewhere.
We’re proud to be the dinosaurs, holding onto the practices we’ve used for 80 years. For us, the equation is simple: having turkeys outdoors makes for a good life for our birds, it’s good for our land, and it makes a good tasting turkey. It’s a win-win-win, and that makes me proud to carry these practices forward.