Thanksgiving is still weeks away, but local farmers are already taking orders for holiday turkeys. (see below for a list of local farmers who sell turkeys)
Why buy a local turkey? "The taste is incomparable to grocery store chicken or turkey," says Tina from High Point Farms in Trumansburg. "It has flavor! It is moist and delicious. The bones also make wonderful broth with out a lot of fat."
Tina points out that pasture-raised meats should be cooked differently from conventional grocery store meats because the composition of the meat is different (after all, the animals have not eaten the same foods). For turkeys, she suggests roasting at 50F degrees less than usual and using a meat thermometer to check for doneness. Her website offers cooking tips.
Local, pasture-raised turkeys cost about $3-4 dollars per pound, depending on the supplier, and usually requires a deposit. That is quite a surprise for customers who are used to paying about $1.20 per pound for conventional grocery-store turkeys.
Why the difference? Raising turkeys on pasture takes a lot of effort and planning, Tina explains. "Our turkeys are raised outside -not in an enclosed barn with thousands of other birds," she says. "They graze on a new area of grass daily and feed on local untreated grains. They don't get any steroids or antibiotics." Since customers want turkeys fresh (not frozen), there is only a six-day window between processing time and the day they are cooked by the consumer.
Similarly, Tim at Autumn's Harvest Farms in Romulus moves his turkeys twice daily for the first 12 weeks in portable pens. "After they turn 12 weeks they are moved into a free ranging system where they have access to and abundance of trees, brush and long grass to catch bugs in," Tim says. "We currently raise Broad Breasted Whites which are an excellent compact meat bird. We have found that raising the turkeys in this way allows our consumers to enjoy a profound eating experience without jeopardizing the turkey's way of life."
The labor involved in moving turkeys daily is significant, as is the cost of high quality feed. Plus, without antibiotics, some young turkeys inevitably die, a loss absorbed by the producer. All of these issues add to the overall cost.
In contrast, conventional turkeys available in grocery stores are raised in a manner that cuts costs, such as raising birds in tight quarters and using antibiotics.