Another Turkey Season, Gone By
Yesterday was the busiest day of the year on our family’s farm. Thanksgiving turkeys are a great joy to raise, but they are not without work. Aside from ensuring them the best food and pasture, and quality of life, farming any animal, including these, entails challenges in logistics, meeting customer expectations, keeping strong communication with partners, and accepting unforeseen loss and hurdles.
We can’t know how many birds we will lose over the season when we first buy the chicks. We always hope for none (farmers have to be optimists), but realize there will be some, and because a bird takes a few months to raise, we cannot just buy more chicks when one dies. Conversely, we can’t buy more than we can expect to sell or have food and space available to raise. Their wellness and quality of life would be traded for having a greater population than our pastures and pockets can handle.
We also can’t know with certainty how large the birds will be when they are harvested. They are all unique individuals with their own genetics, and so, they grow at different rates to be different sizes. Further, there’s only one federally inspected processor in our area who accepts poultry, and as a result, they book up fast. We reflect on our numbers, successes and losses from the previous years as our best estimate for when we’ll need to purchase the chicks, how long they’ll need to be on pasture, and when they’ll be ready for harvest. And with that, the dates we find best, must fit in line with those of our partners in this operation - the hatchery, the feed mill, and the processor. If they do not, we have to compromise and adjust accordingly. It takes much planning early on - dates are booked in early spring - to anticipate what will come to happen in the fall.
But we are not solely farmers, we are a small business as well, and we have the great honor and responsibility of directly serving our customers. Our customers mean the most to us, and it is in everything that we do that we strive to present them with the best quality product they can find. We use our best judgement based on previous year’s numbers to estimate how many birds our customers will want in the fall. And further from that, to estimate what varying sizes of birds our customers will need for their family’s holiday meal. We do our best to anticipate and accommodate in order to reach these parameters, but not everything works out perfect, every time. This year, our birds turned out to be smaller than last year’s and it was difficult to distribute smaller birds than what some of our customers had hoped for. However, we found gratitude and support from such customers, and great understanding as the value of the quality of the bird reigned over the size and quantity of the bird.
Raising Thanksgiving turkeys on a small, family farm takes teamwork, collaboration, and understanding in order for success and wellness to stand. Our turkeys are not the exact same sizes every year. And they aren’t increasingly cheaper and cheaper every year. BUT, they are well for you, delicious, savory, healthy, and wholesome. They lived every day of their lives in the sunshine, and all of their adult life on lush pasture. They had room to wander, insects to eat, and grass to forage. They never received hormones, antibiotics, or steroids because they lived as they were designed to and that’s what kept them healthy.
No, our Thanksgiving turkeys are not perfect, but they are delicious and they are something to be proud of and thankful for as you gather with friends and family to reflect and share on all that is good in life this holiday season.
Thank you for another grand year - we are grateful for your support and your understanding as we navigate the days of being a small family farm in rural Wisconsin in this 21st century.