For the last several years our Thanksgiving table has been blessed with a pasture-raised turkey purchased directly from a local farmer.
In fact, we’ve grown to love all of the poultry and beef products that we receive regularly from Josh and his family!
Today I’d like to share with you just a few tips on how to find and buy an organic, free range, or pasture-raised turkey.
Definition of Terms
Frozen factory-farmed turkeys invade grocery stores nationally this time of year!
A couple of reasons:
- Convenience — They are easy to purchase.
- Affordibility — They are inexpensive.
But what’s the problem? And why should we choose a different way?
Here’s the difference as I understand it.
Did you know that two percent of livestock farms now raise 40 percent of all animals in the US. That fact is shocking!
This level of production is made possible by the government’s creation of Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFO’s). According to the EPA, CAFO’s are defined as, “operations where animals have been, are, or will be stabled or confined and fed or maintained for a total of 45 days or more in any 12-month period and where vegetation is not sustained in the confinement area during the normal growing season.”
This term gives us little indication regarding the living conditions of the bird…but rather speaks more to its’ diet and processing.
Turkeys sold as certified organic are fed organic feed. Likewise, they are raised without the use of antibiotics, harsh chemicals, and hormones. And generally there are no additives used for processing.
According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) free range “producers must demonstrate to the Agency that the poultry has been allowed access to the outside.”
No further specifications are given.
All animals, not just turkeys, raised on pesticide-free pastures can dramatically reduce the environmental impact much more so than that of their grain-fed, factory farmed counterparts.
The American Grassfed Association (AGA) defines grassfed products “from ruminants, including cattle, bison, goats and sheep, as those food products from animals that have eaten nothing but their mother’s milk and fresh grass or grass-type hay from their birth.”
Pasture-raised turkeys should be:
- raised 100% on organic pasture and never fed grain or grain-supplements.
- never supplemented with antibiotics, harsh chemicals, and hormones.
- treated humanely and with respect.
- allowed to live their lives completely on grasslands.
So why aren’t all turkeys raised in this manner?
It’s all comes down to economics. When turkeys are allowed to develop this way — in their natural environment — they require extra time and care equaling higher costs and slower levels of production.
My most favorite term!
All of this truly means very little if you don’t know your farmer…
…and I care deeply for the local farmer.
Look local first — it’s the best option in so many ways!
My favorite sites to search for local foods and education on the topic are:
- SustainableTable.org — Click here for a great list of questions to ask your local farmer about their product.
Now it’s your turn! Please share your tips for buying your organic, free range, or local pasture-raised turkey!
Know your farmer! The farm I use has total transparency and I always know their animals are raised healthily and happily. For anyone looking for a pastured turkey, check out your local CSA and coops. I got mine from my raw milk farmer this year. The only thing to keep in mind is that their numbers are limited. I ordered mine in early October.
I go to my local farmers market and ask around, also the local butchers and some times places like whole foods a person or two can help out.. There is usually atleast one person that knows where to get one in my area. As margo said, the supplies are usually limited to ordering early is the best idea to be sure you get your bird. Also there is usually a organic farm food delivery service in every town and if you ask them as well they can usually lead you to a good source. For example,near me Coon farms has the best turkeys, they are more expensive but you get what you pay for. As a last resort ifyou have heard of or know of a farmer that raises them you can pay him a visit and ask them if you pay them will they allow the turkey to be fed a certain diet and roam around and you can pick up the bird at a certain date, and you can kill it yourself.
Our problem isn’t being unable to find pastured turkeys but rather the cost. We eat only real food and follow WAPF principles but where we are, pastured turkeys are $70 at the cheapest, and we’re not talking an enormous one either! I know you get what you pay for but it’s hard to spend over $100 on meat that will be gone in a few meals or so. I won’t buy the standard CAFO turkeys but try to go for something in-between (and who knows if those are any good at all, really), which I know is still compromising a lot. It’s depressing just thinking about how much pastured holiday meats cost here.
Yeah I totally understand where you’re coming from J. One thing I should have mentioned — and may modify the post to reflect — is our desire to raise our own turkey next year. We are going to try for a turkey tag and hopefully be able to hunt for a wild one but raising your own may be a viable option!?!
Thanks Andrea. Raising one’s own turkeys certainly would be the way to do it (or hunting one)! Perhaps some year, when we get a bit of land that’s not smack in the middle of the city, we could do it. Good luck to you with hunting one in the wild…I don’t mind the concept but not sure this city gal could do it in real life!
I’m with you regarding buying local. Building relationships with your local farmer or farm shop is possible if like me you live out in the boonies. Not sure if it is possible if you live in a large city as establishments based there often have too many customers to maintain individual relationships.
I think you can have a “pasture-raised” turkey that is still supplemented with grain. I have yet to find anyone (even just hear of one) that doesn’t supplement their birds (chickens, etc…) with some type of grain/seed. Unlike ruminents, grains and seeds are more natural for their digestion…
Just found your awsome website! We thought it was a bit crazy to pay over $100 for a holiday bird so we decided to raise our own. Here is some of the costs involved; just hatched chicks(bronze breasted turkey) $8 each, 100 pounds of grain to feed a bird over its lifespan $40 if organic, processing the bird $15. The turkeys have a higher mortality rate when they are babies so count on 10% dieing in the first week or two. And then there are the fixed cost of getting their living quarters set up too. They live about 30 to 40 weeks if they are slow grown in the pasture and the toms (males) will just eat grain all day of given a chance so it must be rationed. As the weather gets colder in the winter we like to pour some melted lard (from our berkshire cross heritage hogs)onto their grain for some extra energy. They love that!! The great satisfaction comesfrom our kids and family when they keep on digging in for seconds and thirds when we serve the turkeys for holiday meals!