What a week! Our final week of the season has been our busiest by far. This was my first year to process turkeys for sale, and it's a daunting task. While our original plan in the spring was to raise Broad Breasted White birds and process a few Bourbon Reds as well, an error by the hatchery we were dealing with sent us Broad Breasted Bronze birds instead of the white ones we expected. While nearly identical in that both broad breasted varieties are quick growing, have lots of white meat, and are artificial breeds as they cannot reproduce without artificial insemination, the bronze birds are colored much like a wild turkey rather than having all white feathers. It does make for a more attractive pen of live birds, but it's impossible to clean them up as completely when plucking, as some of the colored pigment remains under the skin. It's much like an ink inside the feathers, which made processing a less than ideal job. I personally went over each bird three separate times, and they still didn't clean up as well as I had hoped. Sunday and Monday were completely consumed with turkeys, and yesterday I had a final cleanup before opening for a special Tuesday afternoon for turkey pickup. I simply let our customers know what they were seeing, and they understood that they were buying a farm-raised, hand-processed bird.
Nearly every customer was thrilled with their bird, and I was grateful that they were happy with the sizes available, as we don't have full control over that. We can feed them quality feed all year, but we don't have the option to choose toms or hens when we buy (or hatch) the babies, which greatly affects the final size of the bird. Too many toms and folks who are having dinner for two or four will be disappointed with a bird that's too big, and too many hens may mean you don't have enough super-sized ones to feed a dozen family members. This kind of lack of choice is the greatest issue with marketing to the general public; most folks are used to getting a bird that's exactly 17 pounds if that's what they want. This is because Butterball or other large industrial producers raise literally millions of birds and freeze them prior to Thanksgiving and other holidays. Out of a few million, there's bound to be hundreds of thousands harvested when they reach just the size you want. A small farm like ours may only be willing to hand pluck two or three dozen birds, and with a number that small, it's possible that not a single one is exactly the weight you originally sought, especially if you're picking up a fresh bird processed just a day or two before. However, a farm bird like the ones we raise will not be “enhanced” with a solution of salt water that can be as high as 20% of the weight you pay for, so going by pounds alone may not be the best way to compare our birds.
Surprisingly, the Bourbon Reds, while still having pigmented feathers, cleaned up much nicer and with less work. Dan and I are discussing the option of offering only the Bourbons in future years. While we'll likely have less birds to process next year if we don't buy poults, I can't say I love doing turkeys enough to be upset about it, and I love the idea of using only heritage birds. Although they were a month or so older than the Bronzes, the Bourbons who did not get to join next year's breeding flock dressed out lighter. However, the heritage turkeys got the same rations as the laying hens, while the meat turkeys got a special turkey grower feed that had a much higher protein content. It will be interesting to me to see how the Bourbons will perform next year on the higher, weight-gaining ration.
Our Bourbon Tom
So all the turkeys have been processed and picked up, but the hectic pace won't slow down yet. Today's agenda includes going to the processor and picking up a pig and a cow. I'll need to sort out the frozen cuts of beef for freezer beef orders that will be picked up Saturday. The pig, as usual, will be cut here, so tonight will include spicing the meat that will become sausage and wrapping roasts, chops and ribs. During a normal week, this would be done on Thursday, but Hirsch's will be closed tomorrow. Friday we'll grind and package sausage as usual, and Saturday we'll finish out the year for our farm stand. When the doors close for the year, all the unsold products will need to be sorted. Canned goods & vinegars will keep, but will need to be moved to the pantry or basement where they will be kept from freezing or direct sunlight. Storage vegetables that we'll use to feed ourselves over the winter will get the same treatment. Extra vegetables will be used to supplement the pig's rations. We'll try to condense all the unsold meats into one freezer so we'll be able to unplug the one in the stand ASAP, and that will be our meals for the months to come. Nothing goes to waste!
Oh yes, in the midst of this madness there's a holiday thrown in too! Since we've got so much going on, we won't be traveling for the big meal. I'm cooking dinner for Dan and I plus Dan's brother Matt. While I'm a master of roasting a whole chicken, this will be the first time in my life that I've single-handedly tried to manage a turkey and all the trimmings. It's also a known fact that I'm no baker, but I hope to have a delicious surprise or two for them. I'm excited, and my guys are the least picky eaters ever, so I'm very optimistic that our dinner will be a success. With sustainably raised ingredients and ones I love sharing the table, how could it not be?
From our farm to your family, we wish you safe travels and good times with family, friends, and (sustainable!) food. HAPPY THANKSGIVING!