Sunday, September 7, 2008


Yesterday, Katherine and I were at a fall harvest festival. I was doing soapmaking demonstrations, and Katherine was spinning all day. I am ambivalent about doing these things. It is a lot more work than you originally think, but I get paid for doing it, and I don't get paid for sitting at home, so it's a good idea financially. Then there is the whole education aspect. Most people know nothing about heritage livestock, heirloom vegetables, and sustainable agriculture, and I get a chance to educate them. Yesterday, hundreds of people saw baby turkeys for the first time in their lives.

I don't expect every person to be as excited as I am about all of this, but it's rewarding when a person comes along who is "disturbed" by the fact their supermarket turkey was the product of artificial insemination.

We raise heritage turkeys on our farm because they are sustainable. A heritage turkey is defined as one that can breed naturally and fly. Although they do come in a lot of beautiful colors, heritage turkeys can also be white. Commercial turkeys are too big to fly or mate, which is why they would be extinct in a single generation without human intervention. Obviously, being unable to reproduce naturally means they are not sustainable.
I must have repeated that soliloquy a few dozen times yesterday. Most people just nod and say something neutral like, "Oh." One woman said, "That's disturbing." One man laughed and asked how they do it. I said matter-of-factly that it was someone's job to harvest turkey semen and then inseminate female turkeys. "I don't think you really want to know the details," I added. He and his friends laughed.

It's sad that more people aren't disturbed by this knowledge. But I remind myself that we live in a country where people are content to fill their bellies with things that are not even food. Most of them only roast a turkey once or twice a year. The rest of the year they eat McSomethings and drink artificially-flavored, artificially-colored, and artificially-sweetened liquids. Who's got time to worry about the sex lives of turkeys?


dogbait said...

I must admit that I find myself saying, "Is that so" to some of your posts. Enlightening.

Chicken Momma said...

I'm always surprised at how many people don't know, and don't care, what is really in their food or how it gets to their plate.

Thanks for the invite to read your blog.

melanie said...

Last night I saw a commercial promoting high fructose corn syrup with two moms discussing a sweetened drink they were giving the kids. The corn syrup was touted as "made from corn, and like anything, fine in moderation".

Can you believe it?! And the same people who saw turkeys for the first time at your festival will gulp gallons of the stuff down and never know why they are so overweight and unhealthy....amazing.

Karen B. said...

Hi Deborah, Thanks for the informative post on commercial turkeys. I was aware of their awkwardness and inability to walk much, but I am wondering one thing: how does the flavor of the heirloom turkeys compare to the commercial turkeys when the store-bought is all you're used to? What do you feed your turkeys?

Deborah said...

Heritage turkeys were on the verge of extinction when we moved out here six years ago. There were only a few thousand left of ALL the breeds combined. Then in 2003, Slow Foods stepped up and got chefs in NYC, Chicago, and LA to do side-by-side taste tests, and they all raved about the taste of the heritage turkey.

I personally have not had a commercial turkey in 18 years, so I can't tell you what the difference is between a store-bought turkey and a heritage. We do raise a few broad-breasted turkeys with our heritage turkeys every year for people who want big, naturally raised turkeys. The heritage turkeys are usually juicier and tastier, although one year we let the broad breasted grow for 8 months. We wound up with some huge turkeys (a 43 and a 38 pounder), but they were delicious. Many people say that flavor takes time to develop, and when you butcher a turkey at 3 months, there is no flavor yet. I am inclined to agree with that. In fact, I don't think the BB have much flavor until they get to 7-8 months. Heritage turkeys are so small and grow so much slower that you really don't have much choice other than growing them for at least 6-7 months.

This year, we're feeding our turkeys organic grain that my husband picked up in Minnesota when he took Katherine to camp. I hope it lasts until the turkeys are butchered! It's hard to find organic grain locally, but it's not very sustainable to drive hundreds of miles to buy grain.

Michelle at Boulderneigh said...

As a vegetarian, I don't even eat turkeys, but I didn't know they have to be AI'd and I find that disturbing! I know a bit more about the cattle industry, and that's a NIGHTMARE!

Pamela said...

I didn't know that about turkeys either. Thank you so much for the information! (Just found your blog today and am so happy did..I think I followed you over from Michelle at Bolderneigh)

I think one of the reasons people don't care much about turkey meat is that they don't understand how much turkey they eat. When you ask someone about eating turkey, they just think of Thanksgiving and maybe Christmas. They don't think about the turkey hot dogs or the turkey club sandwiches or the turkey doesn't enter into their minds.

I really enjoyed your blog...especially the video about feedlot cattle. Is it just me, or did it really bother you that they referred to crowding cattle together into a small, filthy space and feeding them chocolate and corn and potato chips as "conventional"? CONVENTIONAL????? Sheesh!


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