“I have baby turkeys everywhere!”
It’s that time of year, summer in Kansas, and the heat is rising. “Turkeys have to be hatched before June to be ready for Thanksgiving,” says Frank Reese. “But these birds do real well in the heat – they aren’t morbidly obese, so they can handle it. And unlike on an industrial farm, they have trees and shade and get plenty of fresh water… commercial turkeys suffer a lot in the heat. Those birds have been genetically selected to grow as fast as possible.”
“A turkey is no better than the farmer behind it. And the genetics, of course,” says Frank, whose turkeys are one of the only flocks in America to receive certification by the American Poultry Association as purebreds, standards that were set in 1873.
“The biggest thing this year is that we’ve added three new farms to meet a bigger demand. We never seem to have enough — hopefully this year if everything goes well we’ll have twice as many turkeys as last year. But it’s still a drop in the bucket — our four farmers together are going to raise what one big commercial plant will do in a week
“What people don’t realize that when you send turkeys to get processed, they don’t all come out as birds in a bag — some birds are bruised and you can’t sell it as a whole Grade A bird. Truthfully we lose very few turkeys to cosmetic things — but to the big guys, they don’t care as much about their animals because they don’t make money off of whole turkeys, they make money off of deli meat. For an industrial producer, that’s where the money is. For them a whole turkey at Thanksgiving is like a giveaway. But when that turkey you usually sell for 99 cents a pound is instead smoked and put in an eight ounce package that now costs five dollars, you’re now selling that same bird for ten bucks a pound. And that’s why they only sell hens as whole birds — their toms they get up to 40 lbs in 14 weeks and sell as deli meat.”
An industrial turkey farm can get a 20 lb. hen in 12 weeks, or a 40 lb tom in 14 weeks. My hens, in 12 weeks only weigh 7 or 8 lbs – and we won’t process them till 24 or 28 weeks when their live weight is 15-16 lbs. My toms — in 24 weeks weigh 24 lbs— a commercial factory turkey in that much time would weigh 44 lbs, and they don’t quit growing. They’ll get to 50 – 60 lbs and weigh too much for their legs to carry. I don’t lose any turkeys because of obesity because I haven’t selected them to be so fat that they cant live.
“The industry has made their money off of uniformity… there can be no variance, no difference. My turkeys don’t all come out the same – it is a totally different system.
“All the industrial turkeys have salt water added – they call it flavor enhancers – but sometimes its more than just salt. They figure most people don’t know how to cook a bird properly, and they figure it will keep the turkey from turning into dry leather. The truth is that because they raise these birds so fast and kill them so young, they don’t develop a layer of fat. My birds are harvested at a normal age and maturity, and having that maturity brings taste, flavor, texture. The industry has removed that — what people are used to now, the taste of turkey they think they love, is mostly just added salt.
Long-time Heritage customers know that we got our start selling Frank’s turkeys, and our relationship with him truly is the cornerstone of our business. Frank can count among his fans Alice Waters, who says “These birds are without a doubt the tastiest birds you can possibly serve,” and Mario Batali, who proudly claims “I’ve served these birds for my Thanksgiving every year for the past 12 years and always will.”
Frank is a true hero of the heritage food movement — he is the first and one of the only sustainable commercial farmers to receive certification by the American Poultry Association, and the USDA, for his birds as purebreds— and he has been featured in publications ranging from The New York Times to National Geographic. His story is the Rosetta Stone of sustainable farming, and the reason why when it comes to meat, the word “heritage” is synonymous with “heirloom.” Good Shepherd turkeys are the oldest line of turkey in America, 100 percent antibiotic free, and pasture raised on the Kansas prairie.
A simple and delicious recipe from our friends at Omnivore. They recommend dry-brining your turkey, which is made effortless when you use their perfectly balanced Limone salt!
Frank has become an icon of American farming and has been featured in publications ranging from the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal to National Geographic and Playboy. His story is the Rosetta Stone of the sustainable agricultural movement. He is a hero in the renaissance of American farming….
Thanksgiving is right around the corner, kicking off the winter holiday season. For us Thanksgiving is about sharing a meal, creating memories with loved ones. We are proud to help you bring friends and family together to celebrate over a feast of rare and heritage breed foods.
At the core of our business we really have you to thank – we wouldn’t have been able to increase our farmer network over the past decade to roughly 80 farmers and artisans. Likewise, the farmers and artisans would not be able to have increased the availability of these rare products to such an extent without your support and commitment. Of the over 51 million turkeys that will be consumed next week, less than 1% are heritage breed. Each year we have increased that percentage and hope to continue to do so so that heritage turkey will be on the table for generations to come.
orn and raised in Sicily, Saro di Liberto, is no doubt one of the best chefs we have ever met. As is the tradition with most true Italian recipes, his recipe for turkey is very simple. Saro believes that with meat of this caliber, you should treat it lightly and let it do most of the work for you. He would never brine! Enjoy!
Thanksgiving! There’s no other meal so rewarding yet so anxiety ridden then this once yearly feast. Your heritage turkey is going to be the star of Thanksgiving dinner. Protect your investment and your reputation this year by avoiding these 6 Common Thanksgiving Turkey mistakes!
…year after year it is the Heritage Turkey Project that remains our most important intervention into the American food supply. For one, Frank Reese and his turkeys truly are one of a kind — no one breeds poultry better than Frank who stays true to 19th century Poultry Standards of Perfection.
Two of America’s originals, learn the history of the bison and turkey.
We just announced the winners of our 2013 Heritage Turkey Photo contest!
Congrats to Phillipe in Illinois, Benjamin in Pennsylvania, and Jennifer in New York!
Click to see the winning photos and hear from the winners!
We also got an email from a customer last year sharing an image of her 2012 bird that we had to share for its pure artistry.
Behold Judith Mazza’s incredible bird!
Here’s how she did it:
“I stretched the skin of the neck over the roaster to make the equivalent of turkey cracklings (like Peking Duck Skin). It was totally delicious. I roasted it in my Kamado Grill on a vertical turkey roaster. I’ve been developing some expertise in doing food photography and I particularly enjoy the turkey photo.”
Thank you to everyone who sent photos!