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Thanksgiving Turkey From Small Farms: Costly, But Tasty

A winding country road lined with corn on the outskirts of Lynden finally ends at Riverhaven Farm, a 22-acre pasture at the convergence of the Nooksack River and Fishtrap Creek.

Here, amid vast swaths of agricultural heartland in Whatcom County, Wisconsin native Richard Kauffman raises broiler chickens, sheep, ducks, and his newest venture: Thanksgiving turkeys.

One of 10 farms in Whatcom, Skagit, and San Juan counties that raise and sell turkeys, Kauffman’s farm is taking a risk. There’s a reason so few farms are still in the turkey business. It’s costly. “It takes a lot of time and energy to manage, I tell you,” Kauffman says while surveying his property on a sunny and damp late-summer morning.

Kauffman bought the farm in 2010 and sells much of his output Saturdays at Bellingham’s farmers market, where he has a booth. In his first year raising turkeys, he started with three different breeds in early May—75 total. He’s down to 60 now.

In a farm-to-table world, you can get personal with a Thanksgiving turkey at places like Kauffman’s. As Thanksgiving approaches, he is offering the birds from $9.95 to $12.95 per pound and lets people choose their turkeys, see them at the farm, and feed them. More than half his turkeys were reserved by Labor Day, and whatever remains he will sell at the farmers market. Some Thanksgiving-goers are willing to pay a high price for top-quality poultry, Kauffman says, and there’s a reason they can be pricey.

The chicks start out at $10 apiece, and it’s typical to lose about 20 to 30 percent of them, he says. One bird got tangled in his fence in September and he had to put it down. That was a $50 investment. Barrels of grain cost $150 and Kauffman says he was going through one or two a week when he had all 75.

He has 20 broad-breasted bronze,the kind typically found in stores, and 20 each of two heritage breeds that are smaller and more similar to wild turkeys. He sells the broad-breasted for $9.95 per pound, and the heritage for $12.95 per pound.

It’s a far cry from the 99-cent-per-pound Butterball turkeys found in stores, but you get what you pay for, he says—most of the turkeys found in chain stores are raised in confined areas and fed the cheapest grains possible. His eat differently. “We feed them a soy-free, organic mix, and we let them range,” Kauffman says. “They eat up grass and bugs and just pick it dry.”

Turkeys are omnivores and Kauffman says insects are an essential part of their natural diet—and it pays off when they get to your Thanksgiving dinner table. “Their health is better, their eggs are better-tasting, their meat is better-tasting,” Kauffman says. “Their meat is full of the nutrients our bodies need if they have access to the full spectrum of food they’re designed to eat.”

As of mid-September, just over half of the 60 turkeys were still available for sale. The broad-breasted bronzes range from 14–25 pounds, and the Heritage are usually 10–18 pounds. Expensive, to be sure, but maybe worth it for a high-quality, free-range, Thanksgiving feast.

“I will definitely be having one of my turkeys for Thanksgiving,” Kauffman says. “I feel that I too get to enjoy the fruits of my labor.”

To continue reading our Thanksgiving Flair Feature, click here.

"Expensive, to be sure, but maybe worth it for a high-quality, free-range, Thanksgiving feast."