It was hard to think about Thanksgiving on the beautiful, crystal clear day in late September when a group of us from Willy Street Co-op took the trip up to Cashton, Wisconsin to visit the turkeys that will be gracing the tables of some of our Owners come Thanksgiving. The weather was warm, the sun was bright, and November seemed ages away.
Cashton is in the driftless area of Southwest Wisconsin, some of the most beautiful farmland the state has to offer. It’s Amish country, and it’s filled with narrow winding roads leading to small homesteads where horses, not tractors, pull the ploughs. We gawked like tourists as we passed a particularly beautiful Amish farmhouse tucked in a valley surrounded by peacefully grazing cattle; and we were delighted when we realized that this was the farm of Dan Schmucker—the man we had come to visit.
Dan welcomed us to his farm and graciously showed us exactly how he raises his turkeys. First we visited the shed where they were kept when they were small and required extra heat and protection. There were only a few turkeys left there—the small ones whose growth for one reason or another was behind that of the main flock. Dan planned to use these for his family’s sustenance through the winter.
From there, we headed up the hill to the pasture where the majority of the turkeys now lived. They were kept in two large turkey tractors: movable enclosures that Dan and his son move by hand every day so that the turkeys can get to fresh pasture. The structure was made of a metal frame covered by a recycled tarp that had once been an advertising banner for soft drinks. You could see the pattern of depleted and re-growing pasture that followed the enclosure through the field.
Dan also feeds his turkeys a ration of organic grains to supplement their pasture, but he emphasized what a difference the pasture makes for his birds. “They grow so much faster when they’re on pasture—it’s just amazing,” he exclaimed.
The birds crowded to the edges of their enclosure, hoping that we would bring them some extra treats. I was surprised by the noises they made—less of a stereotypical gobble-gobble and more like a cross between the coo of a dove and the honk of a goose. They looked healthy and happy, although as I struggled to get a good picture of them I realized just how unattractive turkeys really are, especially juvenile turkeys like these. Lucky for them, there are no beauty contests in their future!
We’ll have turkeys from a variety of sources available at both of our Willy Street Co-op locations this month. Dan Schmucker’s turkeys, distributed by Black Earth Meats, will be available by preorder as well as free range pastured turkeys from Ferndale Market in Cannon Falls, Minnesota. You won’t have to preorder the fresh all-natural free range turkeys from Bell & Evans this year, or the frozen organic birds from Organic Prairie. We’ll have plenty in stock, with lots of sizes to choose from.
All of our turkeys will be available the week leading up to Thanksgiving, and preorders must be placed by Friday, November 19th.
Remember to preorder early if you want one of those local pastured birds from Cashton or Minnesota. These turkeys come from small farmers and their quantity is limited. Also, keep in mind that because of the nature of livestock, it’s hard for us to know exactly what sizes will be available. These are living, breathing animals and there are a ton of factors that go into their growth. We’ll do our best to accommodate your requests, but as we saw on the turkey farm in September, there is no telling exactly what sizes we will get. Some birds naturally force their way to the feeder before the others, and grow bigger than others. Also factors such as weather can play a big and unanticipated role in the size of the birds available any given year. This is especially true of turkeys raised on pasture—if the pasture is having a good year, chances are the turkeys will too.
The last thing to remember if you’re going to preorder a bird is that it’s important to let us know which store you plan to pick up your turkey from. We’d all hate to have to turn someone away because their turkey is waiting for them across town.