Turkey Thursday...that's what I'm calling yesterday. It started at 5am, loading turkeys for the processor and ended around 11pm once I had e-mailed everyone with the details about their Thanksgiving birds that they are picking up this weekend for their family feasts.
I was more nervous about these birds than anything else we've raised because Thanksgiving is such a special day, and for the family and friends that avoiding talking politics & religion at the dinner table...the bird is a safe subject. It’s the focal point of the dinner and I could feel the gaze from the guests of 25 feasts. I’ve been nervous about these turkeys since they arrived as poults (baby turkeys) on our farm back in April.
Most people had requested 10-15lbs birds, and some wanted 15+ or even 25+ pounds. Now one of the of unexpected skills I’ve developed as a farmer is being able to accurately guess the live weight of a bird and then know what it’s dressed weight will be (‘dressed’ means after feathers, feet, heat & innards have been removed). All of our birds were under their estimated weight. Turkeys I had estimated at 10lbs were 6-8lbs. Ones I thought would be 15lbs were 10-12lbs. Expecting an average weight of 15lbs, ours were 9.5lbs, and so people would be receiving birds that weighed 50-80% of what they requested. My heart sank when I picked up them from the processor and all I could think about on the drive home was what to tell our customers.
Below is what Emily & I wrote them at 11pm last night to explain why these turkeys weighed less than expected. We are so grateful for their replies and comments such as “Thank you for taking the time to explain the backstory. I’m happy to be a part of an operation like yours that lets birds be birds out on the land, as much as possible.”
This Thanksgiving, we are grateful for everyone who has taken the time to understand the vision for Kendal Hills Game Farm and who are partners in realizing this vision of a delicious & diverse food system that works with nature in order to bring families and communities together. It’s going to take time and your support in the first year means a lot.
We realize that this turkey weighs less than you requested and want to explain why. Unless a farmer has purchased quota (the license to raise turkeys), the most we are allowed to raise is 50 birds. We made the decision to raise heritage varieties, as preserving the genetic diversity of our food supply is very important to us (and hopefully to you too). While this is our first year with turkeys, we knew that the heritage ones took longer to grow and that even full grown, they would be smaller than the conventional turkeys. This is mainly because their breasts are smaller (our heritage birds are still capable of flying, unlike their big-breasted cousins). Added to this, we free-range our birds on pasture, allowing them to freely move outside instead of limiting their movement, a tactic that many farmers use to fatten up their birds. Since they are outside, the weather also affects how much weight they gain. The cooler weather this summer means that the birds converted food into maintaining body temperature rather than bulking up.
With only 50 birds to raise, the flock is not large enough to provide a lot of flexibility. Combine this with slower growing, free-ranging birds in a cooler summer and the result is that your turkey is smaller than expected.
If you were hoping (or needed!) to have more high-quality poultry on your table in order to feed all of your guests, then we’d like to offer you a 20% discount on fresh pekin duck ($5.60/lb instead of $7) or frozen chicken ($4.60/lb instead of $5.75).
We understand how important the bird is to your Thanksgiving weekend meal and we’re honoured that you put your trust in us to provide your bird and are confident that you’ll enjoy this one.
With gratitude and thanks,
Dave & Emily