Advice from a man with sixty years of experience with chickens, turkeys and waterfowl. With community blogger Dale Wheelock.

Ask a Poultry Farmer: How to find a farm-fresh Thanksgiving turkey

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Dale Wheelock
October 28, 2014

Note from the farmer's daughter: My dad recently confessed that he didn't even like turkey before he started raising them himself. He used to put ketchup (!!) on them. ("Anything to kill the taste", he told me.) I can also attest that the difference in taste is worth it.

It's not too early to be thinking about your Thanksgiving turkey. If you have never had a “backyard turkey” (one that is raised by someone at home who only has a few), your family is in for a treat. Backyard turkeys have better taste and they're juicier than those you find in the grocery store.

How to find a local turkey farmer: If you are in Southern Wisconsin/Northern Illinois, contact us and we can help you find someone with turkeys available. Otherwise, talk to a local feed store, a poultry processor, look in the newspaper or on craigslist.org.

What type of turkey is best for Thanksgiving? Some families raise heritage breeds and some raise broad-breasted white or bronze. (Click here to learn more about turkey breeds.) If you like a lot of white meat the heritage turkeys might NOT be the birds for you. Heritage breeds typically have about 25% white meat of broad-breasted white or bronze.

Fresh vs frozen turkeys: We always have ours processed a week to 10 days before Thanksgiving Day. While we make sure our customers' turkeys spend less than a month from farm to table, we have kept our family's turkeys frozen for a year with no change in taste.

Price: Non-organic backyard turkeys are usually in the range of $2.50- $3.00 per pound. Most of our customers ask about the price the first time, but are sold after that.

Size: Don't be afraid of a larger turkey especially if you like leftovers. The problem is to find a pan big enough. I had a local welder build a special pan for our turkeys when my kids were in 4H. Those turkeys dressed at about 40 pounds, but those were raised for competition. Fitting a backyard turkey into your oven shouldn't be a problem–we have a 30" oven and have had those big 40-pounders fit just fine.

Extra tips: We don't carve our turkey at the table, but we roast it the day before and use a NESCO to reheat it for Thanksgiving dinner.

Backyard turkeys tend to cook faster than store-bought turkeys. Make sure you use a meat thermometer instead of just relying on a timer.

If you'd like to try raising turkeys next year for Thanksgiving, read our tips to get started.

As always, leave further questions in the comment section.

Dale Wheelock has been raising chickens, turkeys and waterfowl since he was a farm kid in the 1950s. He owns and operates the Wheelock Family Farm in Walworth County with his wife, Barb, and has been an agriculture leader in the community for decades. Read more about poultry farming at askapoultryfarmer.blogspot.com.

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