Do you have any idea what goes into raising a turkey? When talking about the birds that have become so synonymous with this time of year, we realized we didn’t know much, either. Luckily, we have access to some of the best turkey farmers in the region, so we rushed right over to Zaid Kurdieh of Norwich Meadows Farm and Maria Quattro of Quattro's Game Farm to learn exactly what goes into raising the centerpiece of many Thanksgiving tables.
For Quattro’s Game Farm, everything starts from the egg. They keep their favorite birds from the past year and mate them, selecting the eggs that will go on to be the next year’s Thanksgiving turkeys. The eggs are then incubated, hatched, raised, and processed on the farm. Norwich Meadows Farm also raises and processes on the farm, but buys their turkeys when they’re poults, getting them when they’re newly hatched and raising them from there and from what we’ve heard, raising turkeys is a lot of work. A friend of Zaid’s warned him when he first started to raise turkeys that “a turkey in its first few weeks of life is just looking for a place to die.” Sounds harsh but, in fact, during those first couple of weeks, the farmers have to keep a constant eye on the poults – ensuring they eat their food, making sure they don’t drown in their drinking water, and preventing them from commingling with the chickens. Unfortunately, even with keeping a constant eye on them, a lot of them still won’t make it. This year, Zaid started with around 190 poults and will be processing around 140.
After four weeks, the critical time for a poult has passed and the turkeys are much more independent, although the farmers can’t relax too much. Turkeys are feisty creatures that have a herd mentality and have been known to take down electric fences without too much effort, electric jolts and all. Plus, heritage breeds and wild turkeys fly (domestic ones, not so much). Not far, mind you, but they still fly. It is for this reason that Zaid only raises domestic turkeys. He doesn’t want his turkeys to fly off his property and onto a nearby road where they could get hit by a car. Quattro’s raises domestic, heritage, and wild turkeys but they also have a lot of property and are not as worried about them getting hit by cars. They do, however, end up picking them up from neighboring farms fairly regularly. In fact, on the day we spoke with Maria she told us the heritage turkeys had once again made their way onto their neighbor’s farm and her father had gone to retrieve them. I guess we can’t blame the birds for wanting to spread their wings a little bit!
After they've hatched and lived through the early weeks, eaten well, roamed freely while avoiding colliding with a car or being eaten by a predator and are generally speaking, happy and healthy, it’s time for processing and delivery to New York City Greenmarkets. Both Quattro’s and Norwich Meadows have on-farm processing and control the process from start to finish. Quattro’s is a much larger operation than Norwich Meadows and raises around 400 turkeys so it can sometimes take a few days to finish processing them all. Norwich Meadows processes far fewer turkeys but they are also Halal, so only Zaid can process the turkeys. It takes him at least a day to get through all of them. Then comes the plucking, the cleaning, and the packaging.
As you can see, there is a lot of hard work that goes into raising and processing each of these birds but it is all worth it for these farmers so you can have the best tasting bird out there on your table. The turkeys Greenmarket farmers sell you have lived healthy, well-fed, wandering-outside-in-the-sunshine kind of lives, and they undoubtedly taste better for all of those reasons. Plus, it’s pretty great to know that the turkey you enjoy on Thanksgiving was raised and processed by the same person that sold it to you. You can ask the farmers questions about exactly how the turkeys were raised, what kind of food they ate, and even hear fun stories about the turkeys roaming (or flying) free and they’ll know the answers. When you buy directly from a local, family farm, you know they care and want the best not only for their turkeys but also for their customers.
We’d be remiss to leave out how Zaid and Maria celebrate Thanksgiving on the farm. Zaid takes one of his birds to his sister’s house, where she cooks it the traditional method by roasting it in the oven. Turkey isn’t too common in Middle Eastern culture (Zaid’s mother is American and his father is Palestinian), but they still eat it once a year on Thanksgiving. Maria’s grandmother, Carmella (the owner of the farm), has cooked Thanksgiving turkeys for years so it’s just second nature to her. She stuffs the turkey and roasts it. One thing she doesn’t do? Brine her turkeys. Maria explained that the salt in the brine gets into the meat and masks the natural flavor of the turkey. “If you’re paying for these delicious turkeys, why would you want to hide the flavor?” Maria asked.
As we all sit down with our family and friends to celebrate around nature’s delicious fall bounty, let us all remember to be thankful for our farmers and the hours they toil each year to bring us city dwellers fresh, delicious, healthy food. We’re also pretty grateful we’re not going to get a call from the neighbor during dinner to come pick up a wayward flock of turkeys!
For more information on our Greenmarket turkey producers, visit our Turkey buying Guide here.