2014-11-20 / Front Page

Farm raises nearly 250 birds for Thanksgiving

Talking turkey at Freeport’s Wolfe’s Neck
BY ROSANNA GARGIULO Times Record Staff


THE BREED RAISED this year at Wolfe’s Neck Farm in Freeport are Broad Breasted Bronze turkeys, though consideration is being given to raising heritage turkeys in the future. 
ROSANNA GARGIULO / THE TIMES RECORD THE BREED RAISED this year at Wolfe’s Neck Farm in Freeport are Broad Breasted Bronze turkeys, though consideration is being given to raising heritage turkeys in the future. ROSANNA GARGIULO / THE TIMES RECORD FREEPORT

“We’re almost sold out at this point,” said Jackie Stearns at Wolfe’s Neck Farm in Freeport, as she brushed through a rafter of plump turkeys ambling around a well-pecked pasture.

This year, Wolfe’s Neck Farm has raised roughly 250 free-range, 100 percent organically fed turkeys since they were day-old chicks, said Stearns, the farm’s communications coordinator. Next year, the farm may be looking to up that number to 300 owing to high demand.

“There is definitely a growing awareness of the importance of purchasing food locally and sustainably,” said Stearns, who noted that the farm will start a waitlist for orders when their final few birds are spoken for. “People started ordering in late October, but each year it is starting a little earlier.”

Recent rainfall and a season of use has churned some of the turkeys’ pasture to mud, but the grass surrounding two hoop housestyle turkey shelters is still vibrant green.

“These guys are very well treat- ed,” said Stearns. “They have a very comfortable life. They even have an ocean view,” she said, gesturing across a field to Casco Bay.

“At a conventional turkey farm, they may be indoors the whole time,” said Stearns, “living in a very cramped environment where they can’t flap their wings very well or get their share of sunshine.

“Here they have access to pasture, so they can pick through the grass all morning and find grasshoppers,” she said. “By giving them space to move around, they squabble and peck at each other less — they’re happier and healthier birds.”

The breed raised this year are Broad Breasted Bronze turkeys, said Stearns, though consideration is being given to raising heritage turkeys in the future.

“These are considered more conventional turkeys — they’re bred specifically to have a very large breast so they are more plump,” said Stearns. “Even though it’s an older breed, it’s still not what they call heritage,” she said, which are a specific domestic breed that retain some characteristics similar to wild turkeys.

“The heritage birds are not as lean as the wild turkeys but they will not be as plump as these,” said Stearns. “We’re hearing a lot of interest in it; people are really trying to go back to a natural approach.”

The pasture-raised birds do need a little extra to supplement their diet, said Stearns, which led to a price increase this year as the price of the birds’ locally grown, certified organic feed has increased.

Birds are selling for $5 per pound, with the most popular weights being in the 15- to 20-pound range, said Stearns, though some 10- or 30-pound birds are produced as well.

“There is a greater expense involved when you raise animals this way, so at the $5 per pound price there really isn’t a whole lot of profit,” said Stearns, “but we feel that it’s important for the community to have access to locally grown foods and the Thanksgiving turkeys are one of the things that people really look for.”

Raising the birds throughout the summer also complements the farm’s educational programs, said Stearns, and is incorporated into school fields trips and other activities.

“We have hundreds of kids here for summer camp and they participate in feeding and raising them,” said Stearns. “Then some of the summer campers’ families will actually purchase the turkeys that their kids helped to raise.

“It’s becoming more of an event, where families will come together and visit the animals and pick up their turkey — like picking out a Christmas tree,” she said.

All good things must come to an end, however, and this weekend the birds will be sent up to Weston’s Meat Cutting and Poultry in West Gardiner for processing.

The meat is sold fresh, said Stearns, and buyers who have placed orders will come for pick-up early next week after which any remaining birds will be made available to people on the waitlist.

Wolfe’s Neck Farm donates a number of turkeys to Azure Cafe’s Free Thanksgiving Meal at Freeport Community Services. Customers who wish to purchase a turkey for donation may indicate so on the order form and the farm will provide delivery.

For information, visit www.wolfesneckfarm.org or call the farm at 865-4469.

rgargiulo@timesrecord.com

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