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MailTribune.com
  • 'Heritage' bird is the word

    Talent farm raises Thanksgiving turkeys that have been in high demand despite higher price
  • Born of a commitment spanning months between farm and table, locally raised heritage turkeys are bound for some 50 families' holiday feasts.
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  • Born of a commitment spanning months between farm and table, locally raised heritage turkeys are bound for some 50 families' holiday feasts.
    Pacing their coops last week, feathers ruffled, the Bourbon red and Holland white turkeys seemed to sense what lay ahead: slaughter just a few yards from their home for the past eight months at Rogue Valley Brambles, a Talent farm that started raising chickens on pasture in 2007.
    "People can know that their bird is raised in an environmentally sustainable manner," says Ken Muller, who owns the farm with his wife, Susan, and mother-in-law, Margaret Krout.
    The Mullers applied the same model for raising nearly 1,000 chickens this year to their first flock of 60 turkeys. Working from a detailed description of rotational grazing in Michael Pollan's best-selling "The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals," the Mullers built coops that could be moved around the farm's 7 acres, adding eight more structures this spring for turkeys.
    The birds feast on protein-rich bugs, seeds and blades of grass while fertilizing the pastures with their manure, distributed daily when the Mullers relocate the coops. The operation is not certified organic, but all the farm practices are, Ken Muller says.
    "We still raise 'em outside on grass and everything, so you still get all the benefits," he says, referring to the birds' health and higher levels of beneficial fatty acids in grass-fed meat.
    If anything, the turkeys are more keen to graze than the smaller fowl, Muller says. Rather than plucking food from the grass and swallowing the occasional blade like chickens, turkeys mow down the turf and even swallow large rocks to aid their digestion, he says.
    "They can get a significant amount of food out of the grass. It seems like they're a little bit more efficient."
    The turkeys' diet doesn't seem to impart a discernible difference in the meat's flavor, compared with conventionally raised turkeys, Muller says, noting that their turkeys' texture is more pleasing than industrial counterparts. The Bourbon red, he adds, was among the most common turkey varieties raised for meat in the 1930s and '40s.
    "A lot of people want the heritage breeds, in theory," Muller says, adding that the turkeys are smaller than broad-breasted breeds.
    Rogue Valley Brambles' hens weighed in between 9 and 10 pounds, the toms between 14 and 15. Several customers who planned to feed large groups for the holiday purchased two turkeys, Muller says.
    The majority of its fans favoring Bourbon reds, Rogue Valley Brambles started taking orders for turkeys in March and sold the last one in September. Muller received another 50 requests for turkey in the week before Thanksgiving only to reply that the birds were spoken for.
    "Now, we wish we'd done more," he says. "People just seem to be really excited about the turkeys," he says.
    "The chicken — it's kind of an everyday food."
    For a special occasion like Thanksgiving, though, customers are willing to pay the Mullers' price of $6.75 per pound, or approximately $100 for a 15-pound turkey. The cost includes slaughtering at the Tarry Lane farm, where buyers must pick up the turkey to keep the Mullers in compliance with state regulations, which prohibit retail sales of meat handled outside government-inspected facilities.
    Given the demand, the Mullers stand to raise at least 100 turkeys next year and are considering diversifying the flock to include the broad-breasted bronze. If enough turkeys are purchased, the Mullers may start early, slaughtering the birds several months ahead of the holiday and freezing them.
    "It was a good test run this year," Muller says.
    For more information, visit the Web site www.roguevalleybrambles.com.
    Reach Food Editor Sarah Lemon at 776-4487, or e-mail slemon@mailtribune.com.
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