5@5 - Shepherd Craig Rogers
November 23rd, 2010
05:00 PM ET
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5@5 is a daily, food-related list from chefs, writers, political pundits, musicians, actors, and all manner of opinionated people from around the globe.

Craig Rogers is the shepherd and owner of Border Spring Farms in Patrick Springs, Virginia. Along with raising and selling “Certified Naturally Grown" and "Animal Welfare Approved" lamb and sheep to local chefs like Josh Smith and Bryan Voltaggio, he’s the occasional turkey wrangler - raising 100 to 200 heritage turkeys every year as a bit of hobby in the name of sustainable poultry.

Now, he's dropped by to talk turkey - heritage, that is - and why you should save the frozen bird for turkey bowling.

Five Reasons to Enjoy a Heritage Turkey this Thanksgiving: Craig Rogers

1. It won’t taste like chicken.
"Heritage turkeys raised on pastures where they can graze on nutritious grasses, clover and legumes, as well as do what turkeys love to do, scratch and eat bugs, have flavor that only Grandma can tell you about. It won’t taste like chicken. Instead, the white meat will have flavor lost decades ago in poultry and the dark meat will have a meaty texture and bold flavor that will beckon back to birds forging in the wild.

Because heritage turkeys have legs that actually allow them to run and wings upon which they can take flight, their carcass is more akin to a fine athlete than an overstuffed chair. Hence, most cooks will opt to brine their turkey overnight before roasting long and slow. One country favorite brine used by Chef Billie Raper of The Hotel Roanoke is simply to boil a gallon of apple cider with cup of salt and half a cup of brown sugar, and whatever catches your fancy– perhaps some fresh ginger or peppercorns - and then add about a gallon of ice cubes to cool the brine down to room temperature before adding the turkey and refrigerating overnight. No one ever partakes in their first heritage turkey without saying, 'that was the most incredible tasting turkey I have ever had.'"

2. It will give everyone something to talk about and reminisce on “how things used to be.”
"Thanksgiving is a day of remembrance and thanks. With family gathered around the dinner table, inevitably conversation will gravitate towards memories of Thanksgivings gone by, family who once graced a farm or visits to farms for others. But as soon as the conversation is directed towards the food of a generation or two before us, there will be remembrances of poultry with flavor, of family farms and the farmers who nurtured them, of Grandma scalding and plucking the dinner turkey or chicken. Some may remember only 30 years ago when the size of chicken breasts were one-third what they are today and wonder, so how did the shape, size and taste of poultry change so much so fast? And others will tell you where and when they had the best turkey or chicken ever, most likely a bird served on a dinner table more than a generation ago when birds were birds, turkeys could fly and farm animals were actually born on the farm."

3. You will help preserve the heritage breeds of turkeys for future generations.
"With the advent of industrial poultry, the genetic diversity of poultry and turkey specifically has greatly diminished. Essentially, all commercial poultry genetics in the Eastern hemisphere is owned by one company, Hubbard Breeders, and meat birds have been designed, through breeding, to be essentially infertile or unable to reproduce a commercially viable offspring; much akin to Monsanto corn.

Industrial poultry production made the old craft of poultry farming far less commercially viable. It takes real birds longer to grow, its harder to contain birds that can fly on the farm than overstuffed turkeys that often never see a sunset, a rainbow or nighttime stars. So when poultry farming joined the rest of industrialized farming, the interest in the 'old fashioned' birds nearly vanished. It is only by the grace of people like Frank Reece in Kansas who had such passion for the poultry his mother introduced him to that he never gave up in seeing the old breeds remain alive. Today, the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy champions protecting the genetic diversity of farm animal breeds that dwindled as commercial agriculture created new engineered animals, such as poultry.

By enjoying a heritage turkey this holiday season, you will be voting with your wallet and speaking with your fork to say that you honor and respect the heritage of farm animals and the honest craft of farmers across America who care about the welfare of their animals, the preservation of breeds for their grandchildren and the production of the tastiest food nature allows."

4. You will help a small family farm.
"Raising heritage turkeys is hard, tedious and costly compared to commercial/industrial turkeys. A heritage turkey needs to grow at least twice as long as a commercial turkey to reach harvest weights. Many heritage breeds can only produce hens that weight 10 to 12 pounds (dressed) and toms in the 15-pound range. Some heritage breeds can produce 20-pound toms, but when compared to commercial/industrial turkeys where a broad-breasted tom can grow to 40 pounds dressed and they can be harvested in a fraction of the time, the heritage bird is still a product of time and nurturing.

Farmers across America are coming back to their roots where the craft of a livestock farmer is in the art of breeding their animals, nurturing the birth of babies and enjoying the full circle of life. In poultry, that means that real farmers are breeding their heritage turkeys to create the tastiest and finest looking bird. Then watching the wild ritual of turkey sex on the farm and collecting fertile eggs and hatching baby poults in the spring. This is an endeavor of love, much like the passion of a fine chef doting over the finest details of a dish.

You can also look for 'Animal Welfare Approved' labels, which is an independent auditing label that has standards to ensure that your turkey is raised humanely, is not transported long distance to slaughter, is not debeaked, that poults are not shipped to the farm by the US Postal Service and that no antibiotics are fed to your Thanksgiving dinner every day of their lives.

By enjoying a heritage turkey at Thanksgiving or Christmas, you are saying 'thank you' to a family farmer who cared enough about what you are eating to raise a 'real' bird naturally, and help preserve a genetic breed for generations to come."

5. It’s the only sustainable poultry (only heritage turkey that can have sex and reproduce on the farm).
"You can’t have a sustainable farm if you have to buy baby turkey poults through the US Mail or have them delivered to you in massive trucks. You can’t have a sustainable farm if your turkeys can not create a new generation of birds just as pretty, just as big and just as tasty. Before I started harvesting my turkeys for the holiday, I gathered my finest looking ladies and most stud-ly looking toms. They were given a pardon and were honored with trappings of royalty, for they are the chosen. They will produce sons and daughters for a new holiday season and in the process, sustain the heritage poultry for another generation.

An easy test to determine if your poultry farmer is sustainable or not is to ask, where did the babies come from. If the eggs came as a result of wild and crazy turkey sex on the farm and the poults were born on the farm, then it is a sustainable farm. If the US Postal Service had to get involved in the pro-creation process, then not so much.

The livestock farmer’s primary craft is to manage sex on the farm; to determine who gets it and by whom. That is how we keep genetic diversity healthy and natural - and that is one important part, perhaps the most important part, of how we manage sustainable farming operations."

What kind of bird are you serving this Thanksgiving? Frozen, fresh, free-range, organic, heritage, Tofurky? Let us know in the comments.

Is there someone you'd like to see in the hot seat? Let us know in the comments below and if we agree, we'll do our best to chase 'em down.

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Filed under: 5@5 • Holidays • HolidayShopping • Sustainability • Thanksgiving • Thanksgiving • Think

soundoff (55 Responses)
  1. Nevadamtnbear

    We're serving a heritage free range (though not "organic") turkey this Thanksgiving – Mr. Thanksgiving, whom we raised ourselves. That's the ultimate for us. We know what he's eaten (hence, we don't spring for the "organic" feed, but our turkey are all fed top quality feed). We know he's been treated since the day after being hatched (can't really control the hatching process and the shipping conditions). And we know how he was treated at the end of his day yesterday. We care for our food and we respect our food.

    Next year we'll probably start raising our own turkey from egg to table. This was our first year raising our own turkey, so we kept it straight forward, 5 toms added to our flocks of chickens. Turkey are easier to raise over all, except they'll eat you out of house and home once they get pretty large. Next year we'll raise a few more, add a couple hen to the flock and once they're big enough to not be bothered by the dog, we'll give them open range to our whole property beyond just the area they've been raised this year.

    November 21, 2011 at 3:16 pm |
  2. Cher

    Serving a free range turkey from Whole Foods which is animal welfare approved. I cannot wait to try it!! They are really not that much more per pound than what you will find at the supermarket.

    November 21, 2011 at 1:25 pm |
  3. Frank

    Great article and well written. This is my first year ordering a heritage breed (standard bronze) and man I will never go back. It was amazing and worth the price. Now I just need to buy a house with land and raise my own. My heritage turkey post-mortem http://www.theearnestlife.com/the_earnest_life/2010/11/thanksgiving-heritage-turkey-post-mortem.html

    December 1, 2010 at 2:01 pm |
  4. Connie

    I am the small town home cook who actually served Craig and his lovely wife one of his birds on Thanksgiving. I can attest that everything he says about the taste is true. It's the best turkey anyone in my family has ever tasted.

    November 26, 2010 at 9:00 am |
  5. Melody

    Thank you for article. If we all keep educating the general public to where food comes from we open the door for educated choices. I made my choice long ago. I garnered the skill set to grow what I could. And each day I feed my husband, children and grandchildren untainted vegitables, meat and fruit I know I make a difference.

    November 24, 2010 at 7:50 am |
  6. mizjdizzle

    Late post, busy day. I'm a little picky, but my sweeter half would hit it!

    November 23, 2010 at 11:48 pm |
    • Jerv

      Good morning.

      November 24, 2010 at 7:24 am |
  7. Wendy Borgman

    Sounds yummy. I would definitely go for some heritage turkey!

    November 23, 2010 at 10:03 pm |
  8. aimee

    How much are these guys paying you?

    November 23, 2010 at 8:15 pm |
    • ThaGerm

      Well, since it the article was written by a turkey farmer, I am going to guess about $5.00 per pound :P

      November 21, 2011 at 2:26 pm |
  9. Susan

    I enjoyed this article, learned stuff, and it made me think. I could have done without the fixation on the turkey sex, though – we get it, mentioning it once would have been quite enough.

    I would like to try a heritage turkey.

    November 23, 2010 at 7:35 pm |
    • Rene


      November 23, 2010 at 8:18 pm |
  10. Kelli

    I bought a 17lb heritage this year here in Denver. Was $100 but I bet it's gonna be worth every bite.

    November 23, 2010 at 7:29 pm |
    • Joshua

      Ouch! Ours was 14lb and $41 here in Portland, OR

      November 23, 2010 at 8:00 pm |
    • The Number

      Watch that thermometer so you don't end up with a $100 piece of turkey jerky. Enjoy!

      November 23, 2010 at 8:16 pm |
  11. sgmaker

    "Hard Chilled" 99cent from Safeway but after being injected with garlic oil and beer, rubbed with more garlic, salt and pepper then spending 15 hours in the smoker it's going to be pretty good. Perhaps not how great gramma would have made it but I thing she would approve.

    November 23, 2010 at 6:48 pm |
  12. Ellen

    If you had to kill, gut and de-feather your bird, you'd think twice before being a mindless carnivore.

    November 23, 2010 at 6:37 pm |
    • meatasaurus

      I very much enjoy the process of harvesting my own food, including all the fun gory parts like gutting, cleaning, plucking, skining, and so forth. All that hard work pays off in a wonderful flavor and peace of mind that I know what my food has been up to until the moment it was turned into food. I may not enjoy the taking of a life, but someday mine will feed the bellies of many worms, who will feed many birds, and it will fertilize grass that will feed deer, and they will have thier payback. It certainly isnt a mindless action, if anything it takes a much thought and consideration to do it right

      November 23, 2010 at 7:03 pm |
    • Dave

      Just like if you had to personally mulch all of the small field animals that are killed in the harvesting of your vegetables, you'd think twice before being a vegetarian.

      No such thing as a guilt-free meal. Sorry to disappoint you.

      November 23, 2010 at 7:09 pm |
    • Gr8fuldude

      As a hunter who has killed, gutted and de-feathered many birds, I would respectfully to have a cup in the STFU cafe.

      November 23, 2010 at 7:22 pm |
    • Joshua

      I harvested our chickens this year and I would have no problem harvesting our turkey.. that is my plan for next year.. It is a very connecting experience to harvest your own animal.. Maybe you should try connecting with your food, instead of complaining how people choose to eat..

      November 23, 2010 at 7:59 pm |
    • The Number

      Spoken by someone who has undoubtedly never eaten a bird that they have killed, gutted and de-feathered. I have and will continue to.

      November 23, 2010 at 8:13 pm |
    • ThaGerm

      I have killed, gut, skinned/De-feathered many an animal. They were all quite tasty! Just because YOU can't handle the reality that comes with the fact that God gave you Canine teeth doesn't mean others can't.

      November 21, 2011 at 2:29 pm |
      • ugh

        God gave me dog teeth? Wow you are so cool and badazz, do you also smear the blood on your face? God also put food here so I could get fat and diabetic!

        November 22, 2012 at 3:57 am |
    • Nevadamtnbear

      Have thought twice often as we butcher birds from our own flock. And, it's always a process that reaffirms my family's commitment to producing as much as our own food as possible. We have a 1/4 acre garden, provide our own poultry and starting next year we're adding lamb and likely steer to our little piece of heaven.

      It's rather lovely of you to offer all of us who regularly participate in the process to reflect on the reasons why we gladly partake in what so many who have been disassociated from the process condemn. It's actually not horrible, gross, disgusting or anything like that. When you do it yourself, you learn a tremendous respect for what you eat.

      November 21, 2011 at 3:22 pm |
  13. Dizzythecat

    I purchased a "free-range, kosher" bird.
    Did I massively fail?
    Did my little fellow have sex before he lost his head?
    Please advise.

    November 23, 2010 at 6:29 pm |
    • Craig

      Dear Dizzythecat,
      Free Range means that perhaps only a door was left open in the big poultry house. If you have a standard broad breasted turkey, the most commercial of all turkeys, the bird was growing too fast and had a breast too big to want to move and roam outside anyway. Free-range does not tell the consumer anything, unfortunately. A pastured raised bird is better. An Animal Welfare Approved bird is the best because someone has visited the farm to ensure the birds of a genetic type that they are indeed healthy and do not grow too fast, are not mutilated (e.g. debeaked) and have ample room to roam and fly.

      Kosher only refers to a processing technique and tells you nothing about how the bird was raised, its genetics, or if it can reproduce and is a sustainable animal or not.

      If you want a real bird that can live a full life and can sustain future generations you should look for a heritage breed, such as Bronze, Slate, or Bourbon Red. All other birds are genetic creations solely for industrial farming and inexpensive food – some value in that perhaps and that is the choice people need to make. No different than deciding if you wish to eat Walmart beef or "local beef" from a farm you have visited and know the farmer "does it right". No simple answers.

      November 23, 2010 at 11:28 pm |
  14. Tom Turkey

    Wild Turkey, killed skinned now we are going to eat it. Heritage!

    November 23, 2010 at 6:21 pm |
  15. TheSame

    Well, I hope he realizes by doing what he's doing – aka cross breeding the biggest and best looking, in a few thousand generations of cross breeding, he's going to end up with the same turkey that industrial farms produce.

    November 23, 2010 at 6:20 pm |
    • Craig

      Dear Same, There is no cross-breeding here. That is the point of heritage breeds, to keep the original genetics alive and healthy. I raise Heritage Bronze turkeys where each feather looks as if it was hand painted with the most brilliant metallic paints of bronze, copper, patina. Simply magnificent birds.

      November 23, 2010 at 11:18 pm |
    • surface

      TheSame, cross breeding is when you take birds of different breeds to mix the traits of two separate breeds into the offspring (creating a mutt). What's happening here is selective breeding. Choosing the males and females that are the best representatives of the breed creates offspring that are also good representatives of the breed. This is similar to how show quality dogs and cats, or racehorses are bred.
      In afew thousand generations he would not have an industrial bird, however trading birds (of the same breed) with another farm could be a good idea to ensure genetic diversity and avoid inherited genetic disease.

      November 26, 2010 at 10:21 pm |
      • ThaGerm

        And to further this point, Selective Breeding is an only slightly pickier process than what happens in nature anyway. The biggest Tom is going to get the most um, tail. :)

        November 21, 2011 at 2:33 pm |
  16. fob

    Definitlely don't have it in the budget for a Heritage Turkey this Thanksgiving. We're going with the 99 cents/lb frozen Butterball. Hope to be able to do the fresh-from-the-farm turkey in the future. But, I'm thankful that I can plan a lavish enough spread on a my limited budget.

    November 23, 2010 at 5:51 pm |
  17. 4U Mister

    It's a frozen "organic" free range turkey, don't know the brand, it's not a heritage, the store had those as special order, a bit pricey, may try next season. It is defrosting even as I type...

    November 23, 2010 at 5:36 pm |
    • bill

      organic or heritage, just the name makes the price go up

      November 23, 2010 at 7:51 pm |
  18. jillmarie

    I'm going to my husband's cousin for T-Day dinner- I'll be making Tofurkey at home, have some the night before with my vegetable stuffing to have my own version of Thanksgiving. At their house ( a fabulous catered spread) I enjoy mashed potatoes and veggie side dishes. Everyone enjoys what they want, including turkey. I'm vegetarian but don't make a fuss of it. It's funny because so many people are wishing me a "Happy Turkey Day"! I just respond with "Happy Thanksgiving!"
    Personally, I like the term Thanky-G myself! Made it up myself:)

    November 23, 2010 at 5:19 pm |
    • Truth

      Thanky-G...I like it, but wasn't he a rap star from Detroit?

      November 23, 2010 at 5:29 pm |
      • jillmarie

        Dunno, It does kinda sound like a rap star though! Never thought of it that way!

        November 23, 2010 at 5:45 pm |
  19. Sir Biddle via the train

    Maybe Aurora would? See you gang.

    November 23, 2010 at 5:14 pm |
    • RichardHead@SirB

      Have a good one and be safe in the big Apple.

      November 23, 2010 at 5:16 pm |
    • AuroraDawn

      LMAO UM....NO she wouldn't!!! Have a great Turkey day all! My best to you and yours!

      November 23, 2010 at 5:50 pm |
  20. RichardHead

    Managed Sex on a Farm? I thought they quit that when they shut down The Chicken Ranch?

    November 23, 2010 at 5:12 pm |
    • Truth@RichHead

      I believe Frank Purdue was the guy who engineered Managed Sex on a Farm.
      You remember him, he was the guy who used to say "It takes a tough man to make a chicken tender"...

      Or something like that...:)

      November 23, 2010 at 5:20 pm |
      • 4U Mister


        November 23, 2010 at 5:37 pm |
    • really

      Chicken Ranch is still around...

      November 23, 2010 at 7:46 pm |
      • Steve

        Really? Where, I went there a couple of times in my youth... :-)

        November 23, 2010 at 7:56 pm |
  21. RichardHead

    Oh,Hell No I won't hit it.

    November 23, 2010 at 5:05 pm |
    • RichardHead

      Curses, Foiled again!

      November 23, 2010 at 5:06 pm |
      • Truth@RichHead

        Save that foil, you will need it for leftovers later this week!

        November 23, 2010 at 5:09 pm |
      • RichardHead@Truth

        You gonna be in tomorrow or taking off?

        November 23, 2010 at 5:14 pm |
      • Truth@RichHead

        I will be here until one (or so) my time.
        How about you?

        November 23, 2010 at 5:18 pm |
      • RichardHead@Truth

        Yep-took the week off to prep for the shelter. Trying to think of some GOOD Questions to ask Kat and Slt since they will be working,if ya know what I mean. Have a great nite and stay warm up that way.

        November 23, 2010 at 5:25 pm |
      • Truth@RichHead

        You too...I am about to blow out of here.
        Supposed to be cold the next two days in Denver, but that is fine by me...Two quilts, one down comforter and one cat on the bed, and my bride cuddling for warmth. I LOVE this time of year!

        November 23, 2010 at 5:28 pm |
  22. Truth

    I don't wanna hit that!

    November 23, 2010 at 5:04 pm |
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