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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
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.”
3. You will help preserve the heritage breeds of turkeys for future generations.
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.
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).
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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