How turkey lands on your table
By ALANNA MITCHELL, The Globe and Mail
Saturday, October 6, 2001
Ross Batstone is one of just a handful of Canada's producers of certified organic turkeys. For this Thanksgiving, he killed 20.
His poults also come from the same type of hatcheries that serve the mass market and arrive by bus, mail or courier. It's how he treats them after they arrive that gives his farm the organic certification. His farm is devoid of fertilizer or herbicides.
Because Batstone keeps his turkeys longer than conventional farmers - for five or six months depending on whether they're for Thanksgiving or Christmas - his birds tend to be bigger than the average conventional broiler.
His Thanksgiving birds weigh in at about 7.3 kilos. At Christmas his average is 11.4 kilos, but his birds have been known to hit 18.2 kilos.
For the first four weeks, his poults live in a barn in small pens in flocks of about 100. After that, Batstone turns them loose into the pasture in paddocks where they live day and night.
The turkeys forage for grass and weeds and seed and anything else they can get their beaks on. As well, Batstone feeds them a commercial mix that he buys from a local mill that only handles organically grown grains. He just paid $595 for a tonne of grower feed, which is as much as twice the cost of the cheaper end of conventional turkey feed.
Included in the organic mix is often corn, soybeans, barley, spelt and flax.
Like the conventional turkey farms, Batstone finesses the diet according to how old the poults are. The higher-protein starter mix is de rigueur for the first month. That's followed by the grower diet and the finisher.
One of the big problems for Batstone's flock is the fact that humans are not the only ones with a taste for turkey. Weasles, foxes, coyotes, skunks and even dogs help themselves whenever they get the chance.
One of the big issues for Batstone is how to snag the turkeys when it's time for them to hit the abatoir. The fowl fellows are sprightly, especially after months dashing around a pasture, and resist capture.
"There's no question, these birds can run. And fly," he says.
Once at the abatoir, they meet precisely the same fate as mass-market-produced turkeys. Then Batstone takes the bagged birds home to his freezer until customers can pick them up at the farm gate for $3.95 a pound. It's an extra 25 cents a pound if he takes it to a market for sale.
Would he eat a traditionally grown bird? He wouldn't think twice. "How hungry am I," he retorts gruffly.
His customers, though, swear by the organic birds, saying they are much more flavourful than their mass-market counterparts.
While Batstone is unlikely to purchase a turkey from a grocery store, he has no problem buying one from a farmer who grows birds roughly the same way he does, except without the organic feed. Last year, his customers cleaned him out of his own birds and he ended up having to buy one from a neighbour for his own turkey dinner.