Lyn Garling likes to let her turkeys graze, but one year they took it too far.
Garling, the owner of Over the Moon Farm near Rebersburg, once allowed her flock to roam — until she got a call. Her turkeys were visiting a neighboring farm, about half a mile away.
“I thought, ‘OK, that’s enough free range for you guys,’ ” Garling said.
Even confined by electric fences — more to keep predators out than birds in — her certified organic turkeys enjoy considerably more freedom than their commercial counterparts. About 80 birds can wander across spacious paddocks when they’re not roosting overnight in their house.
“They really graze,” Garling said. “Turkeys eat a lot of grass, clover and bugs, really more than chickens.”
With Thanksgiving on the horizon, they’re also plumping up on organic feed consisting of grain, soybeans, oats, some minerals — and no additives or antibiotics. They can consume 50 pounds a day, at $22 per bag.
“I’m like, ‘How many days until Thanksgiving?’ ” Garling said.
The countdown actually starts in July, when Garling buys the year’s “poults,” or baby fowl. It takes about 16 months for them to reach market size.
To help determine her initial purchase, she encourages pre-orders. Failing that, she goes with her best guess.
“Basically what I’ve started to do is order as many as we can deal with, which is 70 to 100,” she said.
Garling, who also raises organic pork and chicken, sells two kinds of turkeys: broad-breasted white, a standard breed; and broad-breasted bronze, a brown-feathered bird with darker meat that she describes as “heartier.”
Both are prepared the same way. The Sunday before Thanksgiving, Garling brings them to Reiff’s Poultry Dressing in Mifflinburg for butchering the next day.
There, freshly killed birds immediately go into tanks filled with water just above freezing. Later, Garling and others sort and bag them by size.
“I tell you what, your arms and hands are frozen off by the time you’re done,” she said.
Her turkeys typically range from 12 to 24 pounds. She charges $4.75 a pound, which reflects the higher cost of feed and the demands of running a small organic operation while juggling a busy job at Penn State as the program manager of the Pennsylvania Integrated Pest Management Program.
Large producers, for example, probably don’t have to rush home at night to shoo turkeys into their house and away from hungry coyotes.
Garling, who’s had her farm since 1998, argues that her birds are worth higher prices than supermarket turkeys — not only for the taste, but also because purchases indirectly support the local farms and businesses that supply her.
“When you’re buying my turkeys, you’re ensuring that all the local farmers stay viable,” she said.
To inquire about ordering a turkey, email Garling at firstname.lastname@example.org. Though her birds are destined for dinner plates, she said she, like other organic producers, strives to make their brief lives comfortable.
“We try to respect all the species of animals for what they are and try to provide for their needs, so they have a high-quality life,” she said. “We take that seriously.”
By Chris Rosenblum