There’s no better place to buy a fresh turkey this Thanksgiving season than from the Penn State Poultry Science Club. Drawing long lines of hundreds of hungry shoppers, the club’s one-day-only, first come, first served, turkey sale is an annual tradition stretching back decades.
Phillip John Clauer, an assistant teaching professor at Penn State and adviser to the Poultry Science Club, said the sale’s appeal comes from the freshness of the turkeys.
“All the birds are harvested by the students a week prior to Thanksgiving. They slaughter the birds Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, maybe Saturday if we get behind. ... They’ve never been exposed to extreme cold temperatures at all,” he said. “The fresh birds you buy in the store are typically allowed to be taken down to 26 degrees Fahrenheit, and that means the outer layer of skin and tissue can partially freeze. That tends to dry that area of the skin a little more than you’d have on a fresh-dressed bird that’s never been exposed to temperatures that low.”
The Poultry Science Club takes its birds down to the 36-40 degree range, making it easier to keep the turkey tender while cooking, Clauer said.
Where do the turkeys come from?
Before the turkeys are harvested, they’re involved with a research or industry project at Penn State and then donated to the Poultry Science Club to raise until the point of the sale. According to Clauer, the birds are raised at the Poultry Education and Research Center on Penn State’s campus, using conventional methods.
Since Clauer arrived at Penn State 17 years ago, he said the sale has become even more popular, partially thanks to the sale’s first come, first served system. Since switching to this system versus taking orders, he said the club has always sold out of its hundreds of birds, except for one year, when they had some particularly large, difficult-to-sell turkeys. According to Clauer, consumers prefer a 16-24-pound bird.
“Anything bigger than that,” he said, “you can only sell so many. We sell about a couple dozen bigger than that each year, but that’s about it.”
How can you have one on your Thanksgiving table?
Clauer’s main tip for locals looking to snag one of the coveted turkeys? Arrive to the sale early. This year’s sale takes place Nov. 19, starting at 11 a.m. at the Penn State Meats Lab on Porter Road, between the Visitor’s Center and Medler Field.
“There’ll be a line out there, people sitting in chairs and in their cars, as early as 7 a.m.,” Clauer said. “At 9 a.m., we try to open the doors to the auditorium so people can come inside and sit down. At that time we hand out a card with a number on it.”
At 11 a.m., they call people to the front of the room by ticket number.
“You pick (your) birds, the sizes you want, and we keep going through the numbers until we run out,” Clauer said.
Buyers are limited to three turkeys each. If you receive a ticket number that’s under 200, you have a pretty good chance of getting the size and number of turkeys you want, Clauer said.
For many, the event is a social occasion.
“Some people only see each other once a year at the turkey sale,” Clauer said. “So people will sit there, have a good time, talk, carry on and so forth. People come in, socialize, read the newspaper, bring their laptop.”
The turkeys go for $2 per pound.
“We don’t try to price the birds so high that the average person who’s getting a turkey anyway can’t afford it. We want them available to whoever needs them,” Clauer said. “We’re trying to provide a good service and come up with a fundraiser that works for the public and this one seems to work well.”
What else should you know about the Penn State sale?
The Poultry Science Club makes about $12,000–$15,000 from the sale each year.
In addition to the funds, which help promote the club’s mission of building experience and skills for students entering the poultry industry, the event also helps the students get some hands-on experience in marketing, organization, sales and customer relations.
“It’s a neat thing to see them come together as a group. There’s a lot of work involved, it’s a lot of fun for them,” Clauer said.
For more information on this year’s sale and the Poultry Science Club, visit agsci.psu.edu/clubs/poultry-science/activities/fall-activities/fall-turkey-harvest.