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Turkey Talk: Picking the Perfect Bird

Thanksgiving is still three weeks away, but it's the perfect time to start thinking about your turkey, especially if you plan on ordering it. From free range to heritage birds, there are several things to consider as you look for the one that will grace your table come Turkey Day.

Below I've looked at a few distinctions between organic, free range and heritage turkeys that might help you decide which fits best for your family.

Organic Turkey

Organic turkeys are different than free range and heritage turkeys, although you will find turkeys that carry all three labels. The term organic when talking about meat production is looking at the use of chemicals, pesticides and growth hormones that are not used in the farming practices. The USDA states,

Organic meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy products come from animals that are given no antibiotics or growth hormones. Organic food is produced without using most conventional pesticides; fertilizers made with synthetic ingredients or sewage sludge; bioengineering; or ionizing radiation. Before a product can be labeled ‘organic,’ a Government-approved certifier inspects the farm where the food is grown to make sure the farmer is following all the rules necessary to meet USDA organic standards.

 

That is to say that not all farms who raise their poultry organically will have organic certification. Your local farmers market is a great place to talk to farmers and find out what their practices are. If you don't have access to the farmer directly in person, always check out their website or call to see if you're comfortable with the turkey you're purchasing.

Heritage Turkey

Heritage turkeys are domesticated birds that have characteristics that were found in wild turkeys years and years ago, such as they mate and lay fertile eggs, have a long lifespan and a slow growth rate. They are said to have a richer flavor than the average domestic turkeys of today, and they can also be quite pricey. The Heritage Turkey Foundation can provide more information and direct you to popular sources. However, there may be farmers in your area that also sell heritage turkeys, so be sure to investigate other possible avenues. Order soon because most farmers and vendors will sell out within the next week or two.

Free Range Turkey

Free range birds are allowed to graze out in the open or have access to the outside. USDA regulations are not strict on this requirement for meat-raised birds, saying only that poultry must have access to the outside, so it's best to source free range turkeys from farmers that you trust so that the birds have access to pasture and not just gravel or dirt.

What are your Thanksgiving Day plans?

Will you be serving a turkey, or do you have a favorite turkey substitute as your main dish?

What holiday traditions do you and yours participate in?

Perhaps you're a movie-going family, or maybe you like a nice, quiet meal with just immediate family members, and even still, you could get together all the aunts and uncles and cousins for a family feast.

Photos by Shaina Olmanson


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