Elmwood Farm in Georgetown is one of the few, if not the only farm in the country to raise all-organic heritage turkeys.
The term “heritage turkey”, as defined by the Livestock Conservancy, covers several different breeds of domesticated turkeys that mate naturally and have a longer growth rate and lifespan than commercial turkeys. Heritage birds typically cost 5 to 10 times as much as a commercially raised bird, primarily because their slower growth rate means more labor and feed to raise the birds.
“They grow so very slowly so they eat a lot of feed” says Mac Stone, co-owner of Elmwood Farm. “We have a lot of feed and a lot of labor into getting them to be a nice presentable Thanksgiving turkey”.
Stone began raising heritage birds at Elmwood after being approached by a livestock conservancy interested in preserving the turkeys.
“We said well, we’re not in the zoo business but if they’re good to eat, we’ll grow lots of them,” he said. “So we started growing them, we tested them with some customers and they loved them. We started with about seven or eight and now we’re up to several hundred”.
Elmwood currently raises four different breeds of heritage birds.
“We have mostly Narragansett, they’ve performed the best for us,” Stone said. “We have Bourbon Reds, we initially started looking for Bourbon Reds because Bourbon County is close, and we have a few Royal Palms which are more of a show bird. And then a few Gray Slates which are a nice meat bird”.
Elmwood maintains a permanent breeding flock with turkeys from all four breeds. “We have some that are six or eight years old. They’re like the grandma and grandpa that we always know we have those genetics preserved and then we try to add a few each year” said Stone.
The heritage birds are born and raised right on the farm. “We hatch the eggs in the incubator, we have a nice brooder which is a warm, dry, safe place [where they stay] for four or five, six weeks until they can regulate their own body temperature,” he said. “Once they come out here on pasture, they have the house, they can express their ‘turkeyness’, they have a pecking order and they just grow…We move them once a week to the fresh pasture and you can watch them go forage for insects in the fresh grass and everything.
“Their personalities are just awesome”.
Heritage birds are known for having darker, richer, fattier meat than commercial turkey breeds as well as a higher ratio of dark meat to white meat than the large breasted commercial birds, according to Stone.
Last year’s pandemic Thanksgiving worked in Elmwood’s favor with heritage birds typically being under 20 pounds.
“Last year, the smaller gatherings that families had, that sort of fit with our smaller heritage birds, and they were special and people really wanted to have a nice, thoughtful dinner. And then, we responsibly raise our turkeys and our other meats fit with the theme of that year, if you will” said Stone.
For more information on Elmwood farm, including hours for their retail shop, visit elmwoodstockfarm.com.
Elizabeth Morey can be reached at email@example.com.