Turkey farms across Vermont gear up for holiday season
By Nathaniel GibsonWith the holiday season fast approaching, Vermont turkey farmers are busily preparing for the huge spike in turkey demand, particularly for Thanksgiving.
Turkey farming has a long history in the state. Back in the days before rail and refrigeration, the birds were herded on foot to major markets, which presented a number of challenges for farmers, namely keeping track of their birds and caring for them over the long distances.
“In the old days turkeys were given tar walking shoes by farmers, who would heat tar, pour it on the road, and then herd the birds through it,” says Matt Proft, who operates Someday Farm with his wife Scout in East Dorset, located in southern Vermont. The Profts raise 400-500 birds a year: all natural, range-fed turkeys on pasture with feed that is free of hormones and antibiotics. Their turkeys are ordered for pickup directly from Someday Farm.
Since the old-time turkey marches typically took several days, farmers were obliged to overnight with their flocks at farms en route. “The birds back then could fly, so in the evenings they would have to be corralled in a barnyard before it got dark and the birds decided to roost — as gathering them up again in the morning would have been a big headache,” explains Proft.
While the trials of the annual turkey march are long gone, raising turkeys nowadays still presents some unique challenges. “There are times throughout the years that we shake our heads at the birds,” says Proft. “They’re definitely curious animals, and they like to escape their fence when they can. We’ve had the them take an interest in people who are passing by walking their dogs — and all of a sudden 300 turkeys have gotten out and are tagging along.”
“You never know what they’re going to try,” Proft observes. He recalls times when the turkeys have flown into the pond to avoid being rounded up. Seldom considered fact: turkeys can swim.
A much larger-scale turkey farm can be found to the north in central Vermont. Peter Stone and Siegrid Mertens operate Stonewood Farm in Orwell, where they raise a staggering 29,000 turkeys per year for distribution across the Northeast. The birds are grown naturally without any antibiotics or growth hormones in their feed and are prepared for table without preservatives or artificial ingredients.
The Stonewood turkeys are raised in barns that are open on the sides to permit sun and air in while keeping other birds — and any illnesses they may carry — out. In previous years, the couple experimented with raising 5,000 turkeys outside in a 13-acre field but found that they were more susceptible to sickness associated with the wet and cold conditions they encountered. Birds raised indoors can be easily kept dry and warm.
Stonewood Farm turkeys are available in food co-ops, health food stores, and gourmet food stores across New England and New York state. In Vermont and parts of New Hampshire, Stonewood Farm turkeys can be found at several stores, including Hannaford. Anyone interested in checking out the farm in Orwell is welcome to visit; please check in upon arrival.
Vermont farm-fresh turkeys are available all over the state. About 25 farms are listed by the state’s Department of Agriculture; visit www.vermontagriculture.com/buylocal/buy/ to find your local turkey.
Nathaniel Gibson is a freelance writer who lives in Pawlet and may be contacted at www.nathanielrgibson.com.
The article originally appeared in the Fall 2011 edition of the Rutland Regional Vermont Insider Guide.