A rafter of turkeys graze Kevin Dunham’s homestead. They also stretch their legs and do, well, whatever turkeys do.
These are humanely raised birds, but they will be slaughtered in two weeks time for Thanksgiving. Dunham has raised the group of turkeys since July on property he’s renting off Bayview Road on South Whidbey.
The long, grueling day when he slaughters and processes the 55 turkeys is set for Monday, Nov. 21. Processing will be done on site and in compliance with state regulations.
The turkeys must be sold within 48 hours of slaughter, so Dunham is looking for buyers for the 10 or so that remain unclaimed. Dunnam charges about $6 per pound. The turkeys weigh 16-21 pounds.
Their lifestyle is very different from the turkeys wrapped in plastic at the grocery store. They were raised in a movable coop that gives them space to graze.
“They get about an eighth of an acre and they get a good amount of space every week for foraging, eating grass and grazing,” Dunham said.
The meat is going to not only taste different, but more complex due to all the blood flowing through their muscles as a result of their ability to graze, explained Dunham. Their legs will be darker than what is typically found at the grocery store, and the additional nutrition in the turkeys’ diets shines through in the taste.
“Let’s face it, pastured meat simply tastes better,” said Slow Food Whidbey Island membership coordinator Kathy Floyd.
“The grocery store ones can cost one quarter of the price of the pastured turkeys,” Floyd said. “But when you measure the taste, the humane growing methods, the support of our local farmers and the ability to meet your meat, the local farmer has it all over the grocery store.”
Supporting local farmers and the small-scale system is crucial, said Mervyn Floyd, president of Slow Food Whidbey Island.
“It’s important to form a connection with your local farmer and understand what it takes to produce healthy food,” Floyd said. “It’s one way of giving thanks to your local farmer who is doing it more because they believe rather than for the minimal, and intensely variable, profit.”
In addition to the food they forage, the turkeys are fed organic, soy free, non-GMO feed.
Dunham takes half of the feed he buys and ferments it to increase vitamin and protein content and introduce probiotics to the birds’ diets.
The healthier the bird is, the healthier the food is for the consumer, he explained.
Though sustainable Thanksgiving turkeys are more costly than mass-produced birds, the farmers who raise them, and people who buy them, emphasize a more personal, localized method of purchasing meat. Dunham said some people are iffy about meeting their Thanksgiving meal, but added he believes it’s important that buyers to understand the work that goes into raising meat.
The out-of-sight, out-of-mind approach of factory meat is not only unsustainable, it’s immoral, he said.
“On the culminating slaughter day, where it all seems to build up to that point, we want to do them the best honor and justice,” Dunham said.
“To me, it’s worth it to raise them this way, because I think animals deserve that treatment because we get so much from them.”
Most importantly to carnivorous holiday eaters, though, is the taste.