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What you need to know if you are considering buying a local bird

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November 14, 2011
— White meat or dark meat?

Drumstick or breast?


Sunshine and silliness or artificial light and small cages?


When it comes to choosing a Thanksgiving turkey, it all depends on what you like and what you can afford.


The grocery store’s frozen food bunkers are the best choice when it comes to price. But if you want a bird that has spent less of its afterlife frozen and more of its actual life running around a yard, making turkey noises and displaying prize tail feathers to visitors, you’ll have to buy locally.


At the Ann and Bill Redmer farm in Afton, the turkeys live a pretty good life. They’re fed organic grain and organic heirloom vegetables. They have a yard with trees and grass, a cozy roosting house and a concrete “sun porch” for their chicks. The whole area is protected from predators, including hawks, raccoons, coyotes, fox and any other creature who might fancy a drumstick.


They’re just two of the many independent farmers who are willing to sell fresh or frozen “backyard” turkeys.


Part of the appeal of a backyard turkey is taste.


“It’s about what they’re fed,” said Dale Wheelock, key leader of the Walworth County Poultry Project and vice chairman of the Walworth County Fair Fur and Feather sale. “The feed is different—there’s more corn.”


Wheelock confessed that he never liked the taste of turkey until he started raising the birds.


For others, buying a backyard turkey appeals to their values, the way they think animals should be raised.


Yet another segment of consumers buy backyard turkeys because they want animals that are antibiotic- and hormone-free.


For the Redmers, a retired couple, raising turkeys is a labor of love—and an opportunity to give consumers a choice to buy organic birds raised on organic feed with truly free-range lives.


“I’m not going to say anything evil about the commercial producers because they do a great job of providing a lot of cheap food to a lot of folks,” Ann Redmer said.


She doesn’t imagine she can compete with the commercial producers—or feed the world—but she thinks it’s an “honor and a privilege” to feed people.


“It’s a philosophical issue. It’s about the treatment of animals,” Redmer said. “It’s about them having a fun turkey life.”


If turkeys are capable are having fun, the Redmers’ turkeys are having a good time. They tend to follow her around the yard and seem eager to show their best sides when the photographer arrives.


Once, when the Redmers were away from home, the turkeys got out. When she returned, they were gathered in front of the porch door.


“I think they wanted to be house turkeys,” Redmer said.


The Redmers’ birds will be alive until the Monday before Thanksgiving, when they will be delivered to Twin Cities Pack in Clinton. Buyers will get fresh, never frozen turkeys.


The birds are $75 each, and that includes processing and local delivery.


“You’re paying a premium for freshness,” Redmer said. “You’re paying for their sunshine and feed.”


She compared her prices to those in gourmet catalogs.


Bill Redmer has another idea. Against the advice of farmers everywhere, he named the turkeys. Name an animal, and you probably won’t want to eat it—or take it for “processing.”


“You tell people that for $150 you can save a turkey’s life,” Bill Redmer said. “We’ll take care of it for life.”


He was joking—but only a little.


Where can I find a local turkey?

-- The Redmers sill have turkeys for sale. They can be contacted at (608) 201-7188.


-- Basics Cooperative, 1711 Lodge Drive, Janesville, sells organic and free-range turkeys. Check the store’s bulletin board for local farmers to contact.


-- Another place to look is on craigslist.org, said Dale Wheelock, key leader for the Walworth County Poultry Project and vice chairman of the Walworth County Fur and Feather sale.


-- And for next year?


“I would say go to the fur and feather sale and buy a bird there,” Wheelock said.


Both the Rock and Walworth County fairs have fur and feather sales. Buyers can get turkeys from 4-H and FFA members who show the animals at the fair.


Participants usually buy four or five turkeys and then show one at the fair. Even if you get outbid on the bird of your choice, the participants usually have more at home.



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