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Bourbon Red Turkeys A Delicious Link To The Past
When Tom and Sara Austin added 25 Bourbon Red turkeys to their flock in 2006, they weren't sure there would be a market for them. The turkeys are a heritage breed, and have darker meat than hybrid turkeys.
    "They sold so well we almost didn't get one for our Thanksgiving dinner," Sara says. They raised 65 of the heritage birds in 2007 and plan to raise more than 100 this year.
    The Austins raise turkeys, chickens, beef and pigs on their 40-acre Fountain, Minn., farm and direct market it at a farmer's market and through newsletters that list dates when fresh meat will be available for pick-up on the farm.
    Tom helped on his grandfather's farm, Sara says, and has farming in his blood, though he works a fulltime job. After the couple bought their property and built a home in 2003, he read books on how to develop a small-scale sustainable family farm. The Austins started with chickens and then added other animals. The beef herd is completely grass-fed and finished, and the other animals graze on pasture and are fed some grain.
    Raising Bourbon Red - and white - turkeys from one-day-old to seven weeks in a brooder pen is touchy as they are vulnerable to disease.
    "Once they hit seven weeks and you let them out, it's like nothing will kill them," Sara says, noting that the Bourbon Reds seem to be hardier and eat less grain and more grass than white turkeys.
    Tom uses electrified netting to protect his poultry from predators. About once a week, he moves the fencing and poultry house on skids to new pasture. The birds follow the larger animals and pick through the dried manure to spread it and speed up the composting process.
    Bourbon Reds take longer to put on weight than hybrid breeds. Around May 7, the Austins purchase day-old Bourbon Red poults from Hawks Valley Farm in Spring Grove, a nearby business. By Thanksgiving the turkeys weigh 8 to 15 lbs. Conventional domestic turkeys, started in August, weigh 12 to 15 lbs., and up to 20 lbs. when started in July.
    Cost for the poults is higher, too. The Austins paid $5.50 apiece for day-old Bourbon Reds compared to $3.80 apiece for white poults. The Austins sell the processed, vacuum-sealed turkeys fresh to customers who pick them up on the farm the Saturday before Thanksgiving. In 2007, Bourbon Reds sold for $3.29/lb. compared to $2.39/lb. for conventional birds. Sara says she knows of others who sell the Bourbon Red turkeys for $5/lb. and more. Due to high feed costs, per pound prices will likely increase this fall.
    The Austins aren't concerned about finding buyers, however. Customers - many from the Twin Cities - love the rich flavor of the heritage bird. "The meat has a wonderful texture," Sara says. The Austins also sell fresh meat to area restaurants and grocery stores. They don't ship outside the area.
    "We're more about local," Sara says. "We like the direct market because you meet your customers face to face, and they get to see how their food is raised. We find it very rewarding, providing a high quality product, raised in good conditions."
    For others interested in raising Bourbon Red turkeys, Sara suggests doing a lot of research to learn about raising them. For marketing, she recommends getting involved locally and setting up a website. The Internet is also a good place to find poults for sale.
    Contact: FARM SHOW Followup, Tom and Sara Austin, Hilltop Pasture Family Farm, 26134 Jasmine Dr., Fountain, Minn. 55935 (ph 507 867-0096; hpff@myclearwave.net; www. hilltoppasturesfamilyfarm.com).

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2008 - Volume #32, Issue #2