Lessons Learned From Raising A 43-Pound Monster Turkey

Nov 26, 2015

Free-range turkeys roam the grounds at Polyface Farm in Virginia.
Credit Jessica Reeder / Allegheny Front

When it comes to the Thanksgiving turkey, size matters.  A 2o-pounder from the supermarket freezer is usually enough to secure some bragging rights for the cook. But for hobby farmer, Ken Chiacchia, a bird that size would hardly raise an eyebrow. He regularly raises heavyweights that get twice that size. But for him, what’s worth bragging about isn’t how big they get—it’s how they’re raised:

I sing you the song of “Turkmenistan”—a 43-pound monster of a Tom turkey we raised on our little farm.

“Stan”—as we called him for short—actually wasn't the only scale-buster we've raised. For a number of years, the processor we take them to has commented on how large our birds are. Our secret isn't actually a secret: We pasture them.

Now many of you will know what that means. But the official terminology is confusing, so let me get to that first. The byword in alternative food sourcing used to be "free range." When you used that term, many people pictured what we do with our birds: In the morning I feed them some grain and open a pop door so that they can go outside and roam our 26 acres. In the evening, my wife Heather closes the door behind them. Come sundown, they've filed back into the coop on their own, ready for bed time.

The USDA, though, gives an amazingly short definition of “free range.”

For more of this report, visit the site of our partner Allegheny Front