Saturday, November 23, 2013

Pastured Turkey vs Factory-Farmed: What's the Difference?

Here's a short primer for friends and family making the switch from store-bought, i.e. factory-farmed Thanksgiving turkey to pastured birds.

Your locally raised, pastured turkey will be leaner, have less breast meat and cost more. If you've been eating factory-farmed turkey for 30 or 40 years, you may be even be disappointed.

Here's why:

1.  Pastured birds generally eat a diet rich in protein but supplemented with grain (usually corn.) Since flavor comes from the bird's diet, this will impart a different flavor to your Thanksgiving turkey.

Conventionally-grown turkeys eat nothing but corn-based feed and could not live long at all in typical factory conditions without massive doses of antibiotics to keep them alive. The antibiotics then become part of your feast.

2. Pastured turkeys often range freely - even flying to roost in trees as wild turkeys do; the exercise makes the texture of the meat firmer.

Turkey farm birds never go outdoors, never see the sun, have no pasture in which to roam. Instead, they are packed in cages body to body and cannot move, even to escape their own waste. To prevent injury to other birds in such cramped space, factory turkeys not only have their toe nails cut off but part of their toes as well. Their beaks are also clipped and often their wings.

3. Pastured birds have less white meat.

Factory-farmed turkey is engineered to produce huge white-meat breasts. These disproportions prevent it from walking. It cannot fly. It could not reproduce at all except through artificial insemination. Furthermore, its musculature is so weak, a few days outdoors would probably kill it.

4. Pastured turkeys are older than factory-farmed birds; it takes longer to raise a bird of comparable size. Age too will change the texture and flavor of the meat.

Because time is money, growth hormones are administered so they will grow fast and grow fat to be slaughtered while still adolescents, typically in 42 days. Compare that to 28 months at a heritage pasture operation.

5. Pastured birds won't come with a pop-up button to signal when it's done.  Pastured turkey? Two words: meat thermometer.

Some people don't care where the food animals came from and care even less whether they were happy before they were slaughtered. And some people on the opposite end of the spectrum won't eat animal meat at all no matter how it is ethically husbanded and humanely killed.

Chacun a son gout. Each to his own taste.

At my Thanksgiving table, ethical tastes better no matter how different it is from my family traditions.

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