They taste so good 'cos they eat so good

With Thanksgiving just around the corner, there is nothing left in Rick Undesser’s turkey barns but feathers and dirt.

The slaughter began 10 days before Thanksgiving. A team of 24 hauled 350 birds a day from the barns to the butcher shop where they were slaughtered, plucked and packaged in air-tight plastic.

Then they were stacked in a refrigerated room waiting to be delivered to local restaurants and health food stores or to be picked up by customers who drive from across Illinois and neighbouring Wisconsin for a taste of farm-fresh, corn-fed turkey.

All except for a 19kg bird, the second biggest Undesser raised this year.

“We’ve got 40 people coming for dinner and we’re going to cook this one,” he said.

Thanksgiving is undisputedly Turkey Day, as 97% of Americans make a meal of the slow-cooking bird on the day that kicks off the holiday season, according to a poll by the National Turkey Federation.

A total of 46-million turkeys are consumed on Thanksgiving. That’s twice as many as they eat at Christmas and a third of the 264-million turkeys raised in the United States every year.

Most of those birds are raised in massive factory farms and then sold frozen at grocery stores for around 94 cents a pound.

Undesser got nearly twice that rate for his fresh, all-natural flock.
And he sold out weeks ago.

He gets a higher price because the birds simply taste better. He says one reason is because his turkeys are slaughtered just steps from their barns, instead of being loaded onto trucks and shipped as much as 160km before they’re killed.

“They taste better because they’re not stressed,” he explained.

The birds arrive as chicks in May, June and July so Undesser can offer his customers a variety of sizes. They’re kept in barns with heat lamps set to 35°C until they’re strong enough to be exposed to the elements.

Each pen is outfitted with a circular gate to keep the chicks from killing themselves.

“They’re stupid. They’re real dumb. If they get a little wet or chilly or scared they’ll all run to a corner and smother each other,” he said.

“You can lose two to three hundred very easily during the night.”

The birds are fed with corn that Undesser grows himself, and spend much of their time roaming around pens his parents used years ago to raise hogs. Once they’re about five or six months old they start laying eggs, which he also sells.

Most years he raises about 5 000 turkeys.

“We used to keep some for Christmas but that didn’t work,” he said, explaining that the turkey’s water supply would sometimes freeze in its taps.

“It’s much easier to have them all dead at Thanksgiving.” - AFP

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