November 26, 2004

Heritage Turkey


And here I thought a turkey was a turkey:

Mary and Rick Pitman say the phone at their Fresno-area farm has hardly stopped ringing since summer. The question is always the same: Is there still time to reserve a heritage turkey for Thursday's feast?

"There's such a huge demand for these turkeys, I've never seen anything like it," said Mary Pitman. Even a heritage bird's price of $3 to $7 a pound -- a factory farm-raised turkey costs $1.40 a pound -- doesn't faze the callers.

Consumers with discerning palates say it's a small price to pay for a bird they find tastier and more flavorful than the modern, mass-produced turkeys found in supermarkets. People from as far away as Florida have been calling Sylvia Mavalwalla's farm in Petaluma to order one, and those who live nearby insist on driving straight to her ranch to pick up a fresh bird.

Heritage turkeys take eight months to fully develop, while a commercial turkey has about a 3-month life span. The Broadbreasted White turkeys were developed in the 1950s to come to market faster and fatter, and they've lost the ability to run, fly and breed naturally.

The Pitmans say their turkeys are fed a high-protein grain diet and are given four times as much roaming space as factory-raised turkeys. As a result, their live weights range from 7 to 20 pounds, compared with 27 pounds for an average Broadbreasted White.

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