Here on the ranch, we have more birds than we can count. I must admit, I have had a love affair with poultry since I was a child. I grew up on farm fresh eggs from chickens that ate grass. As a result, I never knew egg yolks could be yellow instead of orange until I was in school. I remember the first egg I tried to eat that came from a store. I thought it was sick or something was wrong with it. I didn't like that it had so little color and so little taste. Now, I see children look at my eggs with surprise at how "strong" the color and taste are. They think something is wrong with country eggs. It is all a matter of what you have been exposed to but once you do your research, you'll want nothing less than pasture eggs.
But eggs and meat are only part of it. I think poultry add so much to the farm. They have entertaining personalities and are simply beautiful animals. They are small enough that most children are not afraid of them and they ask so little from us. If you are just starting out with livestock, you must try a few birds. There are so many varieties to choose from though so we had to be selective. Each breed of poultry on the farm was selected for a particular reason. We narrowed our flock down to geese, turkeys, and chickens but only keep one breed of each to keep them pure.
MIDGET WHITE TURKEY:
We selected the Midget White Turkey for the taste. The number one reason we began raising heritage livestock in the first place was because of their taste. If we didn't feel they have something to offer, we would not spend the time or money to raise and care for them. We think the best way to raise any meat is on fresh green pasture and the heritage breeds do best in that situation. So for us, raising the commercial broad breasted Butterball style turkey just was not an option. If you prefer those, the stores are full of them but if you want superior taste in a safe and humanely raised turkey then you owe it to yourself to try our impressive Midget White Turkey.
TURKEY FOR THE TABLE:
We keep a small flock of turkeys as our breeding stock and collect their eggs each spring for the incubator. We have an excellent hatch rate and then move the new poults into a portable brooder to keep them warm and protected until they are feathered out and ready to go on grass. These are heritage turkeys and are meant to forage for most of their own food on pasture but that does cause a dilemma. We aren't the only ones that love to eat our turkeys. We have coyotes that invade the ranch most nights in addition to raccoons and hawks who wait patiently for the unexpected bird to fall victim. The predators are so bad here we have lost most of our cats to coyotes and have seen hawks come down on our patio just feet from our door to take a bird. We have a large fence for our poultry but Midget Whites fly and they are not aware of the danger so once they fly over the fence they are a free meal to many a wild animal. So, we must balance the need for protection and freedom to range with various means from electric webbing to moveable pens. In addition to the foraging, we feed a high protein diet of whole grains with no antibiotics or medication of any kind.
By November, the turkeys are mature and ready for the oven. We kill them here on the farm the old Testament way by bleeding the jugular vein with a very small painless cut and allow them to simply faint from the loss of blood. They are then plucked in a machine and cleaned before being washed and chilled for a wonderful table bird as you see above. This was a tom so the bump you see on the chest is not the pop up timer you get from the store bought turkey but the spot where his beard was attached. This bird is all meat. We add no saline solution or injections. I like to slather mine with real butter, sprinkle with salt and paprika, and then bake in a turkey bag for about two hours. You'll have some great broth to make dressing and the meat will be tender and oh so moist!
So, if you want a special bird next Thanksgiving, put in your order now because they will sell out long before they are ready to be processed.
The Midget White was created in the early 1960's by Dr. Robert Smyth at the University of Massachusetts. This bird was developed by crossing the standard white turkey with the Royal Palm (another rare and endangered turkey) and the resulting offspring were meticulously selected for taste and meat quality. The result was a smaller version of the large breasted white with a superior texture and taste. Unlike the commercial white turkey that must be bred artificially, this bird mates naturally and they have a very docile if not friendly temperament. In spite of its quality, it was never accepted by the commercial operations due to it's smaller size so this breed almost became extinct.
We became interested in raising Midget Whites after reading an article about their placing in a blind taste test. After all, our goal has always been to find the absolute best tasting varieties and then raise them to taste even better. If the Midget White is the best tasting turkey on earth, that's what I want. Here's a link to the article for your enjoyment: http://sifting-the-sandhills.blogspot.com/2008/04/heritage-turkey-taste-test.html
FRENCH COPPER MARANS:
I came across these on a farm forum once and had never heard of them so I was intrigued. They are from France and are still fairly new to this country so they can be hard to locate. The only way I could get my own was to order the eggs over ebay and hatch them in my incubator. I ended up with a small flock and then culled what I didn't like and used the remaining birds to raise more. Well, I got a little carried away and ended up with more birds than I intended but loved them so much, I kept them all.
They are a striking black color for the hens and a copper and black color for the roosters. A few of the hens have shown the wheaten color. Our roosters have the feathered legs and some of the hens which are common to the original French breed. The English preferred their Marans with "clean" legs so they bred the leg feathers out of them. Our flock has both. The best thing though is their eggs. They have the darkest eggs of any chicken and they live up to the French reputation of being great for cooking. What a treat with some fresh bacon in the mornings. We hatch our chicks once a year and then raise them up until they are ready to start laying at your farm. Check our blog page for updates when we have some for sale. Typically, they sell out within 2 weeks so most of the year we are sold out.
This is a large goose that is solid white once mature. They make a great table bird and lay a good amount of eggs. They are also the best guard animal for the farm you can find. Nothing new comes around without them knowing and they certainly sound out the alert. They hate snakes and will rid the area of any they find so if you have children out playing in the grass, this is a bit of insurance against snake bites.
Geese are grazing birds and were once very common on farms before the small farm became extinct. Where we grew up in the southern delta of Arkansas, they were used to remove grass from cotton fields long before Roundup was invented. Goose was the traditional fare for the Christmas table but are no longer available in most markets. Unlike turkeys or chickens, geese cannot be raised indoors on grain so they simply are not produced commercially. They need room and they need grass, which is what we give ours.
THE CHRISTMAS GOOSE:
I feel I was born 100 years too late since I prefer the foods and techniques used during that era (but I must admit I enjoy modern conveniences) so I wanted to experience the tradition of the Christmas goose. Every little farm back then had geese and it was a tradition in many parts of the world to have one for the Christmas table. So, my son picked a nice one from our flock and we enjoyed a wonderful treat.
Geese are not cooked in a closed bag or closed pan like turkeys. They need to be allowed to drip since they have a high fat content. But, once you prick the skin and bake until done, the fat is in your pan not in the meat. I cooked this one uncovered in the oven for 2&1/2 hours at 350. It is a very dark meat and has a more firm texture and deeper flavor than turkey. Not everyone likes it, some love it!
This breed of geese does not fly so we have had no problem with predators. In fact, not many things would take on a flock of geese. They are very territorial and aggressive when threatened. I'm just glad they consider us friends and not foes! Our birds mostly graze and we keep about 8 as our breeding flock. They lay huge eggs in the spring which hatch into the cutest little yellow chick you've ever seen
If you'd like something to keep the grass eat down around your place while giving you hours of joy watching them, maybe geese are right for you.