Video: Movement, The Key to Pasture Raised Turkeys
I produced a video showing how we move our turkeys on pasture. Yes, our turkeys are certified organic. And while that is important, it only tells you that their feed is free of pesticides, herbicides, GMOs, hormones, and antibiotics. The other critical piece is that our turkeys are moving to fresh grass on pasture. This is what makes pasture-raised a giant improvement over supposedly “free range” poultry.
This video shows how we make those pasture movements happen for our turkeys.
Hi, I’m Dave, your farmer from Wrong Direction Farm.
I’d like to show you today how we move our turkeys on pasture. (I think this video will actually use footage from a few different days because I’ve had some technical difficulties filming so you might see a few outfit changes and a few weather changes.)
On our farm we move our turkeys on pasture and we constantly keep them on the move. You know, if you look at a farm that’s labeled as free range, that’s a marketing term and that really describes raising turkeys or chickens in a barn. They’re barn raised birds and they have some outdoor access. Now in practical terms what outdoor access usually turns into very quickly actually is a dirt patch that then when it rains it becomes a mud patch. You know turkeys and chickens, they like to graze, they like to scratch. They’re digging in the ground for bugs. When they do that they’ll disrupt the grass layer and if we allow them to stay on one patch of ground too long they’ll just totally tear it up.
So we don’t want to you know let them destroy the soil by stripping all the plants off the surface. What we want to do is to kind of stimulate the soil by having the plants be disrupted temporarily (one, two, three days), and then the birds are gone. They’re on to the next patch of grass and they won’t be back on this pasture again for another year.
Now that level of disturbance is something we find that can actually stimulate the plant growth. It allows the turkeys to scratch in some of the thatch layer that builds up on top. And it allows the plants to grow up more vigorously in the future. So when we talk about regenerative farming, you know, this kind of pasture management is an important aspect of that. So let’s get the turkeys on the move.
The first thing we’ll do is to move the fences, and then we’ll move their shelter. That has a water trailer tagged on behind it so that’ll drag along with it. And then we’ll move the feeders and set up the fences again and maybe spend a little time with the turkeys. Hey there! You want to get in on, yeah, you want to get in on the shot? All right, let’s get at it.
So when we move the turkeys we actually have to move these net fences. We have these set up all over the edge of the field and these are portable fences. They’re plastic twine but they’ve got little stainless steel filaments in here to conduct the electricity. So once the turkeys learn about these fences, they get shocked on it a few times, they pretty much stay away from them. It keeps the turkeys in a contained area for a little while and then we can move the fence to the next spot. These fences are also really effective at keeping predators like coyotes out. Once the coyotes touch their noses to this they don’t want to come back and touch it again.
And yeah, if you’re wondering, we get shocked on these things all the time. I’ve got it turned off right now; obviously I’m touching the fence. But yeah, somehow I always manage to forget when I’ve got it shut off and I get blasted. It just hurts for a split second and then it goes away it’s a very short — I forget what fraction of a millisecond it is — but it’s a high voltage, very short duration pulse. So it’s just enough to let you know, “OK, let’s not do that again”. Apparently, it teaches the turkeys but not me.
So to keep the turkeys mobile we make sure that all their infrastructure is also portable. And so you can see behind me is their roosting shelter the turkeys don’t need as much protection as chickens from the outdoors. They’re much hardier birds and so they just have this: basically it’s a shade and it keeps a little bit of the rain off of them. It gives them a place to roost at night. They like to perch up on top of something. So this is an old trailer that we’ve converted to just have a slotted floor in it so the turkeys can roost along the slats.
And then over here we have some of the range feeders. These get filled up with about 800 pounds of feed and I can move them back to the grain bin when it’s time to refill them. And then when we’re moving the turkeys we just hook the tractor up and scoot them along to the new patch of grass. So that’s what we’ll be doing today
So here we are the turkeys are on fresh grass. I think they’re doing pretty well. Thanks for watching.
Movement through our pastures makes all the difference: for our turkeys, for our pastures, and for all of us eating turkey. If we left the turkeys in what would qualify for free range, or those brands selling kinda-sorta pasture raised in supermarkets and from meat delivery companies, we’d find that instead of pasture, our turkeys would be out on bare dirt. Turkeys are intense grazers, pecking and eating leaves. They also hunt for bugs and scratch up the litter layer at the soil surface.
If we were to allow the turkeys to park in an area for any length of time, we’d find a mess of bare dirt. In dry climates this results in dusty, cracked soil with a few inedible weeks. In our high rainfall climate we would find ourselves in a muddy swamp. In either case, free range permits a destructive kind of mismanagement that mistreats the soil and mistreats the plants. This cascades into water problems, both from runoff and from poor percolation due to compaction. And of course, the turkeys get little benefit. I suppose free range dirt paddocks are better than keeping turkeys stuck inside a barn, but they aren’t getting the healthy benefits of eating nutritious grass and bugs.
It shouldn’t be surprising that turkeys raised on lush grass with a cycle of pasture rotations and recovery periods for the plants turn out to make superior food for us. These turkeys are healthier and stronger.
Now, I’ll admit, we do trade off some growth rates to raise turkeys this way. But I don’t see that as a bad thing. Barn raised turkeys can grow faster, but pasture raised turkeys are actually getting exercise, so they are spending some of their calories on building functional muscles, bones, and tendons.
When you are eating our certified organic, pasture raised turkey, you’ll know the difference immediately. Whether it is a weekday meal with ground turkey or a Thanksgiving whole roast turkey, the taste is rich and pleasing. This is how turkeys should taste. The flavor tells the story of all the daily work we put in moving turkeys to the best grass throughout the farm.