Good Shepherd and Turkey Ranch Raises Turkeys Old-Fashioned Way

Good Shepherd and Turkey Ranch Raises Turkeys Old-Fashioned Way

Good Shepherd Turkey Ranch is populated with heritage breeds raised on open pasture

If you watched or read about the annual tradition of the President of the United States "pardoning" a turkey (actually, two this year) which then goes to live out its life at Mount Vernon, the home of George Washington, you may have noted that the "rest of its life" averages about two years.

One commentator explained that is because the modern Thanksgiving turkey is bred for fast growth from the ranch to its dinner table destination and the short lifespan reflects that.

One Kansan, heritage breed turkey grower Frank Reese, thinks that's a shame.

At Frank Reese's Good Shepherd Turkey Ranch near Lindsborg, the turkeys scratching around the pastures look more like the ones in the traditional Pilgrim's Thanksgiving posters and bear only marginal resemblance to the all-white breeds generally seen on commercial turkey farms.

At Reese's Good Shepherd Turkey Ranch near Lindsborg, the turkeys scratching around the pastures look more like the ones in the traditional Pilgrim's Thanksgiving posters and bear only marginal resemblance to the all-white breeds generally seen on commercial turkey farms.

On his ranch, he raises Bronze, Bourbon Red Narragansett, Norfolk Black, White Holland and Slate turkeys.

Reese's female turkeys live and lay eggs up to 12 years, he says, where the broad-breasted whites popular for their fast growth and larger, wider breasts, rarely make it past two years.

Reese said the lack of biodiversity in modern commercial poultry farming concerns him because uniformity of genetics increases the risk of a devastating disease outbreak.

"When all the animals have the same genetics, they have the same susceptibility to pathogens," he says. "That is risky."

Reese would like to see more heritage breed ranches like Good Shepherd, if for no other reason than preserving a widely diverse genetic base to fall back on.

He understands, however, why so many of the prospective ranchers who buy breeding stock from him don't last in the business.

Raising poultry is extremely hard work, he says, and making money raising heritage breeds the old-fashioned way is even harder than the work.

"The infrastructure is all about sustaining the industrial model," he said. "You can't even get turkeys into a processor unless you guarantee a supply of at least 10,000 birds."

To read more about Good Shepherd Turkey Ranch and Reese's thought on poultry biodiversity, go to the November Kansas Farmer website here and here.

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