Turkeys are seasonal, as most things are on a small family farm.
On the Saturday before Thanksgiving, the only turkey to be found on the Triple E Farms in Three Churches sat in a freezer, saved for the family’s Thanksgiving dinner.
The rest were processed a week earlier, with most going to the Farmers Daughter in Capon Bridge — the first time a Triple E Farms product had been sold there.
Farmers Phil and Tony Eash said they had been trying to interest proprietor Pete Pacelli for years.
The turkeys are just one recent addition as the farm diversifies. The Eash brothers have been there 3 years, and the 65-acre farm is still under construction.
The barn was finished a year ago, and they are now adding a wing to be used as a milkhouse for a “cow sharing” dairy in which buyers will purchase a share in a cow that will bring them a gallon of milk a week.
Unpasteurized milk cannot be legally sold directly to consumers, due to the danger of bacterial contamination, but it is better for you, the Eashes believe.
Their pastured turkeys cost more than those sold in supermarkets, and this is true of other Triple E products too — the chicken, “salad bar beef” and “forest raised pork.” All but the beef is seasonal, with cold weather limiting them to cattle and a few chickens for eggs.
The Eashes feel strongly about the nutritional value of farm-raised food, and its impact on human health. The family moved here in 2001, when Phil was just 4 and Tony 8, and in 2008 their father died of a heart attack. Research convinced them that a good diet was the best way to keep from falling victim to a family history of heart problems.
Research convinced them that a good diet was the best way to keep from falling victim to a family history of heart problems.
They are careful what they feed their birds and animals, and let them roam free, instead of crowding them into barns or poultry houses. The farm uses rotational grazing, moving all their stock from pasture to pasture — better for the animals, the land, and the people eating farm food.
A large electric enclosure limited the range of the farm’s turkeys. It took just 15 minutes to set up, Tony said, and was moved frequently to keep the grass fresh.
The enclosure protected turkeys from predators and protected the farm from the havoc caused by free-range adolescent turkeys, which are said to behave like normal teenagers, acting out, refusing to come home at night and running off with the car keys to which turkeys are also reported to be strongly attracted.
Turkeys, wild or tame, eat a lot of grass, and to supplement this, the farm’s turkeys get non-GMO grain from Sunrise Farms in Stuarts Draft, Va.
Such small-scale pasturing of turkeys is on the rise, even though pastured farm turkeys can retail for $5-7 a pound, according to a Huffington Post article updated this month.
Are pastured turkeys worth the added cost?
For many people, there is no choice. Commercial turkeys are affordable, and bargains on supermarket turkeys are a boon to struggling families.
The week before Thanksgiving, the Food Lion was discounting turkeys to 29 cents a pound with a larger purchase, and even the full price of $1.79 a pound was more affordable.
The Food Lion’s discounted turkeys came from Shady Grove Farms, labeled as raised by family farmers “trained in animal-handling practices.”
Shady Grove turkeys cost less partly because they are less labor-intensive. A story on the Shady Grove website mentions housing 50,000 birds in one turkey house, while Triple E Farms raised just 46. Also, commercial feed costs much less than non-GMO grain.
Are farm-raised turkeys really healthier, and is there a difference in taste? Next year Triple E Farms will allow interested people to see for themselves.
The Eashes think there is enough general interest to try it, planning to raise a larger flock, but slaughter them sooner, since “miscommunication” with the Farmer’s Daughter resulted in turkeys that grew a little too big this year.
Raising Thanksgiving turkeys normally begins in June or July, and turkeys can reach the 10-pound weight the Farmer’s Daughter wanted in 3 months.
This year the Eashes had a lot of 20-pounders, with their largest weighing 25, but they say they will not make that mistake again.