Even if you had called Morning Joy Farm a month ago trying to get your hands on one of its pasture-raised turkeys, your hopes would have been dashed: The Mercer-based farm’s poultry is that popular during the holidays.
John and Annie Carlson have raised turkeys for eight years, and, year after year, their customers come back for more.
“When people first come, it’s usually because they want to support local (agriculture) and then they it taste,” Annie Carlson said.
Carlson said she never liked dark meat until the farm started raising turkeys, whose diets result in juicy and flavorful meat.
When butchered, Carlson said the broad-breasted whites that they raise have yellow fat, a result of the chlorophyll they ingest. And the skin is pink, which comes from the large amount of protein they ingest in the pasture.
“Crickets don’t stand a chance,” she said, and young green grass constitutes the forage that makes up 30 percent of the birds’ food intake.
This year the Carlsons raised 22 turkeys. They buy the birds as day-old poults, the term applied to baby turkeys.
The babies start each spring in a brooder, which Carlson said looks like a twin bed with heat lamps at each end to simulate the heat provided by a mother turkey. The Carlsons feed and water the babies twice a day for five weeks, until they're old enough to be transferred to pasture.
It takes about 16 to 20 weeks to get the turkeys to full weight. The turkey the Carlsons chose for their own table this year grew to 24 pounds.
“He’s a big boy,” Carlson said.
Carlson said raising the turkeys has been a great experience for their family. She said the birds are personable and curious, coming up to them and talking in pops and whistles.
“We really love them,” she said.
And raising the birds is a family affair. Each of the Carlsons’ children helps raise animals on the farm. The turkeys are a pet project of the Carlsons' 8-year-old son, Henry.
“All of our kids started out raising poultry,” Carlson said. “They’re small and easy to handle.”
The birds also grow quickly, allowing the Carlson children to earn money and invest in their family farm.