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  • Writer's pictureCliff McConville

Turkey Daze, Winter Hen Housing, Turkey Cooking Tips, Mandate Madness Part 2


We are entering the home stretch of our busiest few weeks of the year, with our last batch of Thanksgiving turkeys heading in to the processor early Tuesday morning. Those of you with fresh turkeys pre-ordered will be picking them up from the farm store on either Tuesday and Wednesday beginning at 11 AM (hopefully everyone with orders received their emails with pickup instructions already). Sorry but all the turkeys we raised this year have been accounted for.

I picked up the 125 turkeys that were processed this morning, and the average size this week is running about 19-20 lbs. About a quarter of the turkeys were very large, close to 25 lbs. so be prepared for lots of leftovers! For those visiting the farm store to get turkeys or other goodies we will have fresh baked pies from Van Laar's Fruit Farm back in the store as well this year, including their Dutch apple, pumpkin, and apple tart cherry almond varieties.

Saying farewell to the always entertaining turkeys for this year!

In other non-turkey news, last week we moved all of the yearling beef (except one lonely holdout) from our Dundee farm up to our Wisconsin farm for the winter. There they joined the rest of our finishing herd to continue grazing as long as the weather holds out. We calculate there is about a month of grazing left to do with the nice pastures there, unless we get some significant snow or ice, which will require us to start feeding hay.

Our last big project before winter sets in is to finish repairing the hoophouse and move the new pullets (young laying hens) in from their current housing in the mobile range coops. As noted in a previous post we were hit with a small tornado back in September that damaged one end of our livestock hoophouse significantly and we are just now getting the repairs finished up. We really like that structure as winter housing for the hens because it will warm up very nicely on sunny winter days (keeps eggs and water from freezing) and they have a large adjacent yard they can scratch around in on nicer days. Of course once the deep snow sets in they will not go outside much.

Hens enjoying their winter quarters in the hoophouse - fall 2019


We have already taken in four trailer loads of fat hogs for processig this fall, and should be getting some of that pork back in the store later this week. However we still have three more loads going in - one this week and two processing dates in late December. With all that pork we have plenty of openings for half or whole hog orders. Click here to visit the pork page of our online store to reserve your whole or half hog today.


In addition to the Van Laar's fresh pies this week, I also picked up a variety of artisan pork sausages from Hometown Sausage Kitchen this week. For this batch we had them make Smoked Kielbasa, Fresh Kielbasa, bulk Italian sausage, and bulk chorizo for use in your fall and winter recipes.

We also have these goodies in the store this week:

  • From Karolina's garden we still have kale, eggplant, jalapeno peppers, several varieties of squash, and pie pumpkins.

  • Fresh organic cranberries from James Lake farm in Wisconsin

  • Fresh organic apples and organic apple cider from Plymouth Orchards in Michigan

  • From Igl farms in Wisconsin we have a variety of organic potatoes

  • Local wildflower honey and combs from Willies Honey of McHenry

  • Big selection of All Grass Farms custom logo t-shirts made with organic cotton


I'm happy to report that since my last blog post, the Biden Administration's proposed plan to mandate COVID vaccines or weekly testing for all employers with 100 or more employees has been put on hold by a Federal Court of Appeals, but not struck down. Many expect this case will be heard by the U.S. Supreme Court before year end given the constitutional implications of the federal mandates.

As I was doing more research on the COVID vaccine post, I decided to order Robert F. Kennedy Jr.'s new book "The Real Anthony Fauci: Bill Gates, Big Pharma, and the Global War on Democracy and Public Health". Fascinating, extremely well-researched account of our battle with the pandemic and Big Pharma's complete takeover of our healthcare system. And maddening to see how many lives have been unnecessarily lost to the total focus on expensive and experimental COVID vaccines as opposed to early treatment with safe and hightly effective off-patent medications. Buy this book and read it (I will order some for our little bookstore). I have never been a big fan of RFK Jr.'s political leanings but this book transcends politics in search of the truth about what is going on.


Helpful hints for when you buy (and roast) your first pasture-raised Thanksgiving turkey from Shannon Hayes, the Radical Homemaker. Buy her book "Grass Fed Gourmet" in our store.

Please be flexible. If you are buying your pasture-raised turkey from a small, local, sustainable farmer, thank you VERY much for supporting us. That said, please remember that pasture-raised turkeys are not like factory-farmed birds. Outside of conscientious animal husbandry, we are unable to control the size of our Thanksgiving turkeys. Please be forgiving if the bird we have for you is a little larger or a little smaller than you anticipated. Cook a sizeable quantity of sausage stuffing if it is too small, or enjoy the leftovers if it is too large. If the bird is so large that it cannot fit in your oven, simply remove the legs before roasting it.

Balk about the price in private. Look, I’m not going to lie. If you are used to picking up a free turkey from the grocery store, then the $5-$8 per pound ticket on a pastured turkey seems expensive. If you’ll notice, however, the farmer selling it isn’t exactly getting rich off you. He or she is selling it based on the farm’s expenses (and grain, labor and processing are VERY expensive these days!) Factory birds from the grocery store are not cheap, either. The price is a ruse. You pay for industrialized food ahead of time through your taxes. I guarantee that, once you get home, experience the amazing flavor, the ease of cooking it and the fact that you don’t suffer gastrointestinal illness after (as so many folks do with factory farmed birds), you will agree the price was worth it.

Know what you are buying. If you don’t personally know the farmer who is growing your turkey, take the time to know what you are buying! “Pastured” is not necessarily the same as “free-range.” Some grass-based farmers use the word “free-range” to describe their pasture-raised birds, but any conventional factory farm can also label their birds “free-range” if they are not in individual cages, and if they have “access” to the outdoors – even if the “outdoors” happens to be feces-laden penned-in concrete pads outside the barn door, with no access to grass. “Pastured” implies that the bird was out on grass for most of its life, where it ate grass and foraged for bugs, in addition to receiving some grain.

Brining and Basting optional. If tradition dictates that you season your meat by brining your bird and basting it as it roasts, by all means, do so. However, many people brine and baste in order to keep the bird from drying out. With a pastured bird, this is not necessary, and basting only wastes energy as you continually open the oven door. Pastured birds are significantly juicier and more flavorful than factory farmed birds. You can spare yourself this extra step as a reward for making the sustainable holiday choice! (By the way, those turkey roasting bags are not necessary, either.)

Monitor the internal temperature. Somewhere along the line, a lot of folks came to believe that turkeys needed to be roasted until they had an internal temperature of 180 degrees Fahrenheit. Yuck. You don’t need to do that. Your turkey need only be cooked to 165 degrees. If the breast is done and the thighs are not, take the bird out of the oven, carve off the legs and thighs, and put them back in to cook while you carve the breast and make your gravy. That entire holiday myth about coming to the table with a perfect whole bird and then engaging in exposition carving is about as realistic as expecting our daughters will grow up to look like Barbie (and who’d want that, anyhow?). Just have fun and enjoy the good food.

Cook the stuffing separately. I know a lot of folks like to put the stuffing inside their holiday birds, and if Thanksgiving will be positively ruined if you break tradition, then stuff away. However, for a couple reasons, I recommend cooking your stuffing separately. First, everyone’s stuffing recipe is different. Therefore, the density will not be consistent, which means that cooking times will vary dramatically. If you must stuff your bird, allow for about 12-15 minutes per pound cooking time, but be assiduous about monitoring the internal temperature of the meat and the stuffing. Due to food safety concerns, I happen to think it is safer to cook the stuffing outside the bird. Plus, it is much easier to lift and move both the bird and the stuffing when prepared separately, and to monitor the doneness of each. Rather than putting stuffing in my bird’s cavity, I put in aromatics, like an onion, carrot, garlic and some fresh herbs. When the bird is cooked, I add these aromatics to my stock pot. The aromatics perfume the meat beautifully, and the only seasoning I wind up using on the surface is melted butter, salt and pepper.

Do not cover your bird! Covering it will only make the skin rubbery and soggy. Do not put tin foil over the breast. It is an unnecessary waste of aluminum.

No need to flip. I used to ascribe to that crazy method of first roasting the bird upside down, then flipping it over to brown the breast. The idea was that the bird would cook more evenly, and the breast wouldn’t dry out. When I did this, the turkey came out fine. But I suffered 2nd degree burns, threw out my back, ruined two sets of potholders and nearly dropped the thing on the floor. Pasture-raised turkeys are naturally juicy. Don’t make yourself crazy with this stunt. Just put it in the oven breast-side up like you would a whole chicken, don’t cover it and don’t over-cook it. Take it out when the breast is 165 degrees (see above). If, despite the disparaging comments above, you still want to show off the whole bird, then bring it into the dining room, allow everyone to ooh and aah, then scuttle back to the kitchen, and proceed as explained above.

Be ready for faster cook times. Pasture-raised turkeys will cook faster than factory-farmed birds. Set the oven temp for 325 degrees and figure on 8-10 minutes per pound for an un-stuffed bird, 12-15 minutes per pound if stuffed. Don’t worry — It WILL brown! But remember: oven temperatures and individual birds will always vary. Use an internal meat thermometer to know for sure when the bird is cooked.

Use a good-quality roasting pan. If this is your first Thanksgiving and you do not already own a turkey roasting pan and cannot find one to borrow, treat yourself to a really top-quality roaster, especially if you have a sizeable bird. Cheap aluminum pans from the grocery store can easily buckle when you remove the bird from the oven, potentially causing the cook serious burns or myriad other injuries in efforts to catch the falling fowl. Plus, they often end up in the recycling bin, or worse, landfills. If you buy a good quality large roasting pan, and you happen to have a copy of Long Way on a Little and/or The Grassfed Gourmet Cookbook (another shameless hint), I guarantee you will have multiple uses for the pan!

Pick the meat off the bird before making stock. If you plan to make soup from your turkey leftovers, be sure to remove all the meat from the bones before you boil the carcass for stock. Add the chunks of turkey back to the broth just before serving the soup. This prevents the meat from getting rubbery and stringy. For an extra-nutritious stock, follow the advice offered in Long Way on a Little.


Have a happy and healthy Thanksgiving with family and friends! For future editions I would love to get some great recipes from our customers, preferably using our farm-raised products. Feel free to email me your favorits.

Stay healthy out there!

Cliff, Anna, and the Farm Team

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