What should you be looking for when shopping for the big-day bird? Here’s a quick guide to finding the good, better, and best options for your special Thanksgiving meal.
Just because it says “no added growth hormones” doesn’t mean the turkey has been raised humanely. In fact, this is just a tricky marketing tool since federal law prohibits the use of hormones when raising turkeys. Instead, look for things like “no antibiotics,” “free-range,” or “cage-free.”
Because the USDA definition of “free-range” is rather vague, it’s never a bad idea to check out the farm where your turkey came from. If that’s not practical for you, look for “pasture-raised” turkeys. While there is no regulated definition, the term pasture-raised implies the turkey is free to roam the pasture and eat a natural diet consisting of nutrient-rich grass and insects. These turkeys may also receive small amounts of flaxseed, a good source of omega-3s. Also look for an organic turkey. In general, the term organic may only be applied if the farmland is treated in a way that conserves natural resources and biodiversity.
Another certification to be on the lookout for is “5-Step™ Animal Welfare Rated.” Implemented by the nonprofit Global Animal Partnership, this unique approach to certification emphasizes welfare through the physical condition and behavior of the animals. Several retailers such as Whole Foods only sell turkeys that are 5-Step certified.
Although harder to find these days, there’s no better-tasting bird than a heritage breed. Unfortunately, 99 percent of turkeys raised in the U.S. are Broad-Breasted Whites (not heritage)—which were specifically developed to have a meaty breast. Because of their disproportionate bodies, if these turkeys are not raised humanely, they’re at risk for a host of complications, such as trouble walking and mating on their own. For the best option, look for farms that raise the following heritage breeds: Standard Bronze, Bourbon Red, Narragansett, Jersey Buff, Slate, Black Spanish, White Holland, Royal Palm, White Midget, and Beltsville Small White.
Ready to go bird shopping? We’ve rounded up a list of farms and retailers that offer humanely treated, pasture-raised Broad-Breasted Whites and heritage breeds. But be sure to place your order early, as many are quick to sell out. And check out this easy guide to cooking a heritage turkey. Happy Thanksgiving!
Dominion Valley Farm, Allenton, WI—SOLD OUT
Farmer Nick’s LLC, Walworth, WI
Jeff Leen Farm, Random Lake, WI
Nature’s Niche Farm, Burlington, WI
Ruegsegger Farms, Blanchardville, WI
Wandering Peacock Farm, Reeseville, WI
Whole Foods, various locations, Greater Milwaukee
Outpost, various locations, Greater Milwaukee
Braise On the Go, Home Delivery
Kettle Range Meats, Milwaukee, WI
Bavette La Boucherie, Milwaukee, WI
Milwaukee Winter Farmers Market, Milwaukee, WI
(Nature’s Niche, Dominion Valley, and Jeff Leen are among the vendors at the Milwaukee Winter Farmers Market)