Eat a Happy Bird

Why we totally love our Vermont turkeys.

Before noon on an autumn day a few years ago, I visited Stonewood Farm, an idyllic, free-range turkey farm in the little town of Orwell, Vermont, on the Connecticut River.

With me was Elizabeth Ferry, a writer and photographer who specializes in sustainable agriculture. Elizabeth is a long-time cooperative colleague and a good friend. She has an enviable spiritual connection to things, particularly land and animals. “Mmmm, the turkeys look good,” I said, thinking about Thanksgiving dinner. In her one-of-a-kind, turkey-whisperer sort of way, Elizabeth was more insightful. “They look happy,” she said. 

I can’t speak to the emotional state of farm animals, so I’m not sure if the turkeys were happy or not. (I trust Elizabeth on that one, as I trust her on most things.) But compared to their cousins on factory farms, I would certainly call them lucky. These days most of us know the reality of life for animals on factory farms. But at Thanksgiving time, the facts are worth repeating.

Turkeys on factory farms are hatched in incubators. When they are a few weeks old, they are moved into giant, windowless industrial sheds with up to 10,000 other birds. To keep the turkeys from shredding each other to death in the crowded conditions of the farm, parts of the turkeys’ toes and beaks are cut off. For the rest of their lives, the birds live under constant bright lights so they will eat instead of sleep. They are fed, doped, and manipulated to grow as large as possible.

The byproduct of this system? Filth. According to the USDA, factory-farmed animals produce 61 million tons of waste each year in the U.S., more than 130 times the volume of human waste. The EPA reports polluted runoff from industrial farms is the biggest water pollution problem in the country.

It’s a bleak picture. But scientifically, it’s quite an achievement. As WIRED reported in 2008, “the United States pumped out 33 times more pounds of turkey at a lower cost to consumers in 2007 than our farmers did in 1929.” Turkeys also more than doubled in size in that time, WIRED reported, from an average of 13 pounds to an average of 29 pounds. If you love a big bird at Thanksgiving, it’s a great time to be alive. Unless you’re the bird.

At the Co-op, we offer fresh, Vermont-raised turkeys. These are pure birds raised with no antibiotics, no preservatives, and no animal byproducts.

Co-op turkeys come from Stonewood Farm in Orwell and Misty Knoll Farm in the Champlain Valley, pristine, free-range farms where animals get plenty of fresh air and sunshine. This year, we are also offering Mary’s Free-Range Turkeys and Mary’s Free-Range Organic Turkeys. Mary’s turkeys are fed a non-GMO vegetarian diet of corn, soybean meal, vitamins, and nutrients.

Enjoy a happy turkey this Thanksgiving. Learn more about our holiday turkeys here. Preordered turkeys available for pickup starting November 21.

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Ken Davis

Ken Davis is the Co-op's senior copywriter. Email him at