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Turkeys -- how does feed affect flavor? Or does it?

 
Posts: 12
Location: Southeast Michigan Zone 6a
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Hi All --

Apologies for the not-strictly-chicken posting, but wasn't sure where else to put this question.

I just acquired two lovely Bourbon Red toms for a song, they are fully grown at 2 years old. These are BIG boys, I figure they will dress out to about 25 lbs each. I'm hoping to keep one for our holiday table and sell one locally. I figure they may be a little tough, like any older bird/heritage breed; I plan to butcher a few days before thanksgiving and then let them chill in the fridge for a few days to soften the meat a bit.

With pork, my understanding is that finishing animals on a certain diet (e.g., apples or acorns) can give wonderfully sweet meat. I've not heard of the same for poultry, though I imagine better feed will produce better flavor in the end. My chickens get some regular layer feed but mainly free range and forage on local grasses and critters, and they taste great. These turkeys have been also reared free range, and I plan to do the same of providing a base feed appropriate for turkeys that they can supplement with all the grass/fallen apples/pumpkin bits/etc they would like.

I wonder, since I have a month to finish them -- are particular foods I can offer that might enhance their flavor? Any other general observations about feeding turkeys are welcome!
 
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I really can't answer any of your questions but want to share this. About 15 years ago I got a couple broad breast bronze poults. A hen and Tom. Once out of the brooder and ranging about the yard my dad started feeding them Walmart dog food. About 2# a day. They grew and grew and grew. Huge. I was worried theyd taste like stale dog food, old oil or worse, but they were delishious! The Tom dressed out at 48# and I had to cut it in half to cook it... smoked one half in a large barrel smoker and oven baked the other half the next day. Probably best turkey I ever had. I can't remember exactly on the hen... I'm thinking she just went over 30#...  Frankenturkey...
 
Kim Williams-Guillen
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Annie Lochte wrote:I really can't answer any of your questions but want to share this. About 15 years ago I got a couple broad breast bronze poults. A hen and Tom. Once out of the brooder and ranging about the yard my dad started feeding them Walmart dog food. About 2# a day. They grew and grew and grew. Huge. I was worried theyd taste like stale dog food, old oil or worse, but they were delishious! The Tom dressed out at 48# and I had to cut it in half to cook it... smoked one half in a large barrel smoker and oven baked the other half the next day. Probably best turkey I ever had. I can't remember exactly on the hen... I'm thinking she just went over 30#...  Frankenturkey...



LOLOLOLOL! What a great story. FORTY EIGHT POUNDS is bananas!!! I do have some dog treats that I got as pig treats, but the pigs are pretty indifferent to them. (My picky pigs are another post, haha.) Maybe it's time to teach those turkeys to fetch!
 
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In my readings, the available information basically boils down to two things:
1. Don't feed an excess of fish meal, lest the meat taste fishy.
2. A fattening ration of grains and milk is far preferable to just whatever a barnyard bird can manage to scrounge.

When poultry farming began to become more and more specialized (late 19th to early 20th centuries), the primary distinction was between those generic barnyard birds that had just happened to be butchered and those that had been specifically raised and fed for the purpose of providing meat.  With the latter, a proper fattening ration usually consisted of corn and/or oats and milk; apparently the French liked to use buckwheat.  Then came the mid-20th century and the advent of confinement and commodity production, and information for the small farmer and backyarder seemed to come to a standstill.

All that to say, surely different finishing feeds will produce different results.  The question is, how different?  I would assume that a rather simple grain ration will result in a perfectly fine table bird.  Other things might create a more interesting or varied finished product, but the value (or lack thereof) of such feeds could probably only be known by a side-by-side comparison.

I really don't like the idea of selling the second bird.  Odds are a turkey that old will be more than "a little tough," and I have my doubts that a couple days in the fridge will really mitigate that.  Maybe, maybe if you actually hang it for maybe 10-14 days or so, but even then I wouldn't expect a great change.  It's just one bird, granted, but it runs the risk of negatively affecting others who are raising and selling heritage birds (of all species).  "Oh, I tried a heritage turkey last year, but it was so tough..."  That customer is quite likely put off, and maybe that customer's family and friends, and so on.  And for what?  So you can make a few bucks on one bird?

That said, you could perhaps sell it with the understand ing that it shouldn't be roasted; it's just not the right kind of bird for that.  Maybe suggest that your customer braise it for best effect?  We've also had success slow roasting old spent hens.  It's been a couple years, but something like 325F for maybe three hours or more.  It's not exactly tender, but with that long in the oven the muscle fibers are broken down enough to be palatable.  With a turkey, I should think that roasting it thus overnight wouldn't be too much.
 
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The adage is "You will taste like what you eat", this is a truth of all animal flesh.

The best tasting birds are those that are free range, eating the items they love, like grains, grasses, bugs and fruits and nuts. This applies to turkeys, ducks, chickens, pigs, cows, goats and all other animals used for food.

Redhawk
 
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I just read an article in the Art of Eating magazine titled, "Poultry and Perfection," which used interviews and farm visits and discussions with Frank Reese of Good Shepherd Poultry Ranch (and others) as its information base.  Frank Reese was quoted as saying that breed is one of the largest factors in flavor, and the author went on to taste-test three different heritage breeds of chickens raised by Frank (and so I would assume they were all fed the same stuff), and fourth and fifth varieties raised at other farms, and reported that they each had their own flavor.

I would agree with Wes on the fish meal (don't feed), and the grains and milk (do feed), as this is what my chickens ate, and they had copious amounts of fat at slaughter time.

I wonder, if one were to feed other fattening stuffs, if exactly what is being fed would produce different qualities of fat (like with corn-fed foie gras ducks, or avacodo fed pigs!).

On when to butcher, and how to age and cook it, it's being discussed now here on Permies.
 
Kim Williams-Guillen
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Corrie Snell wrote:I just read an article in the Art of Eating magazine titled, "Poultry and Perfection," which used interviews and farm visits and discussions with Frank Reese of Good Shepherd Poultry Ranch (and others) as its information base.  Frank Reese was quoted as saying that breed is one of the largest factors in flavor, and the author went on to taste-test three different heritage breeds of chickens raised by Frank (and so I would assume they were all fed the same stuff), and fourth and fifth varieties raised at other farms, and reported that they each had their own flavor.

I would agree with Wes on the fish meal (don't feed), and the grains and milk (do feed), as this is what my chickens ate, and they had copious amounts of fat at slaughter time.

I wonder, if one were to feed other fattening stuffs, if exactly what is being fed would produce different qualities of fat (like with corn-fed foie gras ducks, or avacodo fed pigs!).

On when to butcher, and how to age and cook it, it's being discussed now here on Permies.



Thanks for the info and link! I ended up mainly giving them scratch and letting them forage for grass on their own -- of all the things we offered them, scratch was the only thing they wanted. I'll know soon enough how they turn out. Fortunately (?) they're so big that it's extremely easy to catch them, at least compared to chickens!
 
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