Despite rising inflation and a deadly avian influenza affecting the availability and cost of turkeys, Pennsylvania farms say demand for fresh birds remains strong ahead of the Thanksgiving holiday.
Bolton Turkey Farm in Bucks County raises about 10,000 turkeys annually. Torrie Bolton said her family’s farm expects to sell more than 4,000 of those birds just for the upcoming holidays.
“We do maybe a tenth [of that number] at Christmas, because people eat other things,” she said. “But everyone wants a turkey at Thanksgiving.”
Pennsylvania is among the top 10 states in the country for year-round turkey production. About 6.7 million birds were raised in the Keystone State in 2020, according to the latest data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Local farmers say they haven’t slowed down in preparing for one of their busiest times of year.
Even when all turkey orders have been picked up at the farm by Thanksgiving, Bolton said the farm will begin marking and selecting birds that will be used to breed more turkeys for next year.
“It starts all over again,” Bolton said. “There is never a period of time on our farm when there are no turkeys. There’s always turkeys.”
At Lindenhof Farm in Lancaster County, about 700 birds are being processed and prepared for people to pick up over the next couple of days.
“Some of these repeat customers have been doing it the last 10, 15 years from us,” said farm owner Axel Linde. “It’s fun to see their faces again every year. That’s the fun part of it.”
Breeding, raising, and protecting hundreds of turkeys just for this holiday can be exhausting, Linde said, “but we’ve been doing it for 15 years now.”
During the last two years of the COVID-19 pandemic, Linde said people downsized their turkey orders and stuck with medium or small birds.
“But now, this year that people are gathering again in larger groups, we’re selling a lot more jumbo turkeys,” Linde said, referring to birds over 25 pounds. “Still a significant amount of small turkeys and medium turkeys, too, but people are going a little bit bigger this year.”
This is the first Thanksgiving turkey season for David Perlman, who became the new owner of Quarry Hill Farm in Montgomery County in July 2021.
There wasn’t enough time to raise birds for holiday sales that year, but Perlman said this year, they offered three different sizes of heritage turkeys. The farm sold out and he’s preparing under 100 birds for pickup this coming week.
The farm plans to do more next year. As a nonprofit, Perlman said all the proceeds from turkey sales will be donated to hunger organizations.
“Our goal has always been to give back. So, 100% of the profit from the farm…will go to different charities that are feeding young families, whether that be here or abroad,” he said. “That’s why we started the farm.”
As far as cooking turkeys go, Bolton recommends cooking fresh birds upside down.
“So that the juices that are in your back run down into your white meat and keep it nice and juicy,” she said. “Also, your thighs and your leg is where it often doesn’t get finished quite as much, so if you’re upside down, that’s closer to the heat source and it seems to work out well.”
Over the years, Linde said he’s seen and heard of all the different ways people choose to cook their birds, some more unique than others.
“One lady did it in the pizza oven out in their backyard, because they lost electricity,” Linde said. “They fired up their wood stove out in the backyard, and they’ve been doing that ever since, enjoying their turkey in their pizza oven.
Farmers recommend that the best time to pick up fresh turkeys in order to avoid having to freeze them is in the four days leading up to Thanksgiving.