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Turkey day meal starts with the bird

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Visitors ogle the broad-breasted white turkeys at West Wind Farms near Deer Lodge, Tenn., where the birds are pasture-raised and run the range.

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By KEN BECKSpecial to The Wilson Post

Can we talk turkey?

I know, you’d rather eat it, but you’ll have to wait until tomorrow when about 88% of Americans will gobble turkey.

Oh, and by the way, the cost of a traditional Thanksgiving meal this year, including turkey and trimmings to feed 10, will come in at $42.91.

Did you know that Benjamin Franklin wanted the turkey to be the national bird? He said, “I wish the bald eagle had not been chosen as the representative of our country: he is a bird of bad moral character: like those among men who live by sharping and robbing, he is generally poor and very often lousy. The turkey is a much more respectable bird and withal a true original native of North America.”

Bad moral character aside, I know I’d rather eat turkey than bald eagle, and it just wouldn’t seem right to be dining on the national bird, so I’m glad Franklin didn’t get his way.

So what exactly do we know about turkeys? Well, that depends on whether you’re talking about wild or domesticated birds.

“They’re very curious. They want to come up to you and see what you’re doing and kind of peck at you, not hard, but like they’re tasting,” said Kimberlie Cole, who, with her husband Ralph, raises broad-breasted white turkeys to the tune of a thousand birds this year.

The couple has been pasture-raising, free-range turkeys for 14 years at their West Wind Farms, a small family-owned farm located near Deer Lodge in rural Morgan County, Tenn., about two hours east of Lebanon, where they practice sustainable, organic livestock and pasture production.

“They enjoy running around the field. They don’t all sit together in a flock but spread out within eyeshot of each other,” Cole said. “Sometimes you’ll see them running. They have the freedom to move around for sure. They’re fun birds. They’re funner than chickens.

“They’re raised on pasture 100% of the time on green grass, and we mix the feed ourselves using organic ingredients. Humans spend time with them every day, so they’re comfortable around humans. They are processed humanely at a certified organic facility,” said Cole about her fresh turkeys which are already delivered for Thanksgiving.

During the rest of the year, her farm offers turkey cuts and will have frozen turkeys available for Christmas. (For more information about West Wind Farms, go to www.grassorganic.com.)

The Coles do become attached to some of their domesticated turkeys.

“We had two several years ago we named Sugar Cube and Aspertain. They would love to be scratched on their backs. They will come up and beg just like a cat will,” Cole said of her late pets.

Another perspective, on wild turkeys, comes from Lebanon’s John Sloan, outdoor columnist for The Wilson Post and one of the last people that would ever have a turkey for a pet. In fact, he doesn’t even enjoy eating the bird.

“The wild turkey is similar to the domestic bird but has no butterball fat and its meat is a little coarser,” said the sportsman. “I just don’t eat it, and I have quit hunting them because I don’t want to hunt something I’m not going to eat.”

As for the personality of wild turkeys, Sloan says, “Paranoid would be the best way to describe them. They have the eyesight of an antelope. They get very quickly accustomed to getting fed. I have a neighbor who feeds them. They’ll come across the road and come up to her when she is putting feed out. Of course, it’s not legal to hunt them over bait.

“As a result, the turkey population in my neighborhood has exploded to the extent that one man has built a cage in his backyard for his grandkids to play in to keep the turkeys from harassing them.

“They are one of the smartest animals in the woods and at the same time one of the stupidest. A turkey does not have enough sense to get in out of the rain. I’ve seen them crowded up in fence corners and drown literally in the rain, but they exist against pretty good odds,” Sloan said. “Predators such as coyotes and skunks will eat their eggs, yet they are flourishing in Tennessee. In Wilson County we have too many. We have come from a time when to see a turkey in Wilson County was front-page news to a time when I get four

COLD TURKEY TRIVIA

The average weight of a Thanksgiving turkey is 15 pounds. Approximately 273 million turkeys will be raised in the United States this year.The leading producers of turkeys in 2008 were: Minnesota, 48 million turkeys; North Carolina, 40 million; Arkansas, 31 million; Virginia, 21 million; and Missouri, 18 million.President Andrew Jackson ranked turkey hash as his favorite food. When astronauts Neil Armstrong and Edwin Aldrin sat down to eat their first meal on the moon, their foil food packets contained roasted turkey and all of the trimmings. Approximately 2.4 million turkey hunters in the U.S. spend more than $1.79 billion a year on hunting gear.There are two communities in the United States named Turkey: Turkey, Texas, population 492; and Turkey, N.C., pop. 269. Salute! or five calls from people wanting me to come kill some out of their yard.

“Wild turkeys have been seen on the town square, in a field by UMC Hospital, and I’ve seen 40 or 50 pecking in my yard beside my air conditioner. They are a beautiful bird but very difficult to manage once they move into a subdivision. Out in the woods they are fine,” said Sloan.

The Tennessee Wildlife Resource Agency reckons there are 300,000 wild turkeys in the state and approximately 4,500 turkeys in Wilson County. And that means there are turkey hunters going into the woods after them.

American presidents don’t have to go into the woods or even enter the nearest Kroger to fetch their turkey for Thanksgiving. Since 1947, the National Turkey Federation and the Poultry and Egg National Board track to the White House where they present a turkey to the national leader.

One year, President John F. Kennedy passed on making the turkey his Thanksgiving dinner and said, “Let's just keep him.” And in 1989, President George H.W. Bush officially pardoned a turkey for the first time. 

Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush followed suit and also kept the turkeys away from the chopping block and dinner platter.

>From 1989 until 2004, the pardoned birds were delivered to a petting zoo at Frying Pan Park in Herndon, Va. In 2005 and 2006, the presidential turkeys were jetted to Disneyland in California as they rode in Disneyland’s Thanksgiving Day Parade as honorary grand marshals, and then given a retirement home at a Disneyland ranch.

Last Nov. 26, President Bush pardoned turkeys Pumpkin and Pecan in the nick of time, and it’s highly likely that President Obama will follow suit today and allow the turkeys to walk.

But that won’t stop the rest of the U.S. from eating about 48 million turkeys tomorrow. After that, well, it’s leftovers for a week. Burp!

Writer Ken Beck may be contacted at kbtag2@gmail.com

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