SHREVEPORT, La. (KTAL/KMSS) – Local farmers are teaming up to bring home-grown turkeys to the table this Thanksgiving.

Robert Cruz of Opt-In Farm spoke with KTAL/KMSS about the new local source for the festive bird offered through Mahaffey Farms in Haughton.

Opt-In Farm is a five-acre farmstead in Keithville. Robert and his wife Liesl work in music and theatre during the day and raise chickens, turkeys, geese and goats at home. This year, Cruz teamed up with Evan McCommon of Mahaffey Farms to offer locally-grown turkeys for Thanksgiving.

  • Bourbon Red turkeys at Opt-In Farm
  • Bourbon Red turkeys at Opt-In Farm
  • Bourbon Red turkeys at Opt-In Farm

“Evan and I discussed the possibility of doing this back in January and decided to move forward with this small batch as a test to gauge consumer interest. This is probably the first time that heritage breed turkeys have been available in this area for sale, so it’s a new experience for both producer and consumer. After the holidays we’ll take stock and decide about where we go from here,” said Cruz.

They brought in 31 poults, or baby turkeys, for the initial batch.

“These particular turkeys are Bourbon Reds, a heritage breed of turkey,” said Cruz.

Heritage turkeys are direct descendants of wild indigenous flocks. There are only 8 heritage breeds in the United States, including the Bourbon Red. They have a striking appearance, with rich, dark chestnut-colored feathers edged in black. The back half of their tail feathers and their wing tips are white. They’re known for their heavy breast and rich flavored meat.

“Virtually all of the turkeys sold commercially are Broad Breasted Whites, which only take 20 weeks to reach maturity. Heritage turkeys like ours are quite different than Broad Breasted Whites: they have a leaner frame, proportionally more dark meat, more developed flavor, and are generally smaller.”

He says production turkeys like Broad Breasted Whites are bred to grow rapidly and produce more meat. The Humane Society says that production turkeys often suffer from painful leg disorders and heart problems.

Cruz’s turkeys are raised in an environment that allows them to forage for grasses and bugs and gives them continual access to the outside. They also feed their turkeys a certified organic, soy-free feed. Opt-In Farm’s poults were kept inside until they developed enough feathers to be outside. Opt-In Farm uses a rotational ‘wheel-spoke system’ with a permanent shelter surrounded by moveable fencing.

“This method is in stark contrast to the common large-scale commercial method of raising poultry in confinement with virtually no access to the outside.”

Mahaffey and Opt-In began processing the turkeys on Monday at Mahaffey Farms’ processing facility. Cruz says the turkeys are processed in a respectful manner so that they don’t suffer. The turkeys are cleaned, plucked and the insides are removed before they’re chilled and wrapped in shrink-wrap bags for sale.

  • Processing heritage turkeys at Mahaffey Farms
  • Packaging and weighing heritage turkeys

There are a limited amount of turkeys for this trial run. Those wishing to buy one can place a $50 deposit online. The turkeys range from 8-20 lbs and are priced at $15/lb.

Cruz says this is a small batch to gauge consumer interest.

“It’s a new experience for both producer and consumer. After the holidays, we’ll take stock and decide about where we go from here.”

Although Dark Horse Farms in Haughton provided fresh Narragansett turkeys in years past, owner Melissa Erlund says this year they are preparing to move to Texas.