Consumers gobble up heritage turkeys grown on small acreages
- Published: Thursday, Nov. 17, 2016
WINIGAN, Mo. – There is high demand for Missouri-raised heritage turkeys from Winigan Farms.
The turkeys are part of Rod Belzer’s small-acreage farm efforts, says Dan Downing, state specialist for University of Missouri Extension. Downing works with farmers who grow products for farmers markets and specialty markets such as public institutions. He says Belzer’s operation is a good example of how landowners can make income even on small acreages.
The turkeys fetch a premium price—$4.50 per pound—and are sold in advance of delivery. This is the second year Belzer and friends Roger and Jolene Edwards raised turkeys. Sixteen turkeys will be butchered this weekend, put in ice packs and delivered to customers at a central location in Kirksville.
There is a learning curve to raising turkeys. Eggs are hatched in Winigan. Belzer and the Edwardses receive the poults when they are two days old.
Last year, the turkeys had an 18-week growing period. This year, they grew 28 weeks for larger birds. Next year, Belzer and the Edwards plan to grow more birds earlier.
The birds grow in a fenced pasture on the farm but are protected in coops at night. Predators killed 10 turkeys this spring, a sizable loss.
Winigan was once the “turkey capital” of the world. Remnants of the Borron turkey hatchery and farm are seen on the rolling hills of Sullivan County.
Belzer says his family, and many others in the area, raised 4,000-5,000 turkeys annually to sell to Borron. Belzer returned to the family farm after retirement.
Winigan Farms raises heritage turkeys—breeds from the past. They lack the huge white breast common in turkeys sold today, but they are more flavorful, Belzer says. The mixed flock includes a colorful array of Blue Slate, Black Spanish and Bronze turkeys.
His turkeys have access to a steady supply of bugs, grass and leftover fruits and vegetables from garden produce raised for the Kirksville farmers market. Like humans, the birds enjoy a variety of textures and colors in their diet.
Belzer works with other small-acreage owners to grow products for the farmers markets. He and a friend are growing 1,000 cloves of heirloom garlic. Another friend has beehives that will provide honey.
Belzer also hopes to grow artichokes, and he experiments with elderberries. He says he wants to provide products that others don’t offer. He works with MU Extension horticulturist Jennifer Schutter in the Missouri Master Gardeners program and through the farmers market.
Downing says Belzer’s creative search for niche markets opens new opportunities to increase sales and income.
MU Extension and Lincoln University Extension faculty will offer a program on generating income from small acreages in the near future.
Writer: Linda Geist