This weekend, in a fit of impulsiveness, we attended the Pacific Poultry Breeder’s Association show in Stockton. Imagine something like 3,000 chickens, ducks, geese and turkeys, each one in their own cage, lined up on long rows of tables in buildings the size of warehouses, and you get the idea. Pretty much every breed of chicken ever developed sits on display to be seen and judged. Some chickens look as large as turkeys, others more like apples with legs. All of them seem colorful, and the variety of feathers, combs, colors and styles is truly astounding. A gentleman to whom we sold one of our turkeys had invited us to come, and we saw what used to be our young tom on display. I have mixed feelings about these shows. On one hand, the work of poultry hobbyists is why many of these breeds still exist–the enthusiasts have kept them going through the years when no one else had interest in them. They promote involvement by young and old, giving everyone a chance to participate in the world of livestock without needing to spend thousands of dollars. And they are interesting and educational. However, I also worry about the potential to spread diseases infectious to birds, since so many types of poultry are all placed together in proximity to each other. I also don’t like the idea of birds spending their lives indoors in cages, as some of these show poultry do. I met many people I knew, and had a good time in the hours we stayed.
If you actually read this site often and are wondering how you missed the December entry– you didn’t. We have been so busy that I never completed the draft until now. During the end of the year, we perform in vocal concerts. I sing soprano and Ken sings bass; we participate in a chorus/orchestra that plays Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony on New Year’s Eve and Day. This year the program also included Beethoven’s Choral Fantasy, in which I had a small solo part. That is utterly non-farmer activity, but everyone needs some culture now and then.
Life continues to have more turns that the average river. I visited vsitaprint.com over the weekend to explore some updated business cards, and was paralyzed by indecision in short order–do I have these cards printed to focus on turkeys? Or everything else? Recent events have moved turkeys very much into the limelight. We are poised to raise as many as nature can provide this coming spring, and maybe do very well with sales. However, live animals require more time and focus than plants, and this could add unwanted pressure to our lives. Or, it could be a road to an exciting and profitable venture. It’s hard to know from one side of the fence how the grass is in the other pasture, and looks can deceive. One thing is certain–we refuse to expand beyond the point where we can enjoy our animals and take excellingly good care of them. Some discussion went around recently about marketing the birds that we very small farmers raise. Other farms and ranches do very well by advertising their "free range" turkeys to the public. Except, "free range" often equals hundreds of birds in a very large pen, with fewer than two or three square feet of space to call their own. Because of the corwding, the ground is denuded of vegetation and the birds are fed a prepared ration. My cohorts and I don’t believe that this is "free range" at all. At Nevermore, our birds have at least fifteen square feet of space each, and that’s just in their actual pen. They are never IN their pens, so the number is really more like a quarter of an acre per bird. They do what they want, when they want, get premium supplemental feed, graze all they want, and have great turkey lives. Myself and other small operators locally involved with heritage breeds (who feel similarly about their birds!) are hoping that the conditions our birds experience will mean something to consumers who are able to pay for a premium turkey to eat. We also believe that the advantage isn’t just psychological, because (speaking for myself) the taste and texture of the meat has more similarity to pork loin than anything I’m used to in the way of commercial turkey. This year will be quite the adventure in marketing and economics!