NEW SHARON, Maine (NEWS CENTER) – As turkey farmers across the state celebrate a BIG year, I wanted to find out what all the excitement was about!
Farms across the state report the demand for locally raised turkey is up this year.
The number of young turkeys (poults is the technical term) brought into the state increased by 30 percent this year, according to the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry. Simply put, that is a good sign for the industry.
But why do more people seem to be buying from local farms instead of just going to the store? I went to one of the largest turkey farms in the state: Pine Tree Poultry in New Sharon.
By and large, I mean they've raised THOUSANDS of those big birds this year.
"From June right until now it's stress,” Tim Henderson said.
Henderson and his wife, Pauline, are the ones just crazy enough to run a poultry farm. They are "from away" and took over the farm two years ago.
They said there business this year has increased by as much as 50 percent.
"It's pretty intense. Long days and long hours," Pauline said.
We won't talk about the part where the turkeys meet their fate. Instead, I followed Tim around while he hauled the ready-to-be-cooked turkeys from a refrigerated trailer to another storage facility in their small shop and processing center.
Let's just say I did more observing than actually carrying the large heavy boxes.
The couple and their handful of dedicated employees have been juggling hundreds of turkeys and orders ahead of the holiday.
Between contracts with stores across the state and individual sales at their farm, they plan to sell more than 11,000 turkeys for Thanksgiving alone. (That's A LOT of turkey!)
But still...why are more people going to farms like theirs?
The Hendersons said a lot of it has to do with people knowing where the bird came from. They said people ask questions and like to know that it's free of antibiotics and preservatives. It's just a more personal experience, too!
"It's really a family affair. Coming to the farm to get their bird is almost as exciting as picking their Christmas tree!" Pauline Henderson said.
That was the case on my visit. All sorts of people poured into their small store to pick up their orders, shelling out more than $4 per pound for the perfect bird.
"When they walk out with a turkey, it's perfect. A great feeling," Tim Henderson said.
It's a feeling the Henderson are running with. After all, they took a risk moving to Maine and taking over the farm. Come to find out, they have found Maine to be a more than welcoming place.
"Overall farming is accepted up here more so than any other state. To me that's rewarding in and of itself," Tim Henderson said.
And it's not just the turkey for the Thanksgiving table we are talking about here. They even make a number of pre-made meals, like fresh turkey pies. (I had a taste, and it was delicious.)
The really exciting part though was facing my fear and meeting the nearly 300 turkeys in one of their barns. They were spared until Christmas, but still did not seem to like me there.
This is some of the proof:
The take-away: It's a lot of work dealing with the chaos of hundreds upon hundreds of turkeys. I don't think the Hendersons are sleeping much lately. So, it's probably a good thing that more and more people are making the hard work of farmers like them all across the state pay off!