Turkeys are often the centerpiece of a Thanksgiving meal. But the way they are raised and where they come from differs depending on where a person gets the bird.
Ben Grimes, owner of Dawnbreaker Farms in North Carolina, has operated his farm with pasture-raised chickens, ducks and turkeys since 2014.
“This is a very different model from the typical commercial production model that will be indoors, temperature controlled,” he explained.
This environment is not what many think of when considering large scale poultry operations.
“We use our animals not only for economic purposes, but also for the environmental benefits they can have on a land,” said Grimes. “More sustainable, I would even say that the word often used is regenerative. “
There is a lot to do in raising turkeys.
“In 2020, the U.S. turkey industry produced approximately 214 million turkeys and Americans consumed approximately 16 pounds of turkey per person,” said Beth Breeding, spokesperson for the National Turkey Federation. “Turkey’s production has changed over the years. We are able to use a lot of technology in what we are currently doing on the farm and that certainly contributes to the impact of production.
Either way, the same inputs are needed for turkey farms of all kinds.
“There isn’t a lot of work in every turkey, but there is a lot of corn and soy in every turkey,” said Daniel Sumner, professor of agricultural economics at the University of California Davis.
“Our market wants to eat poultry, pork and beef. You cannot have pork and poultry without grain inputs. There is no good alternative substitute for anything on a large scale, ”said Grimes.
He said grains are a necessary evil in this industry.
“While their direct impact on my land is very beneficial, it does require the production of grain on someone else’s land and the deterioration of the quality of that land to produce regeneration on this land,” Grimes said. .
An alternative solution is being considered: cultured meat.
“All the technology is there. All the technical know-how is there. It’s just a matter of applying it to protein production, ”Paul Mozdziak, a professor at NC State University, said. He is an expert in cellular agriculture.
“What it might look like is that instead of having your local farmer, you will have your local in vitro meat producer,” Mozdziak said.
“They might be talking about trying to grow turkey meat in a lab, but no one is talking about growing the whole turkey… we’ll all be watching closely in 50 or 60 years,” Sumner said.
“It answers some of our questions in terms of animal welfare and some of the environmental issues we have in our food system,” Grimes said.
But Grimes said it could move the industry in an unnatural direction with more highly processed foods.
“I really believe that raising animals in a way that mimics natural systems is the best way,” he said.
Although the cost of one of his turkeys may be higher, people get what they pay for.
“It’s going to be 10, 15 times more expensive,” Grimes explained. “You are paying for a happy turkey and the environmental regeneration of our food system.”
Farmers are gearing up for the busiest time of year for turkey sales.
“What I would say to people who really care about the environmental consequences of their meals – one thing to do is make sure you eat everything,” Sumner said. Because the resources have already been used to make it, whether you eat it or not.
“I don’t think I have the perfect system, but I believe what I’m doing can be a bridge to the future,” said Grimes.