Josh and Alisha Weiser moved to a rural Marion county farm near Goessel seven years ago, with the dream of creating a sustainable existence for their family of six. In the past five years, farm-raised turkeys have played an important role in their slow food quest.
“We just like to know where our food comes from, what is in it, how it’s been raised,” Alisha Weiser said. “We don’t do it to make a big profit, but we like things here to be self-sustaining and to pay their own way.”
The Weisers raised several different types of turkeys through the years, finding that some years one type will do better than another.
“The Red Bourbon and other heritage breed turkeys are hardier and have fewer health problems,” Alisha Weiser said. “But the Giant Whites get heavier quicker and have more meat at butchering time.”
This year the family has several of each variety, including some Broad-Breasted Bronzes, also a heritage variety.
“It was a tough year for turkeys,” Alisha Weiser said. “Even our friends that raise turkeys elsewhere have told us they had trouble this year too.”
The Weisers started out in spring 2011 with 20 turkey chicks. They purchased 15 from a hatchery by mail and hatched five others out on the farm.
“The heritage breeds will lay and hatch their own eggs,” Josh Weiser said. “But the big white hybrids, they are not able to reproduce.”
New chicks start out in incubators; then they graduate to movable pens outside on the ground where they enjoy fresh grass, bugs, and dirt to scratch in. Once they get too big for the moveable pens, they are finished out in a large, wire-enclosed pen where they have plenty of room to romp, eat, and grow.
“We don’t call them organic because we do have to buy a commercial chicken feed mix for their final growth stage,” Alisha Weiser said. “But we feel that we are raising the healthiest meat we can and that makes us and our customers happy.”
Josh Weiser said that many of their customers are repeat customers, some having bought turkeys for Thanksgiving from them for several years already.
“One gentleman likes to come out and pick his turkey live,” he said. “Others just call and tell me what breed or size they are interested in and we go from there.”
The final product, ready the weekend before Thanksgiving, usually weighs from 10 to 15 pounds, depending on the breed of turkey chosen. Butchering is done on the farm, and often friends and relatives come over to help.
“It’s just so much more fun, and the job goes quicker when there are more people involved,” Alisha Weiser said.
Josh Weiser is responsible for killing the bird and getting the feathers off with the use of a big de-feathering drum machine. Then Alisha (and often friends) take over for the “gut-and-cut” process. The Weisers’ children serve as runners between stations, learning first-hand how meat makes it from the farm to the table.
“We’ve learned from experience that a good-tasting turkey on Thanksgiving is the result of ‘resting’ the meat after it is butchered and before it is cooked,” Alisha Weiser said. “We often put the butchered and cleaned birds in the refrigerator in sealed bags for several days before selling them or cooking them.”
While they have tried roasted, fried, smoked, and a variety of other turkey preparation methods, Alisha Weiser said her favorite way to prepare the turkey was to roast it.
“I just like to be able to stuff it with good stuff and to keep an eye on it in the oven,” she said.
The Weisers also produce a variety of other “slow food” products at their farm.
Slow food refers to a movement that places emphasis on food grown in local environments, using local ingredients, and advocating a community interest in the farm to plate process.
In addition to turkey, other homegrown foods and items available, as the season permits, include fresh goat milk, brown and green chicken eggs, honey, beeswax, Jersey beef, homegrown pork, garden vegetables, and homemade soap.
The soap includes ingredients from the farm like beeswax and goat milk. Current varieties available are peppermint and rose petals, and coming soon, blueberry oatmeal.
“I guess my favorites on the farm are the Oberhasli goats and the honey/beeswax,” Alisha Weiser said. “But we all like to eat meat so we’ll keep on with the turkeys too.”
Customers reserve Weiser Farm turkeys months in advance and the gobblers are sold out for 2011, but those interested in other Weiser farm products can visit their website at http://www.weiserfarm.com for more information.