You’ve never tasted turkey like this. From birth to on-farm processing, Parker Creek Ranch turkeys are raised in pasture for a total of about 10 months (compare that to 16-18 weeks for your standard grocery store bird), eating GMO-free, soy-free high-quality grain, along with all the bugs and grass they can get their beaks on. Exercise and foraging allows the birds to grow and produce naturally, building up all the right fats and flavors that only a clean, pasture-raised bird can have.
Raising turkeys this way is a labor of love. It takes time and constant attention, flexibility, planning, and passion. And it’s the passion that comes through in every bite of this most special Thanksgiving centerpiece.
Travis and Mandy Krause, owners and operators of Parker Creek Ranch, will be the first to tell you that this line of work isn’t for the weary. It’s hard. It’s labor intensive and comes with a barrage of unforeseen obstacles and setbacks. Talking with the Krauses, it quickly became clear that they each had their own divisive emotions about their chosen line of work.
On the one hand, their lives emulate the pastoral dream some of us might imagine ranching to be: the setting is picturesque with open land as far as the eye can see and nothing but the big Texas sky above. They live on land passed through the family for seven generations with their beautiful 1 1/2 year old son Owen, two proper ranching dogs, and baby chicks, cows, chickens, and turkeys roaming the fields that surround their home. They wake up with the sun, work for no one but themselves, and spend their days in nature, nurturing land and life, learning and laboring day in and day out. It’s enviable, really. Yes, the fairy tale side of it is all very real, and that’s certainly not lost on them. But it’s not all lemonade on porches and frolicking in nature. The challenges they face are also very real — and they’re just the tip of the iceberg.
Sure, the manual labor is difficult, the hours are long, the unpredictable weather dictates what animals and crops do or don’t succeed, and there’s really no such thing as a “day off.” Those are all contributing factors. But the battle is bigger than that. And much of it stems from one thing: consumer demand.
Large-scale ranches and farms (also known as factory-farms or conventional farms) make up a very small percent of the total number of farms in the country, yet produce a mass percentage of the animals raised for meat. Because of their majority control on the market, they also set the standards for what consumers expect to pay for their turkey, chicken, beef, and pork. This is a losing game for the small-scale farmer. No matter how efficient or business savvy they are, offering competitive prices while also raising their flock at the standards they believe in is a hefty task, to say the least. Aside from scale of production, the cost of care that goes into raising animals with respect for their quality of life is a different business model entirely from what we see in the large-scale facilities.
For starters, the food. The Krauses are mindful of the benefits that high quality feed offers the turkeys, as well as the people who consume them. This of course is an expensive endeavor. Not only is higher quality grain itself more expensive, but buying it in significantly smaller quantities than what a large-scale rancher would buy, drives the cost up. Additionally, choosing an open-pasture lifestyle for their birds adds considerable cost and labor in order to maintain the birds’ welfare. Travis and Mandy abstain from treating their turkeys with antibiotics, leaving them with the challenge of fighting off disease using more organic methods. Pasture-raising also means the birds are exposed to the natural elements, putting them at risk of attack from midnight predators.
Then there’s the land. Of course, in caring for acres of land, there is always work to be done. But Travis and Mandy take it a step further. Travis, with a background in biology, and Mandy, with an education in animal & environmental conservation, understand the symbiotic connection between the well-being of their birds and the well-being of the earth on which they raise their flocks and their family. They take a holistic maintenance approach, rotating the birds between fields regularly. This ensures that there’s enough grass and insects for the birds to forage, and prevents the land’s resources from being over-used by the animals. This forward-thinking approach is no small task. It requires an incredible amount of labor, as well as an in-depth ecological understanding of the surroundings. No, this lifestyle is not easy.
Raising animals is never without hardship, though. So don’t get us wrong, factory-sized ranching is no picnic either. Conditions are dire. Cluttered and filthy and entirely indoors, the houses in which turkeys are kept would make a person’s skin crawl. Overcrowding is a long-time concern (as seen above in George Steinmetz’s photo from The New York Times, picturing Gary’s Gobblers turkeys in Iowa, packing as many as 60,000 turkeys into a 5-acre space). Birds are squeezed in shoulder to shoulder, leading to mentally and physically stressful conditions that can cause illness and death. Their food is cheap and fatty. It’s like eating a Big Mac and fries every day, nearly all day long.
Ranches on that scale are driven by one thing only: profit. And with the self-created consumer demand for low poultry prices, sacrifices need to be made. So while both small-scale and large-scale ranching each has their own set of sacrifices, it’s overwhelmingly apparent that the differentiating factor is where the burden of those sacrifices is placed. Unfortunately, at the factory farms it’s the animals and, inevitably, the consumers of those animals who end up bearing the brunt of it.
Mandy and Travis (and so many of the other ranchers and farmers we work with) embrace that quality and health come at a higher cost and more hands-on labor, never forfeiting the welfare of the animals, the land, or the customers who feed themselves and their families with the food they raise. To them, it’s a question of ethics – living clean for both the now and for the sake of future generations to come. It’s a way of life that considers the long term consequences of caring about what you put into your body and what you put into the land, while also working to grow a food system that we can all feel good about. As Travis put it, “If you don’t have a philosophy behind what you’re doing with your life, you should probably find something else to do.” This is what drives Parker Creek Ranch and all they do to put the very best on your Thanksgiving table. Now that’s something to give thanks for.