Health, Nature, Sustainability, Wildlife & Animal Rights

Heritage Turkeys: Expensive, but Worth Every Cent

How much did you spend on your Thanksgiving turkey, assuming you aren’t a vegetarian? Was it $40 or $50?  How would you like to spend up to $300 for a single turkey?  That’s what you’d be doing if you bought your turkey from the BN Ranch in Bolinas, Ca.  What makes these birds so special?

In 1969, Bill Niman started the Niman Ranch in an effort to raise meats that were completely sustainable and ethical.

Niman later married Nicolette Hahn-Niman, and the partnership between the environmental lawyer and animal rights activist was born.  The pair created a new ranch, the BN ranch.  Though they still wanted beef to be their main staple, they thought it would be a good idea to diversify in case they had some kind of problem with their beef.  They settled on turkeys.

wild turkey
Bill and Nicolette Niman raise heritage turkeys on their CA ranch.
Image: Shutterstock

They discovered just how many turkeys could fit into the back seat of a car – about 200 poults, or baby turkeys.  They actually loaded them up and drove across the country from Kansas to California with the birds in the car six years ago!

Yet, the Nimans had purchased the poults from Frank Reece at the Good Shepherd Poultry Ranch outside of Tampa, Kan.  When the Nimans procured the poults, they had just hatched from eggs laid by purebred heritage hens.  These special hens were certified by the American Poultry Association.

The Nimans now have a flock of over 800 – all descendants of the originals.

What makes the heritage turkeys so special is that they are more like what the Pilgrims would have eaten.  Their diet and lifestyle make them more like wild turkeys, rather than most of the birds you’d see in a store—artificially inflated with water and injected with antibiotics.  Store-bought birds are often fattened up so much that their legs can no longer support the weight of their body at the time of slaughter.

Heritage turkeys are fed an all-organic diet of wheat, sunflower meal, and organic soybeans.  That’s an expensive switch from a GMO diet.

“Feed being 70 percent of the cost of raising turkeys, we feel that our feed costs have doubled from if we were feeding them corn and soybeans,” said Niman.

Further, Niman’s turkeys are free-range.  They generally stay outside during the evening and move into the barn (on their own) during hotter hours of the day.  They have four foot fences around the farm, and turkeys have a limited ability to fly, so they can’t escape.

According to Amelia Posada, co-owner of the butcher shop Lindy & Grundy, “Obviously our price point is going to be higher than other places in town because of the price that we pay for our animal.  Yes, it is expensive, but it’s the harsh reality that this is the true cost of what these birds should be.

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