Farmers’ hard work yields tasty, nutritious protein!
Did you know October 7 – 13 is Ontario Agriculture Week, designed to celebrate the abundance of food our farmers produce, the hard-working people this industry employs and the rural communities they support? Thanks to Farm & Food Care Ontario, a non-profit coalition representing Ontario farmers, I’ve had the privilege of visiting a number of area farms. Each time I am eager to learn more about how the farms operate and what sustainable practices they are implementing. I’ve seen a dairy farm that has implemented robotic milking technology, a mushroom farm, large grain operations and so much more. This year’s farm tour included a highly informative stop at a diversified cash crop farm (Cedar Lodge Farms in Morrisburg, ON) that’s practicing innovative soil conservation and tillage techniques that represent the future of responsible agriculture.
On this year’s Farm & Food Care tour, we also visited Ferme Joly Drouin et Filles in Plantagenet, Ontario (about an hour from downtown Ottawa). There, we met Jean-Francois Drouin and his daughter Marie-Pier, both of whom were enthusiastic about having made the switch from dairy cattle to turkeys six years ago (in 2005 they had added organic egg production to their business). Their farm produces 100,000 broiler-sized turkeys (see below) each year. Jean-Francois describes the work as “very fascinating, with lots of challenges.” Marie-Pier notes that much of their joy comes from simply being able to work with animals. “There are easy and hard parts to our work. We care very much about the welfare of our birds.” Her favourite part of the job? “When the tiny new chicks arrive!”
Ten things I learned about turkeys, thanks to the Turkey Farmers of Ontario and the Drouins:
1.Ontario’s 176 turkey farms produce 75 million kilograms of turkey (about 8 million birds) each year, representing about 45% of all turkey production in Canada.
2. There are three sizes of turkeys: broilers are up to 6.2 kilos (13 lbs) and take 9 weeks to reach their finished weight; hens (which can be male or female) are up to 10.8 kilos (23.8 lbs) and take 10-12 weeks to finish; toms average 16 kilos (35 lbs) and farmers can get these out of their barns in 16 weeks.
3. Turkey Farmers of Ontario is a 45 year old, producer-run, producer-funded organization that works to ensure humane treatment and care of turkeys while providing safe, high quality food to consumers. Their mandate includes standards and training for biosecurity, flock management and more.
4. The darkness of a turkey’s thigh meat depends upon the feed it is given. Over the past decade or so, dark meat has become much more popular than it was in the past.
5. Feed conversion is important; farmers want to use the least food to make the most meat. At the Drouin’s farm, they can produce 1 kg of meat with 1.92 kg of food. Good feed conversion gets the birds out of the barn more quickly.
6. Canadians consume 4.1 kilos per year per person of turkey. By contrast, chicken consumption is 34.6 kilos per person annually in Canada.
7. Turkey eggs – which are larger than chicken eggs (comparable in size to duck eggs) are not used for food or the table egg market as there are no grading facilities for turkey egg consumption.
8. The Canadian supply management system for turkey means that farmers ‘grow what we eat’; in other words, they produce just enough to meet demand (only 7% of Canadian turkey gets exported). The stability provided by supply management allows turkey farmers to earn fair returns from the marketplace, without having to rely on subsidies or taxpayer dollars.
10. Only male turkeys gobble!
Click on the links below to see recipes for some of my favourite ways to cook with turkey.