Talking Turkeys | Living the Country Life
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Talking Turkeys

This nostalgic breed fits right in on a modern farm where heritage values are a way of life.
  • Talking turkeys at Thundering Hooves

    Clarice Swanson stands in her farmyard near Walla Walla, Washington, amid a flock of Unimproved Standard Bronze turkeys gobbling, clucking, and cooing around her. The former schoolteacher, who now hosts school field trips to her farm, sees a huge divide between rural communities and urban developments. She asks schoolchildren who come to see the turkeys, cattle, sheep, and fields, "You know your doctor, your dentist, and your teachers. Why don’t you get to know your farmers?"

    Date Published: April 13, 2012
    Date Updated: April 30, 2012
  • Thundering Hooves

    Her own five children have first-hand knowledge of where their food comes from. Clarice, her husband, Keith, and their family live in big-wheat country. Their family business, Thundering Hooves (www.thunderinghooves.net), sells 100% grass-fed beef and pasture-finished meats, including turkey, at farmers markets in Seattle.

    Date Published: April 13, 2012
    Date Updated: April 30, 2012
  • Twin turkeys

    Twins Anthony (left) and Isaac (right) Swanson, 8, make friends with a couple of month-old turkey poults.

    Date Published: April 13, 2012
    Date Updated: April 30, 2012
  • Fifth Generation

    Clarice's brother, Joel Huesby, tends the organic pastures where they raise beef on the farm their great-grandparents established in 1909. Joe's children and Clarice and Keith's children are now the fifth generation to be working the land.

    Date Published: April 13, 2012
    Date Updated: April 30, 2012
  • Just hanging around

    Jessica Swanson, 10, needs no ladder to find a nice group of ripe cherries.

    Date Published: April 13, 2012
    Date Updated: April 30, 2012
  • Grazing clovers and grasses

    The farm's environmental philosophy is "Nature knows best." For thousands of years, multiple species of animals grazed unplowed fields of clovers and grasses. The sod held the moisture, the clovers added nitrogen for the grasses, the animals recycled the plants, and the microorganisms rejoiced! This was--and is--sustainable agriculture.

    Date Published: April 13, 2012
    Date Updated: April 30, 2012
  • Organic Soil

    Two jars show the difference between the water-holding capabilities of organic soil (right) and soil that is still being converted to organic status.

    Date Published: April 13, 2012
    Date Updated: April 30, 2012
  • Unimproved Standard Bronze turkey

    Clarice explains their philosophy further, pointing to the flock of turkeys noisily milling about the yard. "This is the bird your grandfather might have eaten, a native to North America and a cousin to the wild turkey." Farmers domesticated the breed, known as the Wishard strain of the Unimproved Standard Bronze turkey. Mark Wishard developed the turkeys in Oregon and remnants of the breed remain unimproved. That is a good thing, says Clarice. "They can still fly and mate, and they have not been broad-breasted beyond their normal biological state."

    Date Published: April 13, 2012
    Date Updated: April 30, 2012
  • Grow at a natural pace

    The Wishard turkeys won't win a race to market, but that is OK, says Clarice. "On our farm, we're trying to do things as naturally as possible, so these birds make sense for us. It takes seven months to grow the bird to market weight; industrial turkeys take four months," she notes. "Industrial turkeys grow so fast they have weak internal organs and leg problems. They are not as healthy because they are spending all their energy growing and eating, and not living and taking in the natural pace of things."

    Date Published: April 13, 2012
    Date Updated: April 30, 2012
  • Wishard turkey

    The Wishard turkeys can withstand the outdoors with proper shade and shelter, she says. There are more than 3,000 feathers on a Wishard, compared to about 2,000 feathers on a domesticated White Holland turkey, which would have a much harder time surviving outside.

    Date Published: April 13, 2012
    Date Updated: April 30, 2012
  • Gobble

    The Wishard turkeys "are a joy to have around," says Clarice, "and they actually know how to gobble. They're a happy bird. The hens make a cooing sound."<br>She and Keith first heard of heritage turkeys at a Slow Food conference. A speaker was talking about domestic breeds and their slide into oblivion. "We were intrigued," says Clarice. "So a few phone calls later we were in the turkey business. We don't have thousands of them, but we raise enough birds to supply our customers, and they're a great educational tool, too."<br>On the other hand, she says, "We're not a zoo. The flock needs to support itself and to give economic payback to the farm." There are only a dozen farms raising Wishard turkeys in the U.S., she says, mainly because the breed doesn't meet the demand for cheap food. <br>

    Date Published: April 13, 2012
    Date Updated: April 30, 2012
  • Tom turkey

    A tom struts for visitors.

    Date Published: April 13, 2012
    Date Updated: April 30, 2012
  • Grass-fed beef and lamb

    The turkeys are wildly popular with Clarice's customers in November, but the rest of the year the focus is on grass-fed beef, lamb, and some natural pork raised on a local farm. Clarice believes cattle raised with 100% of their diet on grass, alfalfa, and other forages provide a richer-flavored beef. She says eating the grass-fed beef, as compared to corn-fed beef, is just like eating heritage turkeys as compared to broad-breasted turkeys. It has more flavor with the right kind of fats. <br>"I would much prefer to see turkeys and cows in a pasture than to see them in warehouses and feedlots," she says. "Just looking at how they interact with their environment, it's pretty obvious where these animals belong."<br>

    Date Published: April 13, 2012
    Date Updated: April 30, 2012
  • Learn More

    Keith and Clarice Swanson <br>
    Thundering Hooves<br>
    2021 Isaacs Avenue<br>
    Walla Walla, WA 99362<br>
    Phone: 866/350-9400<br>
    Web: www.thunderinghooves.net<br>
    E-mail: info@thunderinghooves.net

    Date Published: April 13, 2012
    Date Updated: April 30, 2012

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