Gobble gobble, cough cough The High Cost of Cheap Turkey


Is Pastured Turkey Worth the Cost?

Here in Virginia, a regular 15 pound turkey at the supermarket will cost you about $30 or less. But if you want a local, traditional turkey like a Bourbon Red, raised on pasture  – expect to pay anywhere from $60-$90. That’s a lot of money! Is it really worth it?

I saw some turkeys on my home a few weeks ago that definitely answered that question for me.  These turkeys were probably around 5 months old, in a truck, on their way to slaughter.

A “normal” turkey’s lifespan is about 7-10 years. But these turkeys wouldn’t make it to see their first birthday. If they weren’t slaughtered for Thanksgiving, most of them would die of heart disease and organ failure by Christmas. 20% of them have already died before they got to this truck. Around 6% of them had their heart give out within just 1-2 months of birth.

Why Are These Turkeys So Different?

In order to maximize profits, these turkeys were selectively bred to have incredibly large breasts, so large that they have trouble standing up… and forget about flying. Their legs often bow and sometimes spontaneously fracture under the weight.

Heritage breeds like the Bourbon Red that are raised on pasture are incredibly athletic and free. They run up to 25 miles per hour, fly, and often brood in the trees. If you want to see something funny, watch a farmer try to catch their Bourbon Red turkeys. Ben Franklin is reported to have wanted our national bird to be the fierce turkey rather than the bald eagle.

Turkeys on Antibiotics

The turkeys in that truck, on the other hand, were fed a vegetarian diet of GMO grains like soy and corn (turkeys aren’t vegetarians). They normally eat lots of greens, bugs, and rodents.  They were pumped with hormones to make them grow even more, and they consumed a steady diet of antibiotics with every meal, just to keep them alive in the filth in which they are raised — dark barns packed with other turkeys, walking and living in their own feces. A recent study showed turkey meat to be the dirtiest of all meats, with 9 of 10 samples containing dangerous fecal bacteria including E. coli.

This has led to even greater use of precious antibiotics. It has been estimated that the parabolic rise in antibiotic resistance in just the last 10 years has been due to their use in agriculture, not in humans. Soon, likely within the next 5-10 years, you will find it increasingly difficult to find antibiotics for you or your child when they are desperately needed. This will lead to the use of older, highly toxic drugs, or even death from infections that used to be treated in a week with a $4 antibiotic.

A Matter of National Security

The way we raise turkey and other poultry in the U.S. is so toxic and misguided that it’s led the Pew Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production, along with Johns Hopkins School of Public Health, to declare, “The present system of producing food animals in the United States… presents an unacceptable level of risk to public health…”

These were incredibly sick animals I was looking at on that truck – they are the end products of a sick and perverted industrial farming revolution that has spit on the wisdom of nature. Farming has gone industrial, so that 7 turkey “mad scientist producers” (it’s hard to call them “farmers”) in Nebraska produce 1 in every 10 turkeys grown in the U.S.

These producers have learned to hijack modern science to raise a turkey that gets this big in the shortest time possible, for around 33 cents a pound. By the time you buy the turkey, it’s been so filled with salt water that up to 40% of the final weight can be pure salt water.

So What Can I Do?

The farmers who practice based on the wisdom of nature, the traditions of our ancestors, and the facts of modern science, all agree that raising a turkey on pasture, eating their species-specific diet is the best way to optimize the health of their farms, their turkeys, and you, their customer.

Turkeys raised on pasture live lives that are healthier and happier, they are healthy when they are slaughtered, and they make you healthier too. They have more anti-inflammatory fats like Omega-3s and CLA (another essential fat that is almost non-existent in the modern diet). Traditional and organic farming preserves the land, supports the soil, and creates far less pollution. These are just a few reasons to choose a pastured turkey this Thanksgiving.

3 Questions for Your Farmer

If you truly want to do your part to help preserve our beautiful planet and your health, you need to ask three questions of your farmer:

  1. What did this turkey eat? The answer should be mostly foraged grasses and greens, wild animals, with only a small amount of organic grains and feeds.
  2. How did this turkey live? The answer should be moving around from pasture to pasture with lots of sunlight.
  3. What drugs was this turkey given? The answer should be none or only some medicines if they were sick.

You should know that the terms “cage-free” and “free range” are virtually meaningless in that they make very little difference in the actual life or treatment of the turkey you are purchasing. If you see these terms, know that you are often no better off than buying a industrially-raised turkey. If you see “vegetarian fed,” know that turkeys are not vegetarians. If you see “organic,” that’s a little better – at least you know they are hormone- and antibiotic-free, for the most part. But they still may have led lives of confinement indoors, eating grains, and living in cramped and unsanitary spaces.

Where Should I Start?

You can start by looking for a farm locally that uses traditional farming practices. If you’re unsure, ask them the three questions above. You can also talk to a practitioner who is listed on PrimalDocs.com. Most of them know where to get local traditionally raised animals.

Also check out LocalHarvest.org and EatWellGuide.org. Last, you can look up your local chapter of the Weston A. Price Foundation for help finding great local farms and resources.

Editor’s Note:   The post was originally published in October 2014, but has been revised and updated for accuracy. 


  1. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/6721797
  2. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1480912/pdf/canvetj00082-0039.pdf
  3. http://www.fda.gov/downloads/AnimalVeterinary/SafetyHealth/AntimicrobialResistance/NationalAntimicrobialResistanceMonitoringSystem/UCM257587.pdf
  4. http://www.npr.org/blogs/thesalt/2013/05/01/180045788/antibiotic-resistant-bugs-turn-up-again-in-turkey-meat
  5. http://ncifap.org/_images/PCIFAPFin.pdf
  6. http://www.nebraskapoultry.org/turkey_stat.htm
  7. http://extension.psu.edu/animals/poultry/topics/general-educational-material/the-chicken/modern-turkey-industry
  8. http://www.ibtimes.com/brine-injected-meat-40-percent-salt-water-usda-300969
  9. http://ps.fass.org/content/87/1/80.abstract

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Zach Taylor


Zach Taylor, MA LPC, is a nationally recognized licensed professional counselor, nutritional therapist, and clinical herbalist. You can find his practice online at www.taylorwellness.com.

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  • Bea

    This is a super great article! Unfortunately, it comes pretty much too late to actually have the time to do something about it. Most people have already bought their .69 cent “turkey” at their nearby purveyor of all things processed…the grocery store. Thank you for the information anyway. I will save this article for next year. Thanks Marjory for all the work you and your team do. Have a great Thanksgiving and a blessed Christmas season!

  • Great article and I’ll share it on my social media (and my blog). However, might I suggest you make it easier for content to be shared? You have NO social media share buttons on the page (yes, you have the links up top, that’s not the same thing.) You’ll find that people will share this more if you make it easier. Since you are using WordPress, there are tons of free social sharing buttons to use.

    Not having social share buttons you are losing a TON of eyeballs. Keep up the good work. I love the posts.

  • Thanks for the article. For some reason, I hadn’t even thought about turkeys being fed a diet of GMOs. I am going to my sister’s house for Thanksgiving and I’m sure she isn’t buying an organic turkey for dinner to feed 15 people. I look forward to eating a turkey dinner on Thanksgiving since it all tastes so good but reading this article makes me feel almost sick thinking about how those birds are raised. Animals raised for consumption really does need to change as antibiotics, cramped spaces, no sunlight and dirty feces isn’t what I consider when I am shopping to feed myself or anyone else. I want to encourage all readers and cooks to use the power of their wallets and voices to change this ugly and unhealthy practice. Otherwise, what will our children and grandchildren’s bodies be like before they reach old age?

  • Tag

    Picking up my fresh Turkey tomorrow from a farmer where I also get all my other meats, raw milk and others like baked goods, honey and noodles when available. I go there every 2 weeks and SEE my future Thanksgiving dinner outside on pasture since hatching. I have my own flock of hens for eggs (this farmer buys my excess) and I grow my own produce. No GMO’S, antibiotics or pesticides for me.
    Great article and I hope people will take note cheap food just cost you later in medical issues.

  • Good information. Why not add some social media icons so we can promote it?

  • Kendra Hartwig

    Thank you for this information. For me, this clarifies what we are doing. We ate a beautiful pasture raised turkey tha

    t was butchered on Tuesday and cooked two days later on Thursday. No GMO’s for us either.

  • gb

    for the past few years we had GMO free pastured turkey. This year my daughter was going to order one again but $70 some seemed just a bit much, especially since we did not want any thing over 15 pounds. So I checked our local little merchandiser ads and sure enough found the farm I had ordered one about 5 years ago: free range, no antibiotics, GMO free feed – 13 pounder for $46; fresh, not frozen.
    I brined it as soon as I got it home – the day before Thanksgiving. The liver I sliced and made it with onion that evening for supper; NEVER had such amazing liver!!!! The bird was equally good! Secret is the brine, I think, because pastured birds can get a bit dry. WORTH EVERY PENNY!!!!! Plus I made stock from the bones and scraps………..

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