The High Cost of Cheap Turkey

Is Pastured Turkey Worth the Cost?

Here in Virginia, a regular fifteen-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 a while ago that definitely answered that question for me. These turkeys were probably around five months old, in a truck, on their way to slaughter.

A “normal” turkey’s life span 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.

In fact, statistically speaking, 20 percent of their turkey buddies already died before they got to this truck. Around 6 percent of them had their heart give out within just one or two 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 the birds 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 roost in the trees. (If you want to see something funny, watch a farmer try to catch his or her Bourbon Red turkeys!)

And Ben Franklin is reported to have wanted our national bird to be the fierce turkey rather than the bald eagle.

Turkeys on Antibiotics

Given a choice, turkeys aren’t vegetarians. They eat lots of greens, bugs, and rodents.

The turkeys I saw on that truck, on the other hand, were fed a vegetarian diet of GMO grains like soy and corn.

And now, an important note about antibiotics: You may have heard about the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s Veterinary Feed Directive Final Rule, which went into effect on January 1, 2017.

The rule aims to reduce antibiotic resistance by eliminating the common practice of using “medically important” antibiotics to promote animal growth and feed efficiency. However, with the approval of a veterinarian, turkey producers may still feed these antibiotics in therapeutic dosages to prevent the illnesses fostered by the living conditions often found in commercial operations—dark, overcrowded barns packed with other turkeys, walking and living in their own feces.

In fact, a 2013 study showed turkey meat to be the dirtiest of all meats, with nine of ten samples containing dangerous fecal bacteria including E. coli.

As we’ve learned, humans aren’t the only ones harmed by commercial animal-raising systems.

The animals I was looking at on that truck were incredibly sick—the natural result of a commercial farming revolution that has rejected the wisdom of nature. Farming has gone industrial, so that the largest U.S. turkey farms produce well over a million turkeys a month.

The entire commercial turkey industry has learned to hijack modern science to breed and raise a turkey that gets as large as possible as quickly and inexpensively as possible. Plus, by the time you buy the turkey, it’s been so filled with salt water that this solution accounts for up to 40 percent of the turkey’s final weight.

So What Can I Do?

The farmers who embrace the wisdom of nature, the traditions of our ancestors, and the facts of modern science all agree: Raising a turkey on pasture so that it can eat its natural diet is the best way to optimize the health of farms, turkeys—and you, the customer.

Turkeys raised on pasture live healthier, happier lives; are healthy when they are slaughtered; and make you healthier, too. Their meat contains more anti-inflammatory fats like Omega-3s and conjugated linoleic acid (another essential fat that is scarce in the modern diet).

Farming practices that embrace Mother Nature’s wisdom preserve the land, support the soil, and create far less pollution.

These are just a few reasons to choose a pastured turkey this Thanksgiving.

Three 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? You’re looking for a bird that lived on mostly foraged grasses and greens, wild animals, and only a small amount of organic grains and feeds.
  2. How did this turkey live? Happy turkeys move around from pasture to pasture and enjoy lots of sunlight.
  3. What drugs was this turkey given? Ideally, 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 buying one of these than you would be buying an 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 local farm 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 Most of them know where to get local traditionally raised animals.

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

TGN Bi-Weekly Newsletter

(This is an updated version of a post that was originally published in October 2014.) 


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  • Bea says:

    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.

  • Joan says:

    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 says:

    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.

  • Angela says:

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

    1. Elaine F. says:

      Just copy the address in your taskbar and paste to the site you want it on.

  • Kendra Hartwig says:

    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 says:

    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………..

  • Lilo Nasse says:

    Become a Vegetarian! Buy only organic vegetables. All animals that live and suffer in industrial farms, are not healthy to eat. The greed for money has made this country sick.

  • Gwen says:

    I raise pastured BR turkeys. I could never go back to buying a grocery store bird.

  • I buy my turkeys from Tropical Traditions. They are even pricier than what you mention for organic. But I trust what they feed theirs and how they are grown. This year they are $135.49-$145.99 and worth every penny to me because my health comes first. And I use every bit of every turkey.

    I turn them into 6-8 quarts of turkey and broth after I eat most of the white meat and a little of the dark. And because I boil the bones to get that turkey and broth, my dogs get to eat the bones.

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