BAR HARBOR — The loud, high-pitched chatter of cackling turkeys makes for a singular greeting as guests walk up the path to Jennifer Fisk’s Town Hill home. Around back, the huge, colorful birds bob and weave in their chain-linked pen, the toms splaying their prismatic feathers in vain displays of superiority and pride.
By Thanksgiving Day, though, Fisk’s yard is going to present a much quieter impression. Most of these resplendent birds will be in the freezer by then, or roasting in hot ovens, casting their delicious scents to families gathered for their annual feasts.
Fisk has been raising turkeys for a number of years. The work is a combination labor-of-love, political action and pragmatic venture. She said that the taste of her birds is far superior to that of their store-bought brethren. She also believes that by controlling their feed and environment, she creates a much healthier product. Finally, she said, she just doesn’t agree with the way animals are raised and treated on factory farms. By raising her own, she stays away from perpetuating that system.
“It’s not an economical project, believe me. It’s because I prefer not to eat CAFO (concentrated animal feed operation) meat. I’m not going to go to Hannaford to buy a turkey,” Fisk said. “I just don’t like the GMOs and the pesticides and the herbicides and the manner in which the animals are being raised. I mean, this isn’t free range by any stretch of the imagination, but I think they have a pretty good life.”
Fisk estimates that her flock of “eating machines,” including broad-breasted bronzes, bourbon reds, blue slates and Narragansett whites, consume a 50 pound bag of feed a week, costing around $20 each time. Add to that the cracked corn, pumpkin and greens from the garden, and it starts to add up pretty quick.
Fisk’s yard houses a menagerie of other animals, including goats, chickens, ducks, rabbits and pet dogs. She loves being around the big turkeys, watching them fluff their feathers when people come by the house, especially men, and seeing how they interact with each other.
“I do like them. I think they’re adorable, especially when you get them as little poults and watch them grow up,” she said. “They all do have distinct personalities, which you wouldn’t know from looking at a Butterball in the store.”
Every year, Thanksgiving week, Fisk loads up her birds and travels to Albion, where a butcher shop processes the birds. It’s a bittersweet moment, she said, marking the end of another growing season and filling the freezer with home-raised meat, while also having to say goodbye to the creatures she has come to know.
“Sunday night I’ll be out here in the dark and stuffing them in dog crates,” she said in an interview last week. “I hate it because they’re so funny,” she said. “I hate seeing them go into the kill room.”
Fisk has had some trouble with predators over the years, namely from coyotes. The wily creatures will go so far as to dig under the fence at night to get to the birds. But no encounter quite matches the one her flock had with a turkey of the wild variety a few years ago.
The wild turkey had been nosing around, and must have seen something he liked. He soon jumped over the fence and into the pen. And then, taking things a step further, he got pretty romantic with one of the captive hens. Actually, very romantic. And the pair, hitting if off quite well, both managed to get back over the fence, never to be seen again. Fisk likes to imagine that the pair might have introduced a slightly new species to the wild woods of Mount Desert Island.
“She jumped out of the pen, and somewhere in Town Hill, America, there’s some hybrid birds hanging around,” Fisk said, “if they all survived.”
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