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Matanuska farm offers organic turkey option

Alaska-grown far fresher than store-bought birds processed days, months ago

Posted: Wednesday, November 27, 2002

MATANUSKA VALLEY - Anthony Schmidt is not your typical American poultry farmer. Besides running a little farm within driving distance of a glacier and refusing to inject his poultry with antibiotics or preservatives, he lets his chickens, ducks and turkeys wander around - within limits.

"I can't do (total) free-range," he says. "Just for the simple fact that I've watched ravens take my baby ducks right out of the pen. I've watched eagles and goshawks come in and catch my birds. Then you've got fox and neighborhood dogs ..."

So one of his outdoor poultry pens is protected by the mesh of an overhead net, while the other has a roof.

"They've got big pens and they're outside where they get some bugs," Schmidt said. "We throw them grass and weeds all summer long, so they're getting a diverse diet. ... Right now that pen is eating about eight bags a day."

That would be eight 50-pound sacks of corn, wheat and sorghum, which cost Schmidt about $500 a week.

Once his turkeys (except for a few favorites he'll keep alive as breeding stock) are slaughtered, cleaned, scalded, chilled and sealed, they might be the only really fresh turkeys in Alaska.

"There is no way you can buy a turkey in this state that's fresh, like this, unless it was bought where somebody raised it and butchered it right here," he said.

Supermarket turkeys may bear a government seal that declares them "fresh." But according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, that label only guarantees that a turkey hasn't been frozen to a temperature colder than 26 degrees.

It doesn't address the question of how long it's been dead, and poultry producers aren't obligated to say.

Schmidt suspects most holiday turkeys were slaughtered weeks ago, if not months. That's how long it would take the industry to process the estimated 46 million turkeys Americans will consume on Thanksgiving Day.

"There's no way those millions of turkeys got done just the week before (Thanksgiving)," he said. "They started months ago. Months ago. And as soon as that bird goes in the freezer, moisture starts getting drawn out."

Wanting to know exactly what he was swallowing was one of the reasons Schmidt began raising poultry. Five years ago, he acquired a few pigs, some chickens and about three or four turkeys.

"We were tired of buying the stuff in the stores with a lot of chemicals in it and preservatives, so it'll have a long shelf life, and not knowing how it was raised," Schmidt said. "So we started raising our own stuff ... and then it kinda grew."

Now it's a multifaceted business. Schmidt and his partner, Phyllis, and their five children maintain about 300 laying hens that allow them to sell about 100 dozen fresh eggs a week to local buyers. In the spring, they import a wide variety of baby poultry and sell them to local feed stores.

Last year, Schmidt said, Triple D sold between 45,000 and 50,000 head of poultry in Alaska, including 278 Thanksgiving turkeys.



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