Fresh free range birds thrive at Ho-Ka Turkey Farms

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Benjamin Franklin wanted to make the turkey our national bird instead of the bald eagle. Next Thursday, for one day only, the turkey is definitely the national bird. (WLS)

Benjamin Franklin wanted to make the turkey our national bird instead of the bald eagle. The eagle won that argument. But next Thursday, for one day only, the turkey is definitely the national bird.

At Ho-Ka Turkey Farm in Waterman, Ill., they raise 70,000 free range turkeys here every year. They are fresh birds and in this business that means they won't be frozen. Tom Klopfenstein is in charge of the turkeys and their home grown feed.

He's not in charge of the weather, but this fall it's been just the way he wanted it: warm.

"It's been a really good growing season," Klopfenstein says. "The weather has been almost as good as you could order it. So we have a really good crop of turkeys this year."Probably as good as I've ever seen."

That means the turkeys will just keep eating instead of shivering and just trying to survive. But is a content turkey a better tasting bird?

"That's got to help the flavor of the turkey because they're growing so fast and they're healthy and happy so it's got to be a better flavored turkey," he says.

When the turkeys are just days old they are separated. The toms go one way and the hens go the other way, but not for the reasons you might think. It's not because the males could be too aggressive.

"We separate them at the hatchery when they're just a day old," Klopfenstein explains. "The feed requirements are considerably different. The Toms are growing so much faster putting on more weight. They require more protein in their diet."

So the big toms turn all that extra protein into birds that weigh up to 30 pounds. But the hens, the females, just aren't built to carry that much weight. They're 10 to 20 pounds. The price of the Ho-Ka, by the way is the same as last year: $2.99 a pound at your neighborhood butcher or high end market.
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