Before they become the centerpiece of the Thanksgiving dinner table, some turkeys grow at Lee Turkey Farm in East Windsor.
Sixth generation farmer Ronny Lee has been caring for the turkeys since they were hatched in January. He places an order at a hatchery and the turkeys arrive in June when they’re a day old.
“I get my first flock of turkeys around June 22 and my last on Aug. 18 with two in between. This way, when Thanksgiving comes, I have every size from 13 pounders up to the mid-40s,” said Lee.
The day-old turkeys spend their first two weeks on the farm in a bright room that’s set at 85 degrees.
“After that, they’re de-beaked which means trimming the top beak. It doesn’t hurt the turkeys. It’s like cutting fingernails. You do it once and that keeps the beak from growing like a parrot or a hawk,” said Lee.
Eventually at four weeks old, they are relocated to another area.
There are 1,500 turkeys in one barn and another 1,500 in the other. Lee mixes his own feed. The turkeys eat whenever they want.
“There’s no tricks, there’s no antibiotics, no medications, no hormones. Their base feed when they’re little is soy beans and that’s to build up their bone structure so they can carry that weight. Then, as they get older, we lower the soy bean rate and we raise the corn rate and that bulks them up,” said Lee.
That gives the turkeys a layer of fat, he says. The farm doesn’t use the word kill, instead they call it processing. They’ve already started processing for fresh frozen turkeys typically for customers traveling long distances with their bird.
“Right before Thanksgiving, the week before, we process seven days and we’ll do 300 turkeys a day,” said Lee.
All the processing is done on property. The birds are hand-cleaned and it takes about 12 people. The farm family stays busy year round with their pick your own fields and market this time of year, though they focus on the turkeys.