Turkey Time

Area families will enjoy their holiday gatherings with turkeys from a local farm
by: Barb Randall, 
Dan and Susie Wilson of SuDan Farm in Canby have raised poultry on their 17-acre property for 10 years and are known for their lamb. But eight years ago they started raising turkeys, plump for eating at Thanksgiving time. This year they sold 55 heritage bronze turkeys, as well as broad-breasted white turkeys such as these.

Nancy Buckman of West Linn has prepared for Thanksgiving for days with cooking utensils and freshly cut rosemary and other herbs from her yard laid out on countertops.

Her fresh, 12-pound turkey - purchased from SuDan Farm in Canby for $40 - concluded the gathering of aromas in her kitchen.

And today she and five others will indulge in the fresh foods and give thanks for all that's meaningful to them, including local farmers.

'I'm wondering if I should have gotten a bigger one, it looks good,' said Buckman. 'I like to buy locally and buy quality. There's a lot of quality produce in Oregon.'

How often do those in Lake Oswego and West Linn get to know their meals, or so to speak?

'There's a huge number of people that - as far as I'm concerned - food comes from the supermarket,' said Dan Wilson, owner of SuDan Farm. 'I've been in agriculture all my life and I'm just amazed how removed 99 percent of people are. What did it take to get (that meat) to the store?'

Dan and his wife Susie Wilson have raised poultry on their 17-acre farm for 10 years and are known for their lamb, which they sell at local farmers' markets and to restaurants.

But eight years ago they started raising turkeys, plump for eating at Thanksgiving time.

This year is no exception. Their turkey business has grown from 15 turkeys to 55 heritage bronze and broad-breasted white turkeys.

But why buy a turkey from a farm, as opposed to a frozen turkey purchased from the grocery store?

Wilson said that for starters, knowing how the bird is raised and how it tastes is one big perk.

'(Big companies raise) turkeys in big houses and they hardly ever get to see the light of day most of the time, and when you feed a bird that's able to get out and graze grass and run around, it doesn't have any fat in it,' Wilson said. 'They have a much different taste to them. It really gives it a lot more flavor.'

Flavor is something that Lake Oswego resident and cooking instructor Barb Randall savors. She's also a foodcolumnist in the Lake Oswego Review and West Linn Tidings.

'I visited (SuDan Farm) and liked the setup and the sense of stewardship toward the animals that Dan and Susie abide by,' Randall said. 'It is important to support local agriculture. My turkey is far fresher than anything you can buy in the grocery store.'

Get listed for a turkey

The Wilsons call their turkey processor and say when they want their kill date scheduled and count backwards. Wilson said that it takes about five months to raise the turkeys.

'We start taking names (of people wanting turkeys) and when we reach the number we want to raise we cut the list off,' Wilson said.

After purchasing day-old chicks from Lazy 54 Farm in Hubbard - whose motto states that they are 'always ready to talk fowl' - Wilson then takes them to SuDan Farm. There they spend time in a chicken tractor - an enclosed cage with no floor so it can be moved around the yard twice daily and the turkeys can live on the soil.

'If you leave the turkeys in one place for too long there will be too much manure,' Wilson said. 'And that's basically how we enrich our grasses - turkey and chicken manure.'

Turkeys are fed a lower protein feed from a local store that includes all their vitamins and minerals.

'It's strictly a vegetarian kind of ration for them. I also want them to be able to eat some grass,' Wilson said.

Wilson said that mid-sized turkeys are gaining in popularity.

'People do not like 30-pound turkeys anymore, they don't have nine kids, or a way to cook it,' Wilson said.

Turkeys in the 10- to 13-pound-range as well as in the 16- to 25- pound-range were sold this year.

Those purchasing turkeys either visited the farm, such as Randall, or phoned in their order according to how many pounds they wanted. Twenty-pound birds cost about $60, Wilson said, and all birds have a $9 to $14 killing fee. It amounts to about $2.50 per pound, he said.

Last Friday the turkeys were taken to a poultry processor in Boring and prepared for Thanksgiving.

'(People) had really lost sight of the fact that turkeys have to be raised and they have to be slaughtered. People don't want to think about that issue,' Wilson said. 'I think if people can see how it's done, it's a humane process; they are not a long-lived animal anyway. But they are humanely taken care of.'

Over the weekend, those that pre-ordered turkeys traveled to designated pick-up spots in Portland, Oregon City and Milwaukee to get their turkeys.

'It was kind of funny to see all these cars park, walk up to the van and exchange payment for turkeys,' Randall said.

Gordon Kilgour of Lake Oswego said he's excited to experience the flavor of a fresh turkey today. He purchased two - one for the sit- down meal and one to-go.

'We're going to have a fair amount of the family around. We'll probably eat one of the turkeys and the other one goes to sandwiches and leftovers,' Kilgour said. 'That's the real reason for having a stand-by turkey because family members can take something home with them.'

Kilgour moved to Lake Oswego in 1968 and said that he grew up eating local, heritage turkeys at Thanksgiving. And now he and his wife, Jewel, still try to support local growers.

'We think that things that are produced locally and carefully by people who enjoy what they're doing are usually a much better product,' Kilgour said. 'There were once turkey farms all over between here and Salem. You could walk in there and say, 'I'll take him,'' he said.

Giving thanks

Wilson said that most of the people who buy turkeys are repeat customers.

'It takes a lot of work. You've got to be a jack of all trades. I'm not only the janitor, the marketing manager and the CEO; I'm also the (manure)-shoveler. But you get to do (everything) and that makes it interesting.'

Wilson received a degree in agriculture engineering and a masters in farm management from Oregon State University, he said, and his wife tends to the farm and is also a part-time nurse.

Today, the Wilsons will spend time with friends and enjoy two turkeys grown in their own backyard. And 50 or so other families will also dine and spend time with their families, and Wilson's turkeys.

Wilson said he has much to be thankful for - a job that both challenges and rewards him, people that can gather around his foods and the interactions with his customers.

'(Being a farmer) takes somebody that doesn't mind getting their hands dirty but still has the knowledge to push the pencil to make sure it's working,' Wilson said. 'We work lots and lots of hours and you've got to get yourself motivated to do that. It's not like I can work 40 hours a week and make it. It's a lifestyle for us and we enjoy it.'

For more information about SuDan Farm, visit the Web site at www.oregonwool.com. The farm is located at 32285 S. Kropft Road in Canby. Call Susie and Dan Wilson at 503-651-2335.