Small-farm raised tree-to-table turkeys ready for Thanksgiving

Linda Hart hangs out with her freewheeling turkeys at Crazy Hart Ranch in Fellsmere. 

In the iconic Norman Rockwell painting, “Freedom from Want,” an excited family gathers around Thanksgiving dinner, where a delicious-looking turkey awaits.

“That’s a heritage turkey,” said Linda Hart, who should know, since she raises these magnificent — and tasty — birds at her Crazy Hart Ranch in Fellsmere.

The Narragansett breed of turkeys that roost happily at Crazy Hart boast a proud heritage that reaches back to the 1800s.

Although considered a foundation breed by the American Poultry Association, they became almost extinct in the 1950s after the appearance of the broad breasted turkeys, the creatures that now primarily populate our Thanksgiving table.

Small breeders such as Hart saved the Narragansetts, now the turkey darlings of foodies. Because of cost, they still are only primarily available as farm-to-table birds from the ranches themselves.

“You can’t find these birds at grocery stores,” Hart said.

The differences between the two types of birds are significant.

The white breasted has been engineered to grow to market size quickly.

“The faster growing the animal, the lesser the flavor it will have,” Hart said.

Broad breasted can barely walk, much less fly. They live their short 16 weeks of life cheek-to-jowl indoors in the chronic stress of factory farms and are fed corn-based grain laced with antibiotics to stave off the infections that can run rampant in such tight quarters.

Linda Hart’s turkeys, on the other hand, live the good life for seven months before being harvested. They are humanely raised on organic grain along with unlimited foraging in Hart’s five acres, never seeing antibiotics or hormones. Because they fly and roost with their longer legs and larger wings, their meat is lean.

“The dark meat is very dark and rich, and the breast has finer grained meat and is absolutely delicious,” said Hart, who adds that her most successful marketing strategy is to let the turkeys do the talking by having customers sample the two different birds side by side.

November is a crazy time at Crazy Hart as Thanksgiving orders arrive for the popular turkeys. Hart hates harvesting the turkeys but believes that by raising consumer awareness of the breed, she is helping to save it.

All this year’s toms are already reserved, but there are still a few hens available.

Among her customers are restaurants and country clubs in Vero Beach, places with customers who want the best and are willing to pay the $11 a pound Hart’s “tree-to-table” turkeys fetch.

Hart, who started raising turkeys as a backyard breeder in 2003 and went pro in 2006, appreciates the quirkiness of her charges. She likes to interact with them and can sometimes be found perched on a tree, beer in hand, birds at her side.

“I love my birds,” she said.

Interested in Crazy Hart Ranch Thanksgiving turkeys? Check availability at crazyhartranch.com or 772-913-0036. Funky Chicken Farm in West Melbourne provides a pickup location.