Turkey Talk: Is Free Range Or Organic Worth It?

by in Thanksgiving, November 11, 2009

Herb-Roasted Turkey
My mom still tells the story about the year she ordered a free-range turkey. She almost choked when she went to pay for it because it was more than six times what a regular turkey cost! Now that I have Thanksgiving at my house, I’m faced with the same dilemma — is it worth it to get these extra pricey birds?

Get The Facts
The appeal of free-range turkeys is that they are raised with access to outdoor space so they can roam — many folks believe that this makes for better tasting meat. Farmers also raise these turkeys in a more human environment (no messy, cooped-up quarters), which wins extra points with food advocates. Add to that list the fact these turkeys get fed higher quality food and farmers don’t use hormones or antibiotics on them.

As for organic turkeys, they are certified as being raised following strict parameters (though they may not be free range) and are only fed organic food. Usually free-range birds are also organic, but make sure you ask your meat provider or read the store packaging carefully.

What About a “Local” And Other Labels?
Local poultry ranches are usually smaller operations and take more care in raising their animals. Many use free-range and organic practices (even if they aren’t certified organic). If you’re interested in keeping your feast local, call up the farmer to ask for details ahead of time.

Poultry also often has other labels such as “natural,” “grass-fed” or “no added hormones” — check out our eco-friendly label decoder to help make sense of these tags.

Yes, these more specialized turkeys cost more — in many cases, A LOT more. We priced out options from various online grocery stores and the costs varied. Some turkeys were more than $10 per pound. Here’s what we found on average:

Regular turkey = $0.89-$2.99 per pound
Organic = $5.50-$6.20 per pound
Free Range = $4.59-$6.93 per pound

If getting a free-range or organic bird is important to you, you can save some money by picking a smaller size. Yes, this does mean fewer leftovers, but most people buy way more turkey than they need anyway. In this case, you’d be splurging on quality, not quantity.

What To Look For
Pay attention to the labels on fresh or frozen birds or ask your butcher or local farmer for more details. Free-range and organic turkeys are often in high demand; so if you choose to get one, you should order it now (if you haven’t already).

TELL US: What kind of turkey are you planning to get this year?

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Comments (741)

  1. @silence182 says:

    I won't be buying a turkey at all even if we stay home for Thanksgiving. I'll make a vegetarian dinner at home. If we visit family dinners, I *know* that they will not have purchased a free-range nor an organic turkey. I wish they would though…I feel that it is much better than conventional just because of how they are raised.

    • Bobecca says:

      You probably won't be able to convince your relatives to buy a permaculture or organic turkey – but you could try for Kosher! They are grass-fed with some grain, on a completely vegetarian diet free from antibiotics or steroids. They are also raised humanely under the supervision of a Rabbi, as well as killed in the orthodox tradition, which is a lot better than the slaughterhouse.

      Available at most butchers, and you don't have to brine it!

      – this worked on my less sensitive family members, just a tip from one very nearly vegetarian to another.

    • bob says:

      you have confused this with the vegetarian message board

  2. @tangerinemu says:

    Last year when my family hosted Thanksgiving, we got a free-range organic turkey from a local butcher. It was so delicious! The raw flesh was pink unlike its supermarket, white, tasteless counterpart, and has only been killed four days before Thanksgiving (don't want to think about how long ago the ones in the supermarket were killed…) I would get another free-range organic bird this year, but Thanksgiving isn't at our house, and unfortunately I highly doubt that my relatives will think to get anything other than a supermarket bird.

    • Utah says:

      Would you please tell me how you found a butcher who knew where to get a local free range organic turkey and approximately what you had to pay for it. Many thanks! I found an organic frozen "Coastal Range" brand from Costco this year for $45 and am wondering if that's the going price.

  3. Tina says:

    My brother ordered a free-range from Earth Fare this year. This is the first year we've done that so I'm excited to see how it tastes. It's not a certified organic bird so the price is really reasonable at $2.39 per pound. He ordered a 20 pounder (big family) so it's still going to eat up half a Benjamin but Thanksgiving is never cheap.

  4. Fawn says:

    This is an interesting post and comments will be fueled strongly by emotions. While the majority of animals in the 'industry' may be treated feasibly well (and the definition of this varies substantially I've found) all it takes is one bad publicized experience to draw a hoard of people off of standard market stuff. Everyone will make their own personal decisions. I believe we should all check the FACTS and if you state that someone else's facts aren't correct, please be considerate enough to post a website link to support your opinion. It's only fair!

    • PawPaw1950 says:

      I think this is the correct and fair way to judge. I love turkey and have eaten farm raised, free range and wild turkey. I believe any opinion on these is a personal choice and should only be judged by a search for the truth and not just hear say. In this time of computers and the internet it is easy to find the opinion you want to hear. Try going to the source, for instance on hormones and turkeys you can go to the USDA and see if hormones are in deed allowed. This is a quote "Hormones are not allowed in raising hogs or poultry. Therefore, the claim "no hormones added" cannot be used on the labels of pork or poultry unless it is followed by a statement that says "Federal regulations prohibit the use of hormones." However, please don't take even this as a certain. I could be lying too! Check it out.

  5. Coral says:

    I think it is absolutely worth it – we had one last year and it was the best turkey ever. So we're going for a smaller free-range organic bird again this year. It will be frozen from our local Whole Foods Coop. I wish it could be fresh tho.

  6. CLAUDIA says:


  7. Teresa says:

    I am fortunate to live in northern California, close to producers of free range turkeys, which we can buy fresh from the market. I have been buying Willie Bird turkeys for years — they come from Sonoma County. The difference in flavor and texture is worth the difference in cost, to me. Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays, so I justify the added expense on the fact that it's a very special occasion (we do not buy a lot of turkey the rest of the year). It's a day to give thanks for the gifts of the harvest, of Mother Nature. It only makes sense to me to strive to make the feast as organic and sustainable as I can.

    • Utah says:

      Love your inspirational and reassuring comment Teresa! I bought our first organic free range "Coastal Range" brand from Costco this year ($45/16 lb. turkey). Same size Norbest turkey cost $16 @ $99/lb. It was a lot more and hard to bite the added expense, but because we went non-GMO a year ago, I knew that I wouldn't buy a turkey that had been fed GMO corn and soy, which that is the traditional turkey feed. I've learned a lot in the last year about what has been going on with our food, and it's very disturbing! No wonder the turkeys I've bought in the past taste so dry and flavorless, even when cooked in a brown 'n bag. Looking forward to trying this one and very grateful for it–giving thanks for the gifts of Mother Nature as you so beautifully said!

  8. Darrell says:

    Whole Foods: Flash Frozen (about 1 inch from the surface is frozen – not the whole thing) organic free-range turkey: 3 bucks a pound. Medium size bird 12-14 lbs. I think it's worth the extra $$ not to eat a raised in the dark force fed chemical bird. Just saying

  9. Janey says:

    I have found, much to the dismay of my budget, that free range and/or organic chicken (Bell and Evans, specifically) is startling better than Purdue or store brands. I suck it up and spend the extra money…I would imagine that the same would apply to turkey. I must say, though, that your price estimates seem far too high!

  10. Hannah says:

    Note to the editor: The USDA does not allow hormones of any type to be fed to or used on chickens or turkeys. Therefore, organic does not differ from conventional based on the non-use of hormones.

    I have worked with many different management systems in the industry, including conventional and organic farms, and I know that no hormones are used in any aspect of poultry production.
    Antibiotics are only given if the animal gets sick, and then the animal is taken off of the antibiotics for the appropriate amount of time before sent to processing. In addition, antibiotics have never been found in any random residue tests performed by an independent researching company at processing plants.

    I have also spent time in poultry processing plants and all animals are handled with the utmost care. The "bad" plants are major exceptions. Animal abuse simply does not happen at processing plants.

    If you decide to buy organic or free-range please do so because you think it tastes different or because you are supporting a local farmer, not because it has antibiotic residues or hormones added or because you think conventional turkeys are mistreated.


    • chris says:

      Have you seen the movie Food Inc..? ALL mass produced chickens are fed Genetically modifide feed..Which is loaded with growth hormone.. They grow to maturity in 48 days as opposed to 72 days… Not sure where you got the USDA info..but it's bogus..

    • Ashley says:

      "Animal abuse simply does not happen at processing plants" –This comment shocks me. Animal abuse happens everywhere, factory farms are no exception.

    • Justin says:

      Please don't listen to this industry insider. Turkeys are categorically mistreated at all factory farms. Not necessarily in the slaughter, but absolutely in the way they are raised. Also, if you believe this joker that there are no hormones in factory farmed turkeys, then you need to read up. Just take a second to think about it. Does printing hormone free on the label make it more marketable and profitable? Absolutely. Then why do they all not say hormone free? No surprise that the industry wants to keep you in the dark.

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