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. lurl says:

    We will be buy the Heritage Turkey which is one of the earliest birds found in the US.
    The charge for such a lovely bird is $197.00 for an 18 pound creature. We will also be serving a brace of Pheasants. At $200.00 a bit pricey but oh so good. Hand raised on the best of foods. I don't really care about their being raised in a wild environment but after having them over ten years ago we just love them. Besides, we can afford them.
    I will also be purchasing one of their excellent hams. We do have a large table that will serve 30 easily so that will be it will all the lovely associated dishes and breads.
    We start with beautiful shrimp and oysters from Washington and Oregon. Can't get better than this.

  2. lurl says:

    We will be buying the Heritage Turkey which is one of the earliest birds found in the US.

    • jennyG says:

      Yeah, we got that the first time you boasted…

    • michelle w says:

      Hey, lurl, this so called "heritage turkey" you are buying, what breed is it? I raise heritage birds (turkey, ducks, geese and chickens) on my small hobby farm and there are many breeds that are listed by the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy as "heritage". The earliest bird in the U.S.? Really? I thoroughly doubt that to be true! The earliest turkeys were the wild turkeys…not a heritage breed at all. I don't see why anyone would purchase a $197.00 turkey, regardless of the breed! You got ripped off, but from the sounds of it, you have more than enough money to pay for this "creature"!

      I will be butchering my own turkey, raised by my own hand, and counting my many blessings. I will also be donating turkeys to our local food shelf.

      I hope you are grateful for all those things you're bragging about.

  3. maebyn says:

    After reading Michael Pollan's "Omnivore's Dilemma," I'm not impressed with the terms "free range" or "cage-free" because it could only mean that there is a tiny door next to the coop, and that the birds can go out if they want – but because they are still so cramped, they usually don't. It's not what the marketing makes us think it is.

  4. Jojo says:

    you all sounds like a bunch of turkeys!

  5. Jacob says:

    I would like to say a few words regarding the use of antibiotics in poultry. Many people are concerned that the use of antibiotics in poultry will create a "superbug" that could infect humans and be untreatable. While there is a slight chance of that occurring, the probability of such an occurrence is less than 1 in 10 million. Also, antibiotics have a withdrawal time. This means that the birds given antibiotics may not be slaughtered for so many days until the level of antibiotics in the bird falls below the level that could affect humans. Thus, saying that conventionally raised poultry is loaded with antibiotics is untrue.

    • Utah says:

      I'm concerned about what the turkey was fed. Most turkey feed is GMO corn and GMO soy, whose chemicals stay and become part of the turkey's DNA, then if eat it, it makes sense to me that we'd be eating those chemicals too.

  6. Julie says:

    We'll be getting a turkey from a local farmer.
    We cut down on carbon by not having a frozen bird trucked in, support a local business and get a bird that looks dramatically different from the supermarket standard. (The color, size and shape is just different – and it's delicious!) We could pick it up there, but we order it through a local butcher to save time.
    Our pick is Undesser Turkey Farm (undesserturkeyfarm.com/index.html). The turkeys live in and outdoors and are antibiotic free. The largely eat corn grown on that farm. If you're in Illinois, check it out.

    • Utah says:

      Julie, do you know if the corn is GMO on the "Undresser" turkey (undesserturkeyfarm.com/index.html)

      Sounds like it probably is if it doesn't say it is organic.

  7. Virginia says:

    How wonderful it is that we have such an enormous array of choices for our Thanksgiving table! We are a blessed and wealthy nation. As much as I’d like to, I do not trust our government. It has proven itself to be unreliable. There may be laws, but as it is in so many areas of our lives, greed spawns the need to look for and exploit loop holes, interpret according to convenience and stretch definitions as far as can be gotten away with before discovery. What that turkey (chicken, cow, pig…) ate before you consume it goes into you. So yes, it does matter what that fine fowl dripping with its lovely juices and brown skin dined on before becoming your dinner. But whatever you choose – organic, free-range, supermarket or vegetarian – give thanks to God for all the blessings on your table and when you can, share something of it with those less fortunate by contributing to a foodbank, inviting the needy, donating time or funds to those whole prepare a meal for someone who is hungry enough not to ask for the brand name of the bird! Whatever you do, may your have a most wonderful day. Happy Thanksgiving!

  8. Fawn says:

    I think Virginia’s attempt to refocus this thread is well founded. Whether you believe the government is operating in your best interest (and certainly many parts are, moreso than those that aren’t in my opinion), your focus should be on giving thanks for what you have. I think her point is valid, those who are hungry aren’t going to ask for the brand name of the food, they are happy to share a warm meal, time, and genuine humanity with other people. I encourage each of you to consider giving your time, donating food, or donating $ to a local charity and furthering their attempts to serve the needy at this time of year, heritage turkey or not.

  9. Karen says:

    If you have a Sunflower Market nearby you can order a fresh (never frozen) all natural, free range turkey for $1.27 a lb. I have purchased their turkeys for 2 years and they are delicious. They are not organic, but the next best thing. I need a large bird and the organic turkeys available are just too expensive. Trader Joes is another good resource as they have free range/organic birds, but they put the birds on sale way in advance and to guarantee you get the size you need you must purchase way in advance of the holiday. Since a fresh turkey can only be kept int the fridge for 1-2 days this one would have to freeze the turkey to insure it lasted until Thanksgiving…something I want to avoid. That said, TJs has all natural, free range brined turkeys for $1.79 lb and Kosher turkeys for $2.29 lb. Everyone please do make an effort to contribute in some way to helping people in need have a great Thanksgiving too…whether you gather food to donate, cook and serve a meal at a shelter, or come up with an idea of your own…nothing makes you thankful and appreciate what you have more than being able to give to others.

  10. Lois Morton says:

    I bought an organic turkey last season, froze it to make this year! I am looking forward to how it will taste!

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