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.

Ka-Ching!
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 (740)

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  6. Dianna says:

    Your facks are not correct. Most all tukeys are raised in pens and fed harmones to grow faster. Organic is much better for you, and usually fresh.

  7. lurl says:

    you can't spell how do we know you can evaluate a turkey?

  8. Jacob says:

    I also have worked with poultry and currently hold the Pennsylvania Poultry Ambassador position. I can tell you with complete assurance that no hormones are used in the commercial turkey industry because they are not needed. As to the fact that they are raised in pens, that is also incorrect. Turkeys are raised in barns and allowed to move throughout the entire barn. The only time they are confined to a small area is when they are less than a week old. At that point in their life, it is essential to not be allowed to roam freely due to the fact that young turkey poults have a tendency to move away from a heat source and not be able to find their way back.

  9. sheba says:

    Well whoop de doo! You can pay $197.00 for a turkey when some people in this world can't afford a chicken!

  10. Carol P says:

    Any chance of getting an invitation!

  11. lurl says:

    Think of the economy! We are helping to preserve ancient heritage turkeys and pheasants, hogs and beef.
    The farmers certainly deserve what they charge for the way the way the raise their poultry and meats. We help support the economy buy purchasing good food for our family and friends.

  12. lurl says:

    Think of the economy! We are helping to preserve ancient heritage turkeys and pheasants, hogs and beef. We are supporting the farmers who raise these ancient fowl and meat. We are helping the economy and having very healthful dinners with friends and family

  13. Hannah says:

    Here is a link to the USDA FSIS. http://www.fsis.usda.gov/Fact_Sheets/Meat_&_P… On this page they outline all of the terms used to label poultry. Near the bottom of the page, under the heading "No Hormones (pork or poultry)" it says:

    "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.""

    What is nice about this .gov site is that they give the legal guidelines for labels, which can be confusing.

    I didn't want to start a squabble, but I think it is important for people to really know what is in their food. Hormones are not used in poultry production. I am sad to see that this is something many people use to vilify poultry production. The important task is ensuring Americans have a safe food supply, especially those who cannot afford more expensive products.

  14. Hannah says:

    I love poultry and the heritage breeds are beautiful. In fact, I've raised several of these breeds. Heritage animals are important genetic reservoirs. Many of them have genes that make them resistant to parasites or diseases. For example, in sheep, the Gulf Cost Native breed is genetically resistant to parasites and hardier in hot climates (Miller et. al., 1997).
    Heritage breeds do have a different taste. I think buying a heritage turkey is like buying a good bottle of wine: you buy it for the taste (and to support the local farmers.)

    Miller, J. E., M. Bahirathan, S. L. Lemarie, F. G. Hembry, M. T. Kearney, S. R. Barras. 1997. Epidemiology of gastrointestinal nematode parasitism in Suffolk and Gulf Coast Native sheep with special emphasis on relative susceptibility to Haemonchus contortus infection. Veterinary Parasitology. doi:10.1016/S0304-4017(97)00094-0

  15. Tracy says:

    So you believe whatever the USDA says? Please don't. They don't care about you as much as the profit.

  16. Jacob says:

    If we can't trust the people that create the laws and regulations for our food products, why would you trust someone that that grew the bird in their backyard. They have no restrictions from the government, and if their bird is infected with a salmonella or another disease, the USDA and FDA can not prevent that bird from being sold, unless it is caught.

  17. Debbie says:

    Why can't you get a fresh one? I am ordering my first Whole Foods turkey this year. A 22 pounder !!!!

  18. Pat says:

    USDA does not make any profit from Turkey sales.

  19. jennyG says:

    Seriously. What's up with lurl? Show off. Why don't you help the economy by donating some of your fancy-shmancy hogs and pheasants to local shelters?

  20. llfowlerCO says:

    LOL. My thoughts exactly

  21. Dauses says:

    Wow. Thanksgiving and we bash someone for a typo?? Glad I am not in your families. What if I my grammar slipped at the dinner table? Sheesh, I come looking for information and see the mean girls (or guys) are everywhere. I am thankful to not be at your tables this Thanksgiving!

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