Like many things at Rick and Michelle Grosek’s farm, raising turkeys started out as a small adventure to feed their family but turned into a business helping neighbors and the community.
The Groseks are the owners of Bear Butte Gardens, an organically certified vegetable, poultry and egg operation located on a 120-acre plot north of Sturgis. The couple started the farm in 2011 and began raising turkeys two years later.
“We have a good customer base, and we’re grateful for that,” Michelle said.
With the Thanksgiving holiday today and Christmas drawing near, the couple has been busy filling presale orders, including butchering more than two dozen of their 35 turkeys.
They have been raising turkeys for sale for four years, adjusting the system to be more efficient each year. The couple keeps their own breeding stock, a tom and two or three hens. They used to order eggs in the spring, but realized it would be easier and more cost-efficient to hatch them themselves.
“The turkeys aren’t as good of moms as the chickens, so we were ordering them and hatching them,” Michelle said. “But then we saw that they don’t do well being shipped.”
If they ordered six, for example, two would have died during shipping. Then another one or two might die soon after.
“It was just heartbreaking,” she said.
Plus, it’s expensive. Each egg is about $10, plus shipping.
Thus began the process of breeding the turkeys, and incubating the eggs themselves.
“I have an incubator on my kitchen counter and I keep an eye on them,” Michelle said.
The machine, which turns the eggs and keeps them at a toasty 98 degrees, does all the work for the first 28 days. The eggs are then put in a small storage bin while hatching, which is also heated by lamps, before Michelle moves them into a room in their house dedicated to the spring poultry.
“Once they are outside and have a coup, they do well,” she said. “It’s just when they are little, they are incredibly difficult to keep alive.”
It’s during this time, when they are kept outside and can enjoy the sun, that the community and potential customers are welcome to come take a peek at what kind of life the turkeys lead.
“Everything we feed them is certified organic, grains and vegetables and no corn,” she said, adding that the organic grain is purchased from a farmer in Pierre. “That’s a big deal to people, that they are local and have a good quality of life.”
The turkey breed the Groseks sell are called Heritage turkeys, which are smaller than a standard turkey and have more dark meat. They range in size from seven to 15 pounds. The Groseks sell the butchered ones for $7 a pound.
They picked the price point, she said, because of the work that goes in to raising them and the distinction that they are certified as organic by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
“We know people can go to the grocery store and get a turkey for less than a dollar a pound,” she said, so it’s a commitment for customers to buy one of their turkeys. “We get great feedback, and people say they are delicious.”
Grosek said the turkeys have been a great addition to their farm.
“It’s kind of a labor-intensive deal,” she said. “It’s a lot of work, and every time you’re butchering an animal you took care of, it’s tough. But every time we look in the freezer and there’s all this healthy food, it’s a good thing.”
Michelle hopes that she is accomplishing more than just providing people a bird for a Thanksgiving dinner.
“More of us (could) be attached to the process of knowing what we eat,” she said. “We really enjoy it. It’s definitely fun.”