Nov. 18, 2017
WARNING: Second gallery of images contains graphic content of turkeys being butchered.
CUERO - Turkeys quietly chirp as Ryan Keller walks through dew-covered grass toward his aptly named turkey pen, the “turkey mobile.” On Turkey Hollow Farm, 10 minutes outside Cuero, the contested “turkey capital of the world,” Keller and his family are prepping for the Thanksgiving turkey season.
Keller, 34, didn’t always see himself as a farmer. Originally a firefighter, Keller picked up farming in his spare time about five years ago. He enjoyed it so much that he decided to make the switch to full-time farming.
“I think people are trading the cubicle and the 8-to-5 job for raising chickens and gardening. That’s kind of where we came from,” Keller said about his family. “We started out just growing food for ourselves and then we were like, ‘We have an extra abundance of crops or chicken or beef, why can’t we offer this to friends and family?’”
Keller believes in farming and buying local. He wants people to understand what they get when they buy a Thanksgiving turkey from a local farm and tries to be as transparent as possible when it comes to his farming.
“You’re buying a turkey that has not been pumped up with antibiotics, chemicals, or anything used to make it grow faster,” Keller said. “Not only is it raised outdoors, it’s able to range and eat as much greens and forge as it can consume.”
People who have purchased his turkeys in the past have now become regular customers, and Keller credits that to people being able to see a connection with their food from start to finish.
When it comes to Thanksgiving turkey orders, Keller starts his planning in late April. During the following months, Keller raises, pastures and eventually kills his turkeys for the Thanksgiving holiday.
However this particular turkey season hasn’t been an easy one. With a shipment of turkey poults gone wrong and Hurricane Harvey, Keller lost more than half of his flock this season.
“Turkeys are challenging just because they find any reason to die on you,” he said. “The old adage is that turkeys are stupid. I don’t know if they are actually stupid; I just think they are very curious animals.”
Keller still plans to raise turkeys again next year and is happy with this year’s season despite the setbacks.
“All in all, the turkeys that we do have, I think they’re going to make a great feast for Thanksgiving,” he said.
And the lucky customers who get to pick up one of Keller’s fresh and not frozen turkeys a few days before Thanksgiving feel the same.