Raising turkeys runs in the Winter family. In 1958, Jack Winter made the decision to start raising turkeys because the chicken eggs he produced didn’t provide enough income to pay for the seed. As a boy growing up, Darrel Winter, recalls always having a flock of 1.500 birds on the 450 acre farm. Like his dad, Darrel, became a turkey farmer in 1976, on the family farm in Dalemead, Alberta. Dalemead is located 45 kilometres southeast of Calgary along the Canadian Pacific railway.
Today, Winter’s Turkeys, produces 11,000 free-range and organic turkeys twice a year. Darrel and his wife, Corinne, love looking after their turkeys and providing them with comfort and care. The turkeys are primarily hens and raised in the sunshine and fresh air offered from a large outdoor yard with access to water. Their natural diet is meat byproduct-free and consists of whole wheat and hay (grown in fields beside where the turkeys live) with soy, flax and canola meal blended in. Turkeys have high protein requirements. The turkeys are drug-free and never given antibiotics or hormones.
The Certified Organic turkeys are kept separate from the free-range birds. Increasing consumer demand for organic turkeys doubled Winter’s organic production in 2007 and again in 2008. Darrel started raising organic turkeys in 2000 because he recognized the demand and Frank Sarro, Community Natural Foods’ Purchasing Manager, encouraged him to. Community Natural Foods and Winter’s Turkeys have worked together for many years, since 1988.
Each June the turkeys arrive on the farm and the Winters are kept busy for the next six months. During the summer, Thanksgiving and Christmas rushes their two children, on breaks from University, have been a huge support. The hens take 17-19 weeks to mature. The male birds (Toms) take longer – up to 20 weeks.
When the turkeys are fully grown they’re taken to be processed under strict quality control guidelines in a government inspected facility. They’re available fresh or frozen. Community Natural Foods carries both the free-range and organic turkeys. Community also carries their free-range luncheon meats, sausages, roasts, ground light and dark meat and breast meat. Frank said, “their turkeys are the tastiest you can put on the table.”
Darrel and Corinne said, “We take pride in producing a high quality product and it’s rewarding to receive the compliments about the flavourful turkeys that grace countless family feasts, celebrations and every day meals.”
After a recent urban farm tour in Cuba, the seed of an idea to raise heritage turkeys was born. Darrel and Corinne experienced heritage turkeys in natural settings in Cuba. They came back to Canada planning to add the birds (which can be brought in from local sources) to their product line as a way to conserve different types of turkey within the species and to give consumers more choices. Another benefit is they’re beautiful. Darrel said, “they’re every colour under the rainbow.”