This year, Americans will eat about 46 million turkeys on Thanksgiving. The most common turkey is the Broad Breasted White according to the National Turkey Federation. Local farmer Iris Lemmond tells NewsChannel 12 that this type of turkey is a big reason several other breeds are on endangered lists.
"Just imagine you are on the highway and you see an 18-wheeler truck with thousands of birds in the little squares. They are all going to be mass-produced, mass-marketed," Iris said.
However, for turkeys at the Lemmond Family Farm this is not the case. The Lemmond family raises free-range turkeys on their farm in Pender County.
Free-range turkeys are able to roam around. They live in floorless pens, and can eat insects.
Iris said their turkeys are also known as Heritage turkeys. These Heritage turkeys are never fed hormones; they naturally reproduce and eat natural foods.
"These are just more unique birds, and we are trying to bring the breed back," Iris said.
Iris’s husband, James Lemmond, said they raise their three breeds – Bourbon Red, Royal Palm, and Narragansett turkeys – in a natural environment.
"You don’t have thousands of them stocked on top of each other. They roam around and eat bugs,” James said.
All these birds are part of The American Livestock’s conservation priority livestock list for 2013. Bourbon Reds and Royal Palms are on the watch list. Narragansetts are on the threatened list.
Breeds on the threatened list have a global population of less than 5,000. Birds on the ‘watch list’ have fewer than 10,000 breeds globally.
James said the taste of a free-range turkey doesn’t compare to turkeys from the stores.
“The flavor is very juicy. It’s really nice white meat. A lot of people think it’s dark meat because it’s wild, but it’s actually white once you cook it,” James said.
The United States Agricultural Department expects over 240,000 Broad Breasted White Turkeys to be raised in United States every year.
"The Broad Breasted Whites are the ones being mass produced in these turkey houses of today. A lot of those cannot breed by themselves. So, they have to be artificially inseminated,” James said.
James said industrial famers prefer Broad Breasted Whites because they grow much faster than free-range turkeys.
However, James doesn't mind how long these turkeys take to grow because he's happy to spend time with his family.