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300 turkey orders bring family together

November 24, 1997

300 turkey orders bring family together

By KERRY LYNN FRALEY

Staff Writer

WILLIAMSPORT - Like many parents, Harold and Louise Williams look forward to their grown children returning home for Thanksgiving.

But it's not your average belly-bloating homecoming they're anticipating.

Since the Williamsport-area couple got into the turkey business eight years ago, the holiday week has meant a frenzy of hard work to get enough of their turkeys slaughtered and dressed to fill Thanksgiving orders, they said.

The Williamses count on their two married daughters to return home with their husbands and join the family and a few hired helpers in the effort, said Louise Williams, 44.

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Thanksgiving is always the busiest time of the year for turkey orders, said the Williamses, who raise the birds on their Clear Spring Road dairy farm as a seasonal sideline.

This year, the farm has close to 300 orders for fresh Thanksgiving turkeys, Louise Williams said.

That's about 50 more than last Thanksgiving, she said.

Christmas orders haven't really started coming in yet, she said.

However, if it's like recent years, they can expect about 200 Christmas turkey orders, many from customers who enjoyed one of their turkeys at Thanksgiving, she said.

Except for the handwritten sign at the entrance to their farm, the Williamses rely on word-of-mouth advertising, she said.

Turkeys - both toms and hens are raised for eating - range from 10 to 30 pounds, said Harold Williams, 47, who said they were raising 600 for this holiday season.

The couple buys them at one day old and raises them between 14 and 16 weeks before they're slaughtered for fresh sale, he said.

To end up with a variety of different weights, they start a new group of poults, or baby turkeys, every three weeks, Louise Williams said.

"When we first started, no one wanted more than a 20-pound turkey," she said. "People started wanting the bigger turkeys, so we had to start them sooner to get the big turkeys."

Turkeys fated for Thanksgiving dinner tables began coming into the farm's slaughterhouse about 8 a.m. Monday morning, Louise Williams said.

Preparation involves multiple steps, said Williams, who expected they would be working until about 8 p.m. Monday to process the needed birds.

The turkeys are hung upside down and their heads are chopped off, she said.

Then they're dipped in scalding water, put into a plucking machine, and dipped three times in vats of fresh ice water, she said.

They end up in a big tank of ice water, where they're kept overnight, she said.

Today they'll be weighed and wrapped in bags to be ready for customers to pick up their orders, she said.

She said they planned to get started at about 7 a.m. today to get the remaining turkeys processed and the place clear of blood, feathers and other traces of the preparation process before the pickups began.

"We like to get everything cleaned up before the customer comes so they don't see all that happened to them," said Louise Williams, who said some customers seem bothered by that aspect of buying a fresh turkey.

But, for most, the more flavorful taste and fresh smell of the turkey beats out any skittishness and makes up for the significant price difference, she said.

"Our customers know the difference. They say they taste and smell fresh," she said.

Customers also like the fact that their turkeys aren't pumped up with hormones or sprayed with chemicals to keep fresh, she said.

There are less than 20 turkey producers in Maryland, said Richard Dittman, a statistician for the Maryland Department of Agriculture in Annapolis.

Most have smaller-scale operations than the Williamses, Dittman said.

Many have so many local return customers year after year they don't advertise their business for fear of being swamped with more orders, he said.

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