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Gobble, gobble Busy time begins at local farm

November 18, 2000

Gobble, gobble Busy time begins at local farm



By ANDREW SCHOTZ / Staff Writer


WILLIAMSPORT - Raising turkeys is a risky business and "a dirty operation," said Harold Williams, who sells and processes about 600 hens and toms each year on his farm.

On Wednesday, last-minute Thanksgiving meal planners will crowd his shop on Clear Spring Road.

"There will be a line of people out the door," Williams said.

Plenty of turkeys will be for sale, piled high on tables, divided by weight.

"We'll have this room cleaned up," he said.

"And the blood off his face," joked his wife, Louise.

The Williamses run one of seven turkey farms in Maryland, according to the state's Department of Agriculture. Those seven, plus three in Delaware, grew more than 604,000 turkeys, weighing a combined 15.1 million pounds, the Department of Agriculture said.

The Williamses' main source of income is the 40 cows they milk. The dairy operation takes up most of their 160 acres.

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The turkeys, which they let roam in a pasture, are a side business. Harold Williams starts raising his turkeys each July. His deadline is Christmas.

"You just don't know if you're going to get these birds sold," he said. "You have to stick your neck out a bit and buy a few more each year."

Customers' preferences are even less predictable.

"I cannot know what size the public wants. It will be 20 pounds one year, 15 the next," he said. "It's too late when they're on the scale."

On Saturday, Williams walked a visitor through the processing procedure. One machine boils the birds in 140-degree water to loosen the feathers. Another uses rubber "fingers" to scrub the feathers away.

As Williams and his son worked the machines, Louise Williams and one of her daughters finished the job manually. They plucked the few remaining feathers and washed the birds.

Each turkey is put in a tub of ice water and cooled to 40 degrees so it will be ready for a freezer.

On Saturday, people brought in their own turkeys for the Williamses to process. The Williamses reserve the last few days before Thanksgiving for processing the turkeys they themselves raise.

Alice Lafferty, of Fairplay, brought in two turkeys that belong to her husband, Dennis "Meeker" Lafferty. The larger one weighed 45 pounds.

"We had one last year that was 63 pounds," she said.

The turkey was so big and heavy, it had trouble breathing, so she had it processed.

She cut the mammoth bird in half to cook it, but even the halves wouldn't fit in the oven.

Lafferty's 45-pounder was a tom. Her other turkey Saturday was a 25-pound hen.

Harold Williams said he raises more hens than toms because people think hens have broader breasts and make better meals. Neither is true, he said, but he won't battle his customers on those points.

Williams, who also raises and processes chickens, has had his farm for 13 years. He picked up the turkey business about eight years ago when Earl Miller, of Cearfoss, decided to retire after 37 years.

Harold and Louise Williams work side by side with their two sons year-round.

When the turkey season arrives, the Williamses' three married daughters and their husbands pitch in. Each daughter and son-in-law has a dairy farm - one in Greencastle, Pa., the other two in Leitersburg.

"They have to milk the cows a little early and come home a little late," Harold Williams said.

This year, the public seems to want turkeys 12 to 14 pounds or 18 to 20 pounds, Louise Williams said.

And people appreciate having "super fresh" turkeys, for which they're paying $1.39 a pound, around three times the supermarket price.

"One lady said she wished she never tasted fresh turkey," because she wouldn't go back to store-bought, Louise Williams said.

The family will take Thanksgiving off, first going to church, then gathering for a meal. After that, it's back to work, as Christmas looms.

"Friday's no holiday," Harold Williams said.

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