October 23, 2014

Elyria
Partly sunny
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Turkey farmers keep family and national tradition alive

COLUMBIA STATION — Glancing over the approximately 15 turkeys plucking grain from the ground of her 50-acre family farm, Kathy Breychak told visitors what they’d missed.

“If you’d been here last week you would have seen the whole group,” Breychak said of the 15-year-old Blue Egg Farm run by the family of four, which typically sees one of its busiest periods of the year in the weeks leading to Thanksgiving Day.

“All the dirty work has been done,” she said, referring to the somewhat unappetizing but necessary process that converts the strutting, gobbling birds into plucked, scrubbed, ready-for-the-oven entrees.

Each year, Breychak, her husband, Dan, son Michael, 20, an engineering technology student at Lorain County Community College, and daughter Taylor, 17, who plans to study chemical engineering and be in the marching band at The Ohio State University, raise several dozen turkeys for a group of annual customers who put in their orders each January.

Customers choose from the biggest, broad-breasted tom turkeys to much smaller varieties of Heritage turkeys distinguished by names as bronze, buff, Narragansett and Sweetgrass.

Besides their size, toms are most often known by their wattles, or bright red flaps of skin beneath the chin, and impressive tail feathers, which are spread wide when they hear loud, potentially threatening sounds or are approached by animals they view as threatening.

“If they view something as a rival, they puff themselves out as if to say ‘I’m too big to eat,’ ” Breychak said with a note of irony.

Toms can grow as large as 85 pounds, but none do so on the Columbia Station farm.

“They’re bred big for the meat,” Breychak said. “Walking is a real chore for them. It’s tough for their legs to support the weight.”

The few tom turkeys on hand Tuesday clocked in at about 45 pounds but will be more like 25 to 30 pounds once they’re dressed for customers.

Despite their impressive size, none are older than 6 months.

If that sounds like a brief lifespan, consider that commercially processed turkeys are often slaughtered for sale at 17 to 20 weeks, Breychak said.

“I like to have them free range,” she said. “The longer life they lead, the more flavor and better texture they have.”

By letting her turkeys fatten themselves on pasture grasses and other things provided by nature, the family saves some of the costs of commercial corn and soy grains, which have risen steeply in recent years “now that they know how to make ethanol from it,” Breychak said.

Tapping a large plastic bucket filled with corn feed, Breychak was quickly surrounded by a loud, excited group of turkeys picking the food from the ground.

“This is the last meal for some of them,” Breychak said.

While most people picture big turkeys gracing Thanksgiving tables, some prefer the much smaller Heritage varieties, which can weigh just 8 pounds when prepared for sale.

When the time comes, the birds meet their demise with the help of an inverted orange work zone-style cone and a tool Breychak referred to as lopping shears.

None of the turkeys the farm sells spend any time in a freezer.

“They’re put in a refrigerator to get cool, but not in a freezer,” Breychak said. “We keep them as fresh as possible.”

To learn more, visit blueeggfarm.com.

Thanksgiving closings

  • City, county, state and federal offices will be closed Thursday and Friday in observance of the Thanksgiving holiday.
  • Sanitation collections by the city of Elyria and Republic Services will not be made on Thursday, but will resume Friday. Those on a Friday pickup will have their trash picked up Saturday.
  • Post offices, banks and the Elyria Public Library will be closed Thursday but will be open on Friday. Some banks with automated or in-store ATMs may be available to conduct transactions.
  • Most retail stores will be closed Thursday or have restricted operating hours.
  • Lorain County Transit buses will be idle for the holiday but will return to regular routes Friday morning. E-check emission stations will be closed for the holiday.
  • Taxi services will be available throughout the holiday.

Contact Steve Fogarty at 329-7147 or sfogarty@chroniclet.com.