Heritage turkeys part of historical connection for Brockett Family Farm

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A couple and their two daughters with a turkey.
Danielle and Ed Morgan with their daughters, Elsie, 2, and Gidget, 6, and a brood hen, Henny Penny, at Brockett Family Farm, in Atwater, Ohio, Nov. 12. (Sarah Donaldson photo)

ATWATER, Ohio — On a chilly November afternoon, Danielle Morgan opened a barn door at Brockett Family Farm, in Atwater, Ohio, to let her turkeys out. She walked into a field, the same ground her ancestors raised livestock on, while heritage turkeys followed — turkeys that look a lot like the ones her ancestors raised, too.

There are a few reasons she likes heritage turkeys, Morgan explained. In addition to being closer to what her ancestors raised than the more popular broad-breasted turkeys, they’re more like wild turkeys. They not only can run, but fly and roost.

Heritage turkeys are smaller and take longer to grow than broad-breasted turkeys. But they also have more flavor, especially if you cook them right — fast, and at a higher temperature, instead of low and slow. And customers notice. Morgan recalled one review from a customer who said the heritage turkey he bought brought back memories of meals with his grandparents.

“I just thought that it was so neat to bring back these things that people, especially the older generation, remember,” she said.

Family

Brockett Family Farm has a long history. The farm has been in Danielle Morgan’s family since the 1800s, and has been many things over the year — orchard, dairy, poultry farm, sheep farm and so on.

“I think everyone stayed in agriculture, but maybe different pieces of agriculture through time,” she said.

In the 1970s, it was known as the W.E. Brockett Turkey Farm, and was home to 12,000 turkeys at one time. Her dad later bought the farm from his great uncle and started a dairy farm. Then, about four years ago, Danielle Morgan and Ed, her husband, bought the farm from her dad.

They raise turkeys and beefalo, which are crosses between cattle and bison that are 17-37.5% bison, and also grow and sell seasonal vegetables. Their beefalo have some Jersey genetics, because they prefer the marbling of that meat and because then they can also be milked.

Turkeys walking out of a barn.
Heritage turkeys walk out of the barn at Brockett Family Farm, Nov. 12, in Atwater, Ohio.
(Sarah Donaldson photo)

Off-farm

Danielle Morgan always loved agriculture, but she spent some time away from it as a young adult. Her dad encouraged her to get off the farm for a little bit and experience more of the world.

“He said, ‘It’ll always be there,’” Danielle Morgan said.

So after college, she worked in California, in accounting, for about two years. Then, she moved back to Ohio and got a job working on the financial side of a dairy farm. From there, she got involved in dairy technology.

That off-farm work has given her an appreciation for large agriculture. While she plans to keep her own farm fairly small, she appreciates how efficient and relatively inexpensively big agriculture can produce food.

She and Ed both work off the farm full time, and keeping the farm going is a joint effort. Danielle handles the marketing and business side. With the turkeys, she prefers dealing with them when they’re still little. Ed doesn’t like dealing with the poults, but doesn’t mind handling the adult turkeys.

“So, we’ve got an agreement,” Ed Morgan said.

Ed is fairly new to agriculture, but was able to learn a lot from Danielle’s parents on the former dairy farm. They live next door and still help out sometimes.

Marketing

For 2021, the family raised about 150 broad-breasted turkeys and about 125 heritage turkeys. Broad-breasted turkeys grow faster and bigger, taking about 16-22 weeks to reach market weight, and bring in more profit. By mid-November, Danielle Morgan already sent her broad-breasted turkeys to the processor. The heritage Thanksgiving turkeys don’t go to slaughter until the Monday before Thanksgiving.

Heritage turkeys aren’t the easiest to get a hold of. Or the cheapest. When Danielle Morgan buys them off farm, they usually came from New Mexico and cost about $12 per bird to ship.

So, the Morgans have been trying to raise more heritage turkeys on their own farm. They had 10 brood hens last year, and those hens hatched out more than 75 poults. That gives them a little more control over costs, genetics and biosecurity.

The Morgans take their products to Haymaker Farmers Market, in Kent, every other week. They also sell online through their website and Market Wagon, which is basically an online farmers market.

Marketing for turkeys is a little different around Thanksgiving than through the rest of the year. Turkey sausage and ground turkey do well in the summer, when some people are looking for leaner alternatives to other meat, Danielle Morgan said. Around Thanksgiving, more people are looking for whole turkeys, and customers find them through the website, at the market and just by word of mouth.

Selling the products is great, Danielle Morgan said, but “my goal is actually more to connect people with farming.”

She enjoys the animal care side of the farm, and likes talking to people at farmers markets about farm life. A lot of people aren’t closely connected with agriculture, she said. Long term, she hopes to be able to invite people to the farm so they can find that connection.

History

Danielle Morgan enjoys knowing that she has a historical connection to her ancestors on the farm. Sometimes, she still finds horseshoes around the property. But she’s not afraid to change things, either. She values technology, as someone who works in dairy tech, and is always researching and learning ways to improve her farm from other farmers.

“There’s such a connection to history that I have that sometimes I struggle with getting rid of things that are just historical, but maybe not useful anymore,” Danielle Morgan said. “Generations before used the information they had to make the best decisions they could to survive.”

She has taken down buildings and structures on the farm that don’t work for her operation — and she knows her ancestors did that too. They used the land for different livestock and crops, depending on what they needed. They built and took down structures, and reused as many materials as they could.

Even as they adapt the farm to make it work for them, the Morgans still hold onto some of the things past generations did — rotating livestock through different fields and sticking to what their land can sustain for grazing, keeping animals outside on pastures, reusing older equipment or materials as much as possible.

Because generations before her did a good job of grazing livestock on the pastures, Danielle Morgan said, she has benefitted from healthy fields on the farm. Likewise, she hopes that if her daughters, Gidget, 6, and Elsie, 2, want to farm there someday, they will benefit from the work she does.

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Reporter Sarah Donaldson is a former 4-Her and a Mount Union graduate from Columbiana County, Ohio. She enjoys playing and writing music, cooking, and storytelling in many forms. She can be reached at 800-837-3419 or sarah@farmanddairy.com.

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