You don't need to be a Pilgrim to know that turkey is a Thanksgiving favorite. For months leading up to the holiday, many turkey farmers open their farms to visitors. Most visits are designed for little ones; kids can watch the birds, learn about them and (at least in 1 case) pet them. All farms sell turkeys, too. Here are 5 of our favorite turkey farms worth investigating.
Claude Moore Colonial Farm
Visiting this McLean, VA, farm is like stepping back in time -- to the 1700s, to be exact. The place replicates a pre-Revolutionary War farm, complete with workers dressed in period garb and "heritage livestock" descended from animals found in Virginia at the turn of the 18th century. Turkey species on site include Bronzeback and Spanish Black; they are for show only (meaning none is killed and cooked). Until October, visiting children take the turkeys out into the tobacco fields so the animals can eat worms that would otherwise ruin crops. Throughout the year, the farm also hosts "market fairs," which feature costumed vendors, artisans and entertainers.
Misty Knoll Farms
New Haven, Vermont
One of the largest turkey operations in New England, this family-owned New Haven, VT, farm sells roughly 20,000 turkeys a year, and has its own US Department of Agriculture inspector on site. The selling point of the farm is that it's "free-range," meaning that turkeys spend time in large barns, pens or pastures and are free to cluck and waddle wherever they see fit. The farm is open to visitors between May and December, and guests are encouraged to peek through the wire fence and watch the birds as they wander. There's also a small store where guests can buy everything from fresh (processed) birds to frozen and ready-to-cook turkey pot pies.
Bechard Family Farm
While this 11-year-old farm off the I-44 in Conway, MO, offers turkeys between July and late November, they are only 1 of 5 pasture-raised animals here (the others are chickens, cows, sheep and pigs). Visitors can watch farmed turkeys run around for hours; they can also pet and interact with Jack, the farm's mild-mannered "pet" turkey. Bechard's also boasts a modest store that sells birds fresh off the processing line (as well as other meats, jams and amazing homemade soaps). Because the farm processes turkeys on set days, if you're interested in buying, it's usually a good idea to call ahead before stopping by. The farm is closed on Sundays.
Diestel Family Turkey Ranch
Tucked away in the Sierra foothills near Sonora, CA, the Diestel Family Ranch has been raising turkeys for nearly 90 years. The farm squawks to life in early spring, and is buzzing with birds until December of every year. Visitors flock to the farm to lunch at picnic tables overlooking the turkey paddock; the area is a great vantage point to watch the animals as they (quite literally) strut their stuff. Afterward, be sure to visit the on-site store, where sale items include frozen turkeys, fresh turkeys (in November), turkey burgers, turkey sausages and sliced turkey meat. The farm is only open to the public Monday-Friday so plan ahead.
This family farm in Sparks, MD, specializes in chicken eggs, but sells other fowl seasonally, as well. Between May and November, this means the place is crawling with turkeys. On slower days (always call first), owners David and Lilly Smith let guests interact with certain birds (under supervision, of course). Usually this involves wandering into a pasture and letting curious turkeys come over to check folks out. In the spring, when new turkeys hatch, the Smiths also take visitors on impromptu tours of the incubator room. For Thanksgiving, the farm raises special Narragansett turkeys, a heritage breed. Come November, fresh specimens are available for purchase at the on-site store.