Some Reasons Why Organic Turkeys Cost More

by updated 2012/08/05

This is another old Thanksgiving post that has been getting a lot of traffic this week. I bought two organic Turkeys last week, and this year the price was actually less that it was two years ago when this post was written. The store also had a much larger selection than it did back then. I think both of these observations point to a higher demand for organic turkeys. Consequently more organic producers are growing for the market, making availability and pricing more attractive.

Are organic turkeys worth the extra cost? Within reason, I think the answer is yes, but I have seen specialty, organically raised turkeys for sale online that give me pause. I guess the steep cost is partly the result of overnight shipping of fresh food, but still…. Take a look at this link to see what I mean. This company does sell out every holiday season, so there is a demand for these birds. Even though I am willing to pay more for an organic, free-range turkey, there are limits to our budget, so I choose to look locally for our holiday birds. Unfortunately, one of the drawbacks to ethically produced, healthier turkeys is the higher cost. Why do organic turkeys cost so much more than conventionally produced birds?

The biggest reason is probably the amount of space needed to raise turkeys organically vs. conventionally on huge turkey farms. Take a look at the picture of the turkey farm in the middle of my post encouraging people to try organic turkey. Compare that to the picture at the top of this article. If an industrial turkey farm can produce 10 times the number of turkeys per given area of growing space, then they can sell these turkeys at a lower cost per pound. Because hormones are not fed to organic turkeys, they grow slower than conventionally produced birds, requiring more feed per pound of turkey. I read about how one Australian turkey grower successfully made the switch from conventional to free range turkey raising. Farms such as that one can justify an increased cost for their birds, but be careful as not all turkey growers are as ethically responsible with the “free range” label. Unless you know the specifics of the farmer, buying organic can be a safer choice.

A smaller reason for the higher cost of organic turkeys is the demand factor. Supposedly, because only a small percentage of turkeys sold are organic, the economies of scale result in higher shipping and handling costs per bird. Another factor is that because they are still considered a “specialty item” by many groceries, they are priced at a higher markup than the huge freezer display of conventional turkeys.

I would be hesitant to pay the high cost of an online, organic, heritage variety turkey. I think my reluctance is simply that I can not justify the cost to our food budget. If money was not a factor at our Thanksgiving table, I might order one. This year I purchased a local, organic, free range turkey for $2.19 per pound. The store I bought it at had another nationally sold organic, free range, turkey for $1.99 per pound. I chose the local over the national, because I like to purchase local whenever possible and because the largest bird was a local one at just over 14 lbs. I have been able to get 15 or 16 lb organic or 18 to 20 lb free range in past years by ordering ahead of time. If I had needed a larger bird this year, I would have been out of luck at this store.

What I really did not like and what I think probably deters most people from buying an organic turkey, was the difference in price over the “broth injected” Butterballs and the like in the same case. The conventional turkeys were priced between 1.19 and 1.39 per lb. Another store was offering a brand of turkey I had not heard of at 19 cents per pound, (regular price 1.19), if you bought over $50.00 worth of groceries at the same time. A warehouse type grocery in town is advertising frozen turkeys at .89 cents per lb. So I pretty much paid double the price for an organic turkey.

I don’t think a much higher price can be justified for a free range bird, unless it is also organic, or you can verify the farming practices of the specific turkey grower. The USDA only requires that a turkey have access to outside air in order to be labeled free range. This access can sometimes be unbelievably limited.

Although most of the higher price of organic turkeys can be justified by the higher cost of production. Some of the differential, however, is undoubtedly tied to the grocer’s thinking it is a specialty item that they can charge a higher markup on. Obviously if you are going to spend the extra money for an organic turkey, you need to believe you are getting something worth the extra price. In my case, I do. What do you think?

Will Sig
1 JD Thomas

Another big factor I bet is the fact that they are not fed antibiotic laden feed so more do succumb to illness than those raised on antibiotics.

Reply

2 Will

That is what I thought too and that is a similar factor in growing organic produce without pesticides. But I have seen an interview with a family run large organic turkey farm in the South somewhere. They indicated that they actually have a much lower mortality rate than the large industrial farms even without using antibiotics. It was really quite impressive all the steps they took to make sure the birds had a healthy environment.

They said that there were two main reasons. Each chick costs quite a bit to get started so they don’t want to lose even one. And they have to worry that if a few birds get sick, depending on the disease, it can go through the flock quickly. So they maintain a clean environment and a close eye on the birds.

Reply

3 Anna

Personally, I would buy organic turkey, but I am not sure if I would buy off line, unless they ship in feathers, lol.

This line got my attention: ‘SOLD OUT FOR THANKSGIVING.Order for Christmas now, additional turkeys will be processed in December for Christmas delivery’, may be they should say ‘additional will be grown for December for Christmas delivery…’ – just playing on words, lol, the processed kind of stood out.

BTW I felt bad for those turkeys grown very close to each other, as per your earlier post. Not lol.

Anna :)

Reply

4 Will

That’s a good one, Anna! :-) I am pretty sure they ship without feathers! I would hope so since if other people are like me, when a live turkey arrived, it would become a pet, not dinner. I prefer the turkey farm to do the dirty deed!

The healthy turkeys really do taste better. And, they are becoming much more available frozen. I bought two more frozen to have handy for the next few weeks.

-Will

Reply

5 paulette

I recognize the what organic gives. I appreciate organic foods because those were safe. I cant blame the producers for the high cost of these products.

Reply

6 Will

Hi Paulette – The price of organics is something I have tried to write in-depth on a few times. It gets so involved and there are so many individual reasons that are product specific. I decided to break up the analysis into several shorter articles that hopefully will be posted soon.

By the way – Is the music site linked to your name your own site? I looked around a bit and liked it a lot. I’ll be back.

-Will

Reply

7 Medical Oddities

I don’t care what I buy as long as it fills me up. I’m not a picky person at all, lol. Oh, I also consider buying cheaper things a lot more, hah.

Medical Odditiess last blog post..Liberty Medical Supplies

Reply

8 Linda Prout

I feel so blessed to live in farm country. I called around for prices on heritage turkeys a few weeks back, and found them pretty pricey. Finally I located a local farmer who hosts a “pluck your own” heritage turkey party at his farm each year. It turns out to be a hugely popular event. There were lots of families participating, with kids plucking their own turkey. There was all kinds of homemade food, including hot soups, local made cheese, teas. All he asked for was something to trade! Someone brought firewood, someone theater tickets, while others made various kinds of food, or brought wine. We had great fun, experienced the true origin of our free ranging holiday bird and were able to give something we had to give. Oh, I picked up some unbelievable Peruvian Purple potatoes while there. It was refreshing to see hundreds of chickens running in open green pastures, pigs in clean open spaces, goats happily foraging and children enjoying a healthy farm experience. This will be the cheapest but richest heritage turkey I have ever experienced. More farmers should consider this idea.

Reply

9 Will

Wow Linda that sounds great, even worth the 2-1/2 hour trip up there! Maybe we will visit next year and go to this event. We still have a few hens for their eggs, although down from our high of 15 or 20 as we are not eating a lot of eggs these days. I have thought of raising some chickens and a few turkeys for eating, but I have not figured out the plucking part of it. Did they have a machine to use, or was it all by hand?

Your comment about the pigs rings a bell. I remember when I was young that the farmers in our area had pigs. I remember them as happy, sociable, animals. We used to ride them around the fields and they seemed to enjoy the attention. Many of the 4H kids here raise pigs and say that selling them after the fair is the hardest part of the deal. They get very attached. At a certain time of the year it is not uncommon to see kids walking their pigs down the road, training them like you would a dog. They are a very under appreciated animal and one that should never be in a factory like production feed lot.

Reply

10 Will

Hi Keith! Paying extra for healthy food. Sounds sort of silly doesn’t it? Shouldn’t most food be healthy? Many people are not aware of how we got to this point. They are also not aware that we are not really paying extra for ethically produced food, but paying an artificially low price for all the corn based junk most of us eat every day.

I finally got around to watching the movie Food Inc. last night. (Short review coming tomorrow.) If you have not seen it yet, rent it. No matter how much you already know about our “modern” food production industry, this film contains some eye opening facts.

Reply

11 Keith

When I was younger, my grandmother lived down the road from a turkey feedlot. Even at my young age, I was appalled at the closeness that those birds had to endure. Also there was not much forage for them inside the fence. This was in the Sandhills of North Carolina, and nothing was growing under those pine trees, certainly no green grass. The stench was also horrible.

I will gladly pay extra for healthier, more tasty food. When you consider that you are also paying $xx.xx per pound for the “broth” that they inject in the carcass, it becomes even more of a deal.

When you buy local and organic, you get the best of all worlds. Also, if you are a small businessman, not buying local whenever possible is business suicide. I like scratching backs!

Reply

12 BK

I believe I am getting something worth the extra price too. After reading Food, Inc, it had changed a lot of my perspective about food. In one way, I am definitely more mindful of how my food is being produced. Where money is concerned, sometimes we have people who are organically producing their foods so they can charge a premium than for the initial thoughts of producing foods that are healthier to people and to the environment.
.-= BK´s last blog ..Theme Song of Departures (Okuribito) =-.

Reply

13 Will

Hi BK – I am willing to believe that it is not the organic and ethical producers that are charging a premium, but the huge industrial producers that are getting so many tax breaks, passes on safety and labor regulations, etc. that they can charge an artificially low price for their food and still make a huge profit.

By the way that song from Departures on your latest post is indeed lovely. I have not seen the movie, I’ll put it on our list. Thanks!

Reply

14 Patty

I raise organic, fully pastured turkeys. Right now it is May 2011 and I’m crunching numbers for the season. I create very complex spreadsheets that enable me to compare many different scenarios. And here’s the kicker: My BREAKEVEN cost for my turkeys is $3.00 per pound IF I am super frugal, do not earn a penny for my labor, do not include the cost of the land or taxes or insurance. This breakeven cost does not cover any of my significant capital investments, or the costs of maintaining a website and serving customers. Of course, health insurance and long term savings are not remotely in the picture. If I charge equal to, or less than, the breakeven cost, I will not only work for nothing, but I will loose money on the actual expenses that go into the poults/feed/etc. The real dilemma is that factory farmed food is impossibly cheap because it is exploitive, subsidized and can utilize inputs like chicken manure as “feed”. Organic food is NOT expensive because growers are charging a premium, but because it reflects something closer to the true cost of food. If I charged a cost per pound that provided me a living wage, it would be too high for most markets. A very tough dilemma. Patty

Reply

15 Hillary

That is tough Patty. and the factory farmed product are no good because of the lack of standards. It is tough to see how so many farmers and people who raise organic food are being slighted. I have also read reports that while the number of farmers and farmland has decreased yet the demand has stayed the same and they are expected to keep up with it. Along with the various weather issues and the rise in temperatures across the globe has affected the outcome of these crops as well.
Hillary recently posted..The Loneliest Plant In The World – Krulwich WonderMy Profile

Reply

16 Will

I feel your pain Patty… And the pain of not always being able to afford the best quality food. I often choose not to eat certain meats that I can not afford rather than eat the less expensive agribusiness products.

The thing is that even though what you say is 100% correct, the reality given our current economic system is that 99% of people could not afford to buy your superior, healthier, ethical raised turkeys. Very sad indeed. If tomorrow all our food suddenly was ethically produced and priced accordingly, western economies would crash to a Mad Max world overnight.

Reply

17 Catherine

What you did NOT mention in the price factor of conventionally raised turkey over organic is that the conventional farmers are being subsidised by the government which is the biggest factor in them being able to offer their turkey at an extremely reduced rate over organic.

Reply

18 Will

You are correct, Catherine. I have know for a long time about the huge subsidies and tax breaks for big growers of commodities like soybeans and corn. But to think that the corporations that raise the turkeys for Butterball may enjoy these unfair advantages is indeed aggravating.

Reply

Thank you for your comments

CommentLuv badge
My full comment policy is linked here, but please do not use a keyword as your name. For great referrrals and backlinks, link to your site in the box and by using CommentLuv

Previous post:

Next post: