Jim and Kay Richardson of Richardson Farms know how to treat turkeys right (and cows, pigs, and chickens, and even a few ducks). The animals pursue happiness on the range, in mobile pens, and in as happy a circumstance as nature can provide on their 200-acre farm near Rockdale. That’s western Milam County about four miles west of the Williamson County line.
Richardson provides all of Greenling’s local turkeys for the holidays – and they are a hot item: they sell out by early November, and the difference between serving a happy, local, free-range bird opposed to a processed, shipped, frozen gobbler cannot be described until you have tasted the difference.
But Jim, a veterinarian that practiced in Bowie, Texas for 25 years, says the real difference is the quality of life the turkey enjoys. They’re raised in mobile pens, moved just about every day, fed alfalfa and other homegrown grasses, and they’re a perky bunch.
“These can fly about six feet off the ground and then they come back,” Jim says of the broad-breasted white turkeys that gather at the edge of one of their mobile pens, curious about a new visitor. Jim described the challenges of keeping the poultry safe in a free-range environment – challenges including skunks, hawks, coyotes, and the weather.
Richardson Farms also has free range chickens, many very large, what Jim calls “a big chicken.” In quality and size and taste, the chickens rival his turkeys.
“We grow the feed and grind it here,” Jim says as his grandson Logan shows off the eggmobile and his chicken coop. Logan has a serious dislike for the skunks and particularly likes the blue eggs from the Americana chickens.
“Blue is my favorite color,” Logan adds.
The turkeys live together in pens with both females and males. The males have distinctive markings, including snoods angling over their beaks and a mottled skin over their face and neck that changes color according to their mood.
The mobile turkey pens are arranged all across the farm, which is ringed by a line of trees – one of the elements that led Jim and Kay to buy the property in 2001. They planted row upon row of Live Oak, Red Oak, and Mexican White Oak back then, and he says he hasn’t lost a tree, despite the longest Texas drought on record. And it’s a straight-up, dry land farm – no irrigation. Richardson raises wheat for flour, zucchini, popcorn, corn, and other vegetables, but his main focus is the quality of life of his livestock.
As Jim peeled off some his own homegrown hay for his baby pigs to keep warm despite a coming cold front, he explained his philosophy about raising animals.
“They really want to be friends with you. They’re kind of like the turkey. The turkey wants to be your friend, too,” he says. “The dang chickens don’t have enough sense to be friends… You know, we never are ugly to them, and we try to just make them have the best day of their life every day.”
That kind of loving care is what makes Richardson Farms turkeys the best of the best.
by Cody Garrett, Ham Hustler