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Published November 19, 2010, 12:00 AM

Turkeys are family affair

Free-range birds added to operation
Rothsay, Minn. - In the Velo family, talking turkey is serious business. For four generations the family-run farm outside Rothsay has produced the main component of thousands of Thanksgiving dinners.

By: John Lamb, INFORUM

Rothsay, Minn. - In the Velo family, talking turkey is serious business.

For four generations the family-run farm outside Rothsay has produced the main component of thousands of Thanksgiving dinners.

The youngest generation added another feather to its cap this year – free-range turkeys.

While the family still runs the commercial turkey operation and farms 600 acres of corn, siblings Kelsey (24), Alanna (22) and Eddie (26) Velo fenced off an area away from the turkey barn. In it they let a small number of birds roam free, feasting on feed, grass and bugs.

“We joke that they’re on the model diet because they’re so beautiful,” Kelsey said of the broad-breasted white birds.

Beautiful, but certainly not model skinny. The free-range variety grew significantly faster than the barn birds and by mid-October, some were as heavy as 42 pounds, about twice the size of a good-sized bird.

Kelsey and Alanna would frequently pick up the birds, give them a hug and see how they were growing.

“After a while it got to be a real workout,” Kelsey says, laughing. “They tend to be healthier and happier, but they’re more risky, too.”

She says free-range takes more work because weather is more of a factor and farmers have to look out for diseases or predators. The Velos lost a handful of young turkeys to an owl.

They still processed 50 turkeys and are already looking forward to next year, though they’ll push back the start date from spring to summer, realizing how fast the free-rangers grow.

All of this year’s birds are already sold, but the Velos are taking pre-orders for next year; e-mail them at velofamilyfarms@gmail.com with your contact information, or check “Velo Family Farm’s Free Range Turkey” page on Facebook.

They hope to keep the price between $1.40 and $1.50 per pound, compared to store-bought, mass-produced frozen birds that can be on sale for as low as 58 cents per pound.

They recognize the price differential, but market to people who are less cost-conscious and more conscientious about how their food is produced and where it comes from.

“Most of our customers have asked to be on the list next year,” Kelsey said.

One of those satisfied customers is Concordia College, Kelsey and Eddie’s alma mater,Janet Paul Rice, associate director of dining services, heard about the free-range birds and ordered one – a relatively small 21-pounder – for her own family. When Kelsey and Alanna delivered it, Rice was so impressed she ordered 12 free-range turkeys for Concordia’s annual Thanksgiving dinner last week, which fed 1,904.

“They were monsters. We joked that they were the size of Volkswagens,” Rice said. “I would have to say they were probably the most impressive birds we had.”

The Velo siblings say in the future they want to expand the amount of free-range turkeys and will explore doing a crop of organic birds.

Come Thanksgiving the kids will put their mouth where their money is and roast two of their own turkeys. They’ll compare the broad-breasted white, the most popular variety, with one of their heritage Narragansett turkeys that roam free on the farm.

“We never get sick of turkey,” Kelsey says.


Readers can reach Forum reporter John Lamb at (701) 241-5533

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