Lynn Schutte is a very busy woman this week. Besides feeding the 50 pigs, collecting eggs from 60 chickens and keeping track of 100 cattle, she must worry about next week’s crucial delivery: the turkeys.
Lynn, along with her husband Bob, owns and operates the 162 acre Northern Lights Christmas Tree Farm located in Pleasant Hill, OR. While many people are starting to relax as the holidays approach, Thanksgiving marks the busiest time of year for the farming couple: first comes the rush of birds, then a couple weeks later the trees go too.
The Schutte’s purchased the land back in 1986, and moved down to Oregon from Alaska permanently in 1994. Lynn retired early from her teaching position and Bob opted out of the mechanical engineering field to build the farm full time. Since the start of their adventure in Oregon, the Schutte’s knew that becoming successful farmers would take all of their time and effort, something they were more than willing to give. The couple has raised turkeys for the last seven years, gradually increasing the number every year.
Currently, the farm’s bird coops are inhabited by 40 turkeys of two different breeds, Heritage and Bronze Double-Breasted.Heritage turkeys are smaller but offer more dark meat, while the Double-Breasted (better known as the Butterball variety) weigh more and produce more white meat. On average, the farm-raised birds turn out to be between 15 and 25 pounds.
The Schutte’s take turkey orders as early as the customer requests, but all turkeys are butchered at the same time: Tuesday before Thanksgiving. Butchering was originally done on-site at Northern Lights Farm up until Oregon food preparation laws changed. Now the Schuttes deliver the turkeys to a state-inspected facility, and retrieve the birds post-processing.
The birds may seem relatively young at three and a half months old, but they’re already so large that flight has become a physical impossibility. Lynn describes raising turkeys as a delicate equation of nature.
“It’s always a balancing act between [the birds’] innate nature and our need for them to put on weight,” she said.
Lynn takes pride in the couple’s natural and humane method of raising and delivering turkeys. The Schuttes take care to move the turkey coops every five days, giving the birds fresh grass for grazing. From the time the birds are delivered to the farm as chicks until they’re sent off for butchering, the Schuttes carefully manage food intake. This ensures that the bird’s legs keep up with their rapidly growing bodies, allowing them to walk and exercise throughout their lifespan.
Commercially farmed turkeys don’t enjoy the comparatively plush lifestyle of the Schutte’s birds. After butchering, commercial birds are injected with saltwater saline to increase freshness and longevity. The injections also add water weight, increasing retail profitability at a cost to the consumer. Most commercially raised birds are too fat to stand and walk by the Thanksgiving deadline. This is the result of cramped holding coops with little or no exercise space.
According to Lynn, the Northern Lights natural raising process passes along value to the customer through superior meat quality.
“People tend to be repeat customers because the product is just amazing,” said Lynn, with a touch of prideful confidence. “You’re never going to have a better bird.”
From their beginnings in Alaska to moving here to the Lane County region, the Schutte’s have brought with them the belief that quality should never be sacrificed. And, even though they are approaching the busiest time of their year, they are more than happy to be providing the region with quality products that will not be found elsewhere.