Linda Hart says she named her farm Crazy Hart Ranch because she figured anyone who was raising Narragansett turkeys in southeast Florida had to be just a little crazy.
"This isn't exactly a farming community here, but I wanted to breed healthy, happy birds. [The] biggest reason I decided to start raising turkeys was for the taste and the quality," says Hart, a contract healthcare worker who found a natural talent raising the heritage breed birds. "Today, that's what my customers want too. The meat retains its moisture, has a finer texture, and has so much flavor. You can definitely taste the difference between my turkeys and conventional turkeys."
In a few weeks, everyone will be eating turkey. According to CNN.com, Americans ate an estimated 46 million turkeys in 2015. This year, that number is expected to grow.
When they head to the grocery store for their holiday bird, most shoppers won't question where their turkey comes from — or how it was raised, fed, and treated during the course of its life.
But those animal-welfare-minded folks who want to buy a local bird can do so with a pasture-raised turkey from Crazy Hart Ranch in Fellsmere. As one of the state's first pasture-raised turkey and poultry farmers, Hart can teach you more about your Thanksgiving turkey than you might care to know.
A turkey's journey from Hart's farm to your table is a nine-month process, one that begins every spring when, in early March, several pairs of breeding turkeys begin to lay eggs. Hart allows the birds to begin laying eggs when they see fit, without the use of artificial lighting to get them "in the mood" sooner. She collects eggs over the course of the next two months. Because turkeys don't lay as often as chickens, it requires some patience.
In four weeks, the chicks will hatch, and young turkeys will spend the next six to seven months growing on a diet of organic feed supplemented with organic apple cider vinegar and sunflower oil and foraging native vegetation on land that has never been treated with any type of pesticide or fertilizer.
The birds are free to roam a secured section of Hart's five-acre property and raised without the use of antibiotics or hormones. "I don't like to use the word 'free-range,'" says Hart, who raises one flock each season. "That implies they may be caged at some point. My turkeys are never caged."
During the last week of October, Hart begins the final task: slaughtering and processing over 150 birds in preparation for the impending holiday. Everything is done by hand, a three-step kosher process.
She received the permits required to process onsite in 2013 but has always done everything humanely. Along with the help of friends and family, she's able to process about 40 birds in one day. Approximately 90 birds are still on the farm come early November, awaiting the final orders Hart will receive over the next few weeks.
"Everything stays on the ranch," says Hart. "Guts, feathers, bones. Nothing leaves. It's a complete circle."
After processing, each turkey is fresh-frozen and labeled according to orders. Hens weigh anywhere from 7 to 9 pounds, toms from 14 to 16, and a limited number of birds grow to be 18 pounds and larger. They sell for $11 per pound.
Two years ago, Hart stopped selling her birds at local green markets. Today, all her sales are online. Customers have been known to purchase Crazy Hart Ranch birds from as far south as Key Biscayne and as far north as Orlando and Jacksonville. A number of local private clubs and high-end restaurants buy from Hart, including her chickens and ducks.
Although Hart has been known to receive orders as early as July, she recommends preordering as soon as possible due to the limited number of birds she harvests each year. Ordering can be done via email, phone, or her website. Birds are secured with a $40 nonrefundable deposit by check or cash, and credit charges can be made via the Square Store with an additional 4 percent convenience fee on all transactions.
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SHOW ME HOW
Crazy Hart Ranch does not ship but instead offers three turkey pickup locations, including:
Crazy Hart from 1 to 5 p.m. on Monday, November 21, and Tuesday, November 22 (turkey pickup at the ranch before Monday, November 23, may be arranged by appointment); Heritage Hen Farm in Boynton Beach from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturday, November 19; and Funky Chicken Farm in Melbourne from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Sunday, November 20.
"It's amazing what nature will provide for us if we let it," says Hart. "No automated-feed machines, fattening supplements, or fancy confinement facilities here. When we allow the animals to be themselves, they produce a natural, healthy meat. It's all about being natural."
Crazy Hart Ranch. 12416 91st St., Fellsmere; 772-913-0036; crazyhartranch.com.
Nicole Danna is a food writer covering Broward and Palm Beach counties. To get the latest in food and drink news in South Florida, follow her @SoFloNicole or find her latest food pics on the BPB New Times Food & Drink Instagram.