Heritage turkeys, rare geese add to farm’s tour value
LOVETTSVILLE, Va. — The heritage geese and turkeys at Sunny Knoll EcoFarm have eluded Christmas dinner plates and are according to owner Sarah Greenleaf spending the season wading a pond between hatchings and gaining weight to keep warm for winter.
The geese, considered extremely rare and in need of conservation by Livestock Conservancy standards, are able to digest grasses that other birds cannot.
The turkeys long took a backseat to Standard Bronzes and are making a comeback because of biological fitness and flavor, the Livestock Conservancy contends.
Greenleaf raises both as breeding stock and offers a variety of farm tours.
Her 20 geese and nine turkeys share a barn with chickens and waterfowl and have free range to 15 acres shared also with goats and Guernsey cows that produce golden milk, she said.
Each spring hatching season and sometimes for a second clutch in summer, Greenleaf sells the goslings for which she already has a spring waitlist, she said.
Sunny Knoll’s early maturing Narragansett turkeys are also in demand, Greenleaf said.
Greenleaf if she wanted to sell the birds as meat could not: USDA-inspector slaughterhouses are too expensive, she said, and the nearest non-USDA facility in West Virginia only allows for selling within that state.
Even her heritage breed chickens are grown for the rainbow-colored eggs that they produce, though Greenleaf said that she eats excess birds at home.
Greenleaf is in those instances consuming rich histories and what she described as complex social structures and delightful personalities.
Cotton Patch geese — typically, sleek and upright with rounded heads, elongated bodies and slightly roman beaks with pink or orange bills — are smaller than other geese and, because of that, are better able to tolerate hot weather, according to the Livestock Conservancy.
The geese descended from European imports from as far back as the 1600s, the Conservancy noted and, according to Greenleaf, they are “friendlier than other geese.”
“They really have wonderful personalities,” she said. “They’re also extremely smart.”
The geese were until the 1950s used to pluck weeds from cotton and corn fields, according to the Livestock Conservancy.
During the Great Depression, they provided many farming families a regular source of meat, eggs and grease, the Livestock Conservancy noted.
Black-bearded Naragansetts, developed in Rhode Island and maintaining what the Conservancy described as “calm” dispositions, likely descended from the domestic Norfolk Black and grew during the 1800s by ranging for grasshoppers, crickets and other insects, the information states
The turkeys feature red to bluish white heads, salmon shanks and feet and bronze tails, the Conservancy noted.
Males, when they are ready to mate, puff out their feathers in anticipation of siring the next brood, Greenleaf said.
“They’re trying to be the fanciest turkey out there,” she said. “I think they show off for each other more than anyone else.
“The females are looking for something good to eat.”