For More Local Turkeys To Hit Holiday Tables, You Need An Abattoir : The Salt Demand for locally raised birds is growing faster than small farms can keep pace with. One New England farmer is making a bold move to get more gobblers to the table.

For More Local Turkeys To Hit Holiday Tables, You Need An Abattoir

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Well, Ari, it wouldn't be the Tuesday before Thanksgiving on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED without a story about - guess.


I'm going to say geese.

CORNISH: No. I'm sorry.

SHAPIRO: No, pigeons.

CORNISH: One more time.

SHAPIRO: Ducks. Ducks?

CORNISH: Turkey.

SHAPIRO: Right, turkey.

CORNISH: Actually, turkeys - plural. This is a busy time for turkey farms. So NPR's Chris Arnold visited one farmer in New England to find out what she's doing to get her birds from her field to your table.

CHRIS ARNOLD, BYLINE: Farmer Kate Stillman is checking on the pigs in her old, wooden barn. It's cold outside, but it's warm in here. And the sows are sacked out on straw, nursing some very cute, little piglets.

Oh, my goodness. Look at them with spots.

KATE STILLMAN: Aren't they adorable?

ARNOLD: Yeah. And they're like the size of little footballs.

STILLMAN: Yeah. They're like - they come out walking and know what to do.

ARNOLD: Stillman walks outside where you can see the land around this 160-acre farm. It's actually a beautiful little place with some pastures on hillsides and some woods. It's been here in Hardwick, Massachusetts, since the early 1800s. And Stillman's been fixing up the barns and the farmhouse.

STILLMAN: We came to this place about six years ago. And it's been a labor of love. Slowly, bit by bit, we're adding, you know, new barns for animals and stuff like that.

ARNOLD: And I guess these are the turkeys over here?

STILLMAN: Yep. These are turkeys.

ARNOLD: These are free-range turkeys, so they have the run of the whole farm. Some are actually so-called heritage breed birds, so they're more like the kind, say, that Benjamin Franklin used to eat. And with the local farm movement growing, you might say that Stillman's business here is spreading its brown, speckled wings.

STILLMAN: You know, when we started here, I struggled to sell 50 birds. And we raised just about 700 this year.

ARNOLD: And that actually created a problem because all these small, local farms have been popping up around New England. But Stillman says there just aren't enough processing facilities nearby to take your animals to.

STILLMAN: That's a huge problem for all New England farms. Last year we were processing our birds in Vermont. And it's a two and a half hour hike for us.

ARNOLD: Which is tough to do with 700 turkeys. So this year, for the first time, the birds are meeting their fate right here on this farm.

STILLMAN: This is my butcher, John Steines.

JOHN STEINES: I was told that I had a knife in my hand before I had a pencil so...

ARNOLD: That doesn't sound very safe.

STEINES: Yeah. Well, I grew up doing this with my father on the farm.

ARNOLD: Kate Stillman says she's lucky to have such a good butcher here in her new building, which is called an abattoir in the local food world and in foodie culture.

STILLMAN: How many birds you guys do?

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: A hundred twenty five.

STILLMAN: A hundred and twenty five birds.

ARNOLD: It actually took Kate Stillman three years to get all the right permits and to build this place. And finding a bank to loan her the money - that wasn't too easy either.

STILLMAN: A single female opening up a slaughterhouse, you know, raises some eyebrows. I sat in a room full of bankers who said to me, like, wouldn't you rather bake cookies? You know, it's hard. You can either choose to be offended, or you can take it and tuck it in your back pocket and keep going.

ARNOLD: And that's what Kate Stillman and her farm crew is doing.

STILLMAN: We've really had things cranked up. We've been, you know, running 'til late at night. We all sat down and shared a beer last night and said, we did this.

ARNOLD: And because of that, 700 people around Massachusetts will have a locally raised and butchered bird from Stillman's farm for Thanksgiving. Chris Arnold, NPR News, Boston.

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