BIG BIRDS

Giant turkeys hard to raise, hard to come by

2013-11-22T00:00:00Z 2013-11-22T16:10:10Z Giant turkeys hard to raise, hard to come byBy TOM LUTEY tlutey@billingsgazette.com The Billings Gazette

Now that’s a rare bird.

As the Hutterites of Martinsdale Colony unloaded fresh turkeys at Poly Food Basket, one emerged with pterodactyl-sized drumsticks and a chest cavity big enough to accommodate a smaller turkey Russian-doll style.

Weighing in at 38 pounds, it was the biggest tom turkey that butcher Mike Christianson will see this year. The small neighborhood grocery store at 2648 Poly Drive is known for its big birds at Thanksgiving. Customers begin requesting turkeys months ahead. Christianson tells the Hutterites he will take as many big birds as he can get.

However, it’s hard to raise a turkey as large as a medium-sized dog, according to colony's poultry man. This year, the big birds are nearly as rare as flying penguins.

“It’s kind of difficult to get a really big turkey this year,” Christianson said. “We had orders for 50 pounders, but I couldn’t cover them.”

Fifty pounders are hard to come by. Period. Last year, Martinsdale delivered one 50-pound turkey to Poly Food Basket and Christianson said it was the biggest turkey he’d ever seen. The bird’s chest had a rolling contour that resembled six-pack abs. Its drumsticks had cankles.

Christianson said the market contacted Masonic Temple Chief Bob Snow at the Al Bedoo Shrine to cook the 50-pounder, because the Al Bedoo had one of the few ovens big enough to cook the bird. After the cook pulled the big bird from the oven, he placed one of its golden brown drumsticks on a scale. The drumstick weighed 6 pounds.

“The biggest birds we have are three 38 pounders,” said Ken Wipf, of Martinsdale Colony. “See, what we have to do is order like 10 of them back in March already. When it’s so hot out there they can’t take the heat and they just fall over.”

About the time the big birds are hitting their stride in late July or August, the colony is just beginning to start its population of normal-sized birds.

This year, Martinsdale Colony is selling about 4,500 birds. The turkeys are sold from Missoula to Sidney.

Mountain View Colony near Broadview raised about 3,000 turkeys this year.

Golden Valley Colony near Ryegate raised 2,500 turkeys of the 15- to 27-pound variety.

All three colonies sell turkeys in Billings, mostly on pre-order, though stores sometimes have a few extra to sell.

“We got about 60 extra,” said Christianson, who ordered about 400 for Poly customers. “My advice to people is don’t wait.”

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