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Carroll County turkey farmers rethink production methods amid coronavirus pandemic

Katie Brower, right, and her children Carmella, 3, and Luke, 6, with some of the bronze breasted turkeys that Brower and her husband Adam raise, along with cattle, sheep and chickens on their Whispering Breeze Farm in Taneytown Friday, Nov. 6, 2020.
Katie Brower, right, and her children Carmella, 3, and Luke, 6, with some of the bronze breasted turkeys that Brower and her husband Adam raise, along with cattle, sheep and chickens on their Whispering Breeze Farm in Taneytown Friday, Nov. 6, 2020. (Dylan Slagle/Carroll County Times)

The Thanksgiving holiday is all about the big meal. Families typically gather for the big turkey dinner with all of the trimmings: stuffing, sweet potatoes, greens, macaroni and cheese, cranberry sauce and more.

This year, however, fewer people are expected at the dinner table because of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, meaning the big bird in the middle of it all is likely to be smaller, too.

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Katie Brower of Whispering Breeze Farm in Taneytown, a family-owned farm since 1901, said changes needed to be made to maintain product availability to customers this year.

As many Carroll County farmers rethink production strategy amid the financial pressures caused by the pandemic, the Brower family has found new ways to serve customers this upcoming holiday season.

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“We’ve been selling a lot of turkey breasts and legs because people still want the tradition, but they don’t want to have this huge bird they feel like they can’t eat,” Brower said.

Katie Brower gets a hand from her son Luke, 6, as they care for the bronze breasted turkeys they raise at Whispering Breeze Farm in Taneytown Friday, Nov. 6, 2020.
Katie Brower gets a hand from her son Luke, 6, as they care for the bronze breasted turkeys they raise at Whispering Breeze Farm in Taneytown Friday, Nov. 6, 2020. (Dylan Slagle/Carroll County Times)

After stopping production in the early 2000s, Whispering Breeze began selling again with 25 turkeys about five years ago.

This year, the farm expects to sell more than 200 turkeys between 16 to 18 pounds; in recent years, the birds would typically be grown to about 20 to 24 pounds to customers from Carroll County, Baltimore County and Frederick County.

According to Brower, Whispering Breeze usually gives the birds a finishing mash, which is a blend of different feeds that helps them to put on a healthy layer of fat after they have grown.

“We’re feeding the birds for shorter amount of time so they don’t gain so much of that extra weight and be a little smaller,” Brower said.

As for KL Lemmon Cattle Company, located in Manchester, their family-owned farm plans to raise about 1,000 turkeys this holiday season and has not changed production methods at all. Their company still expects “this to be [their] busiest time of the year and people will buy [the turkeys] anyway.”

Whispering Breeze is a part of Chesapeake Farm to Table, a food hub located in Baltimore County that serves as an intermediary to help customers get their local produce directly delivered to their door.

Chesapeake Farm to Table owner Beckie Gurly also owns Calvert’s Gift Farm with her husband, Jack, and she said Chesapeake Farm to Table was created to help farmers like her and Brower get their locally produced foods directly into the hands of their customers.

“We used to service lots of local restaurants, but since COVID[-19], the business from the restaurants have slowed considerably. But our home business [Chesapeake Farm to Table] has since quadrupled,” Gurly said.

Katie Brower, right, and her children Carmella, 3, and Luke, 6, with some of the bronze breasted turkeys that Brower and her husband Adam raise, along with cattle, sheep and chickens on their Whispering Breeze Farm in Taneytown Friday, Nov. 6, 2020.
Katie Brower, right, and her children Carmella, 3, and Luke, 6, with some of the bronze breasted turkeys that Brower and her husband Adam raise, along with cattle, sheep and chickens on their Whispering Breeze Farm in Taneytown Friday, Nov. 6, 2020. (Dylan Slagle/Carroll County Times)

Both Gurly and Brower have noticed significantly smaller requests for turkey parts this year. The question for them –– and other farmers alike –– will be what happens with the leftovers.

Back in March, when the pandemic first began to spread in the the United States, Carroll County residents followed a national trend and began buying more animals, and growing their own vegetables, as a means to supply their own food security. That put local food processors –– or butchers –– in high demand, and made it difficult for local farmers, like Whispering Breeze, to get their meats to the butchers.

Having learned form that, farmers in the area are planning ahead with the butchers so the overlap doesn’t slow their production, with turkey growers arranging to have their turkey remains made into ground turkey by local food processors.

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Both Gurly and Brower have figured out what to do with those remains and feel confident in their ability to supply customers with their free-range products.

“With the upcoming holidays, we are prepared to increase our business,” Gurly said, “and it’s all local produce that we distribute all through the winter.”

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