by Sister Kathy Curtis
Joyce Pinson of Friends Drift Inn Farm in Pike County invited me to Fort Cluck, the poultry component of the farm business, to meet her Kentucky Bourbon Red turkeys. Joyce and her husband Charlie also raise heritage breed chickens and ducks at Fort Cluck. The chickens and ducks are being raised for eggs and meat; however, the Kentucky Bourbon Reds are being raised to bring attention to the endangered breed.
Kentucky Bourbon Reds were originally bred in Bourbon County Kentucky and are on the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy’s Watch List. The Kentucky Bourbon Red is also included in Slow Food USA’s Ark of Taste, a catalog of heritage American foods in danger of extinction.
The Kentucky Bourbon Red began falling out of favor when breeders introduced large breasted turkeys to meet the consumer’s desire for more white meat. Today’s turkeys can get so large that they fall over and need help getting up when it rains so they don’t drown.
Pinson’s connection with turkeys goes back several generations. In Civil war times, her family had an inn in northern Kentucky right along Dixie Highway near Ridgewood, Kentucky. “In those days, you used to sell your turkeys in Lexington not Cincinnati which was closer”, Pinson said.
“People would herd hundreds of turkeys all the way to Lexington. On the way, they would stop at my family’s inn where they had a corral for the turkeys.”
I was really amazed at how beautiful and sociable the turkeys were when we walked around in the pen. The toms were showing off their brownish-red and white plumage and blue heads. Strutting around and gobbling, they put on quite a show. But one of the ironies of raising a heritage breed is that you raise them to be eaten.
According to Pinson, the Kentucky Bourbon Red has a rich flavor. They taste like what you feed them. “My babies have had black berries, cushaws, pumpkins, weeds and corn to eat and a lot of lovin’.”
Pinson paid $11 each for her turkey poults compared to around $1 for chickens. From April until Thanksgiving they don’t do anything but eat. “I paid $70 for my first Kentucky Bourbon Red two years ago, as a Thanksgiving entree. But when I think of all the time I have spent with my turkeys, feeding them and giving them a place to live, $70 doesn’t seem so high.”
Pinson isn’t raising her Bourbon Reds for the money but to better understand and bring attention to the breed. Seeing her with her flocks you can tell it is a labor of love.
“People say farming is hard work and no joy. I say if you’re not having joy in what you are doing, why are you doing it?”