When ordering your Thanksgiving bird, the general rule is to order one to two pounds per person for dinner and of course, some leftovers. Preparing for this annual holiday that celebrates food, family, and what we have to be thankful for, begins long before November for farmers that raise poultry. As Turkey Day draws near, Art Ludlow of Mecox Bay Dairy in Bridgehampton shares how the farm prepares to feed families celebrating on the East End, including his own.
Poults, or young turkeys being raised for food, arrive on the farm mid-summer at just one day old. Their early days are critical. Poults need sufficient heat, around 100 degrees Fahrenheit to keep warm, and easy access to water and plenty of food. Ludlow has to keep a close eye during this stage. “It’s a matter of keeping water and feed in front of them at all times,” he explains, as Thanksgiving turkey breeds are meant to gain significant weight. “We have to make sure they don’t get into the water and get chilled. We also have to keep them clean, and protected from any predators like stray dogs, owls, raccoons, and foxes.”
Mecox Bay Dairy’s farming history began when Ludlow’s great grandfather and uncle purchased the first part of the land in 1875. This ignited a passion for farming in his family that has carried down for generations, with Ludlow being a fourth-generation farmer and current owner of the farm, working alongside his son, Pete Ludlow. Popular today for their cheeses, an operation which began when Ludlow made his first cheese in 2003, turkeys have been available alongside other farm products for decades.
After the first three weeks of ensuring poults are kept safe, warm, and full, they spend afternoons outside in the pasture. 350 to 400 turkeys roam the half-acre, which is rotated so they’re always on fresh grass. After easy days roaming, they go back inside in the evenings. Ludlow says all of the turkeys are pre-ordered by customers, which can be done online at mecoxbaydairy.com.
As for cooking the bird, Ludlow opts for the traditional route. At 500 degrees, the turkey is placed in the oven uncovered for 15 minutes. The temperature is the dropped to 350 degrees and the turkey is covered and basted every half-hour for the remainder of the time depending on the size.
“We have fried one once, and it was actually excellent,” Ludlow shares. “The fresh turkeys that I have, they cook a little quicker than a bird you get in the store. It is about 12 minutes per pound with a bird that’s stuffed, a little less if not stuffed. Cooking on a Weber grill would also be a little quicker.”
For gravy, Mecox Bay Dairy advises placing the roasting pan on a burner after removing the turkey, turning it to high, adding one cup water, and scraping down the sides and bottom. Bring to a boil, and let boil gently. Meanwhile, whip together a half-cup of flour and two cups of water until no lumps remain. Slowly pour mixture into gravy, stirring constantly. Let boil for two to three minutes until creamy and thick. Serve as is or strain before serving.
At the farm store, grass-fed beef, pastured pork, fresh eggs, and raw milk are available, along with artisanal farmstead cheeses like farmhouse cheddar, Bascom blue, and Atlantic mist. The sage sausage makes for a great traditional stuffing.
As the turkeys grow closer to their full size, Ludlow’s days on the farm vary. He’s out on the property at 6:30 a.m., working on miscellaneous things. Currently he is working to improve the cow operation and milking, building stalls where they can lay down after eating and walking around. He makes cheese on Fridays and goes to farmers markets on weekends. When it comes time to pre-order turkeys, Ludlow counts the birds to be sure he has enough, year after year.
Aside from buying pasture-raised turkeys to support local farmers, there’s an obvious flavor difference between these and frozen, store-bought types. “Farm turkeys are certainly juicier,” Ludlow says. “Typically, people think turkey is dry and they brine them to keep the moisture in. These you don’t brine, and you get a tender, juicier meat.”
For more information, visit mecoxbaydairy.com.