Consumers gobbling up locally-grown turkeys
By Kelsey Dayton
December 7, 2012 --
Tina Clifford still remembers the taste of the locally grown turkey she shared at a Thanksgiving more than 10 years ago.
It's hard to describe, but it was juicier and more flavorful — the way the taste of whole grain bread is richer than white bread.
"It was just different than a store-bought turkey," Clifford said
She never forgot the taste, but Clifford soon discovered there wasn't any place to buy fresh, locally grown turkey in Wyoming. That is, until this July when Chris Sherrard and her husband Les Sherrard opened the first licensed poultry processing plant in the state.
Chris and Les Sherrard live on a farm outside Riverton. Les runs the farm and Chris operates a hairdressing shop attached to the family home. Chris Sherrard hadn't grown up on a farm, but clients kept suggesting that she raise chickens and sell the eggs, since she had the space.
The egg business picked up quickly; soon she had 300 layers producing 60 dozen eggs a week and people were asking to buy birds for the meat. It sounded like a way to diversify her family's farm business, so Sherrard learned about processing, how to butcher and package the birds, from a friend.
When she contacted the state agriculture department, hoping to tour another similar facility, she was told hers would be the first.
The Sherrards' processing center, known as L&C Poultry Processing, is set up to kill the birds, de-feather them in a special machine that spins the meat until it's clean, and cut and package the final product.
The Sherrards' license allows them to butcher chickens they raise themselves and poultry others raise. They can sell their processed meat to grocery stores as well as directly to consumers, Chris Sherrard said.
As soon as people heard the Sherrards could process birds, the orders started pouring in. . Chris started stocking broiler chickens, which are bred for meat.
Since July 15, they've processed more than 400 birds, mostly chickens, and the 17 turkeys Chris Sherrard raised, as well as chickens, duck and geese people have brought. And that is without advertising.
The Sherrards charge $3 a pound for broiler chickens and $2 a pound for turkeys. The price includes all the processing work, as well as the shrink-wrapping.
It might be more than birds cost in the grocery store, but customers say it's worth it for the taste and to buy locally.
While the Sherrards might hold the only poultry processing license in the state, other people are also processing birds to eat. If people are only slaughtering their own birds, they don't have to have a license, unless they butcher more than 20,000 a year, but they still need to meet facility and sanitary requirements, said Shane Thompson with the Wyoming Department of Agriculture..
Holliday Family Farms near Sheridan is currently working with the state to meet inspection requirements, Thompson said. The farm isn't working on getting a license because they will process only birds they raise on their farms, where the Sherrards process birds other people raise, Thompson said.
It's not hard to get a license, but it is expensive to meet all the standards for a licensed processing facility, which must have special lighting, ventilation and meet sanitation standards, said Steve Doyle of Doyle Family Farms in Riverton.
Doyle Family Farms started using a mobile processing station, which people can rent to slaughter their own birds, this spring. . The farm is not certified as a processor, but they have found loopholes to process birds, said Steve Doyle. They can legally sell live birds, so they often do and then process for free, Doyle said.
Or they sell their birds and then offer to help people process the birds themselves, Doyle said.
"That means for some people