Tina Hinchley raised nine turkeys this year on her family's dairy farm in Cambridge. The largest weighs 50 to 60 pounds, and when he's dressed, Hinchley says, he "will have trouble fitting into the oven."
Hinchley keeps the birds largely because of the farm's educational and entertainment component; she and her husband give tours and host events. "I think it's important for the kids to know what turkeys look like," says Hinchley. "They're spectacular. It's amazing how enormous they can get in four to six months."
With Thanksgiving and Christmas approaching, anyone who raises turkeys will soon be processing the birds. But despite the growing local and organic food movements, local farmers are not flocking to turkeys as a cash animal.
"Turkeys aren't the easiest fowl to raise," says Lee Cunningham, department head of the Dane County Cooperative Extension. "I don't think too many people will get into raising turkeys because it is a lot of work. They're not as easy to take care of, they're not as easy to catch, they're not as easy to keep safe. So there are additional costs involved."
Also, the market tends to be limited to the holiday season - people don't buy whole turkeys year-round. Cunningham says the predominant producers remain large-scale operations, which often contract the raising of the birds to smaller operations. Traditionally, Minnesota and northwestern Wisconsin have been popular turkey-growing regions.
In 2007, according to that year's agricultural census, there were 25 farms with turkeys in Dane County, up from 15 in 2002. But the total number of birds dropped, from 394 to 264. Wisconsin as a whole produced 3.7 million turkeys.
Hinchley says that, as a small side business, turkeys are worth the effort. "I like the idea of only raising [them] for six months, and you can get $2.50 a pound," she says. "When you raise a pig, you're lucky to get $1 a pound."
The Goodman Community Center's Thanksgiving food drive is in its final stages, but the center still needs items for its gift baskets.
Helen Hazelmare, food pantry coordinator, says the center has committed to distributing baskets to 1,000 Dane County families. But, as in years past, she expects that more will be given out, especially with the ailing economy.
"2009 has been absolutely out of control, so I can't imagine that this would be anything but bursting at the seams," she says.
Hazelmare says the center is looking to score about 150 more turkeys, adding that "they must be frozen." It also needs canned fruit and vegetables, pie tins, pie crust mix, cranberry sauce and evaporated milk. The donated items are needed by Nov. 20 and can be dropped off at the center, 149 Waubesa St. For information call the pantry at 608-241-1574, ext. 249.
To qualify for a basket, families must have at least one child under 17 and fit some rough income guidelines. But, says Hazelmare, "basically, if people are hungry we will feed them."
It's too late to register to receive baskets, which will be distributed Nov. 23 and 24. But Hazelmare urges anyone in need of assistance to dial 211 to reach the United Way help line.
A touch of flu
Madison schools have seen a slightly higher than normal rate of absenteeism for this time of year, but it's nothing alarming, says district spokesman Ken Syke.
For a couple of weeks in October, the rate was about 8% to 9%, compared to the usual average of 4% to 5%. The school district doesn't categorize absentees, so it's hard to pinpoint why the rate has climbed. But Syke says there has been a "flu-like" illness going around, adding: "A lot of people don't know if they have the swine flu or not because it's not officially diagnosed."
Last week, the absentee rate dropped closer to normal levels, Syke says. "This is where it is today, Nov. 9," he says. "If you call me back in a week, who knows where it's going to be."