“We actually moved here from out of state and had never been farmers before,” she says. “We had gone to a local farmers market and bought some little chicks, baby ducks and baby turkeys. I was so enamored with and fascinated by the turkeys that I started researching them because I didn’t know what to do with the babies.”
Through her research, she discovered the Bourbon Red turkey, a heritage breed that was developed in the late 1800s by J. F. Barbee from crosses between Buff, Bronze, and White Holland turkeys. The Bourbon Red takes its name from its origins in Kentucky’s Bourbon County and from the reddish hue of its feathers.
Wheeler says she decided to try her hand at raising the Bourbon Red because of its connection to Kentucky history.
“That’s such a precious part of our history that we don’t want to lose,” she says.
Wheeler began breeding the Bourbon Red in 2005, and today she raises some 50 turkeys each spring on her 32-acre farm. She says the Bourbon Red’s most distinguishing factor is its taste.
|Chefs compete at the Cochon 555 BBQ Festival to create the best dish using heritage pork. The meat has grown in popularity as people become aware of its unique flavor. Photo from farmflavor.com|
Wheeler’s Bourbon Reds are in high demand each fall, and while she primarily sells to Louisville-area consumers, she has shipped her birds as far away as Alaska.
High Off The Hogs
“When you raise an animal in an all-natural setting, it allows it to have some fat, and when you allow it to graze and fend for itself in the pasture – where it’s eating apples, strawberries, acorns – those flavors are stored in the animal’s fat cells so you get a natural pork flavor, not one that tastes like corn and soy because that’s all it’s fed while it sits in a crate.”
Heritage On The Menu
Hood says he’s seen the demand for Red Wattle pork rise as chefs and restaurateurs have become aware of the meat’s unique flavor.
“We choose to buy local and humanely raised heritage pork because of the tremendous flavor of the meat and to support our local farmers,” says Annie Pettry, chef and partner at Decca restaurant in Louisville. “Not only does the meat – and don’t forget the fat – taste amazing, but buying meat from our local farms impacts our food system by creating a demand for heritage breeds and keeping these farms in business.”
Pettry won the Cochon 555 BBQ Festival, which pits chefs against each other to create the best dish using heritage pork.
Hood’s Red Wattle pork can be sampled at several upscale restaurants, such as Proof on Main in Louisville and Anchor Over the Rhine in Cincinnati, but he says he most enjoys selling directly to consumers because of the interaction.
“Part of my job is education. Selling directly to the consumer means if they have questions about how to cook the meat or store the meat, I can answer those questions. It helps that I enjoy people,” he says. “I get just as much joy being there in front of the person talking to them.”
Heritage Breed Basics
Heritage breeds are livestock breeds developed by some of the country’s early farmers. These animals were selected and bred to develop traits such as hardiness, foraging ability, disease and pest resistance. Heritage breeds are not only an important part of American history, but also offer genetic answers to sustainability.