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Missouri farm raises free-range turkeys

St. Joseph News-Press

LATHROP, Mo., Nov. 15, 2007 (AP): The life of a Thanksgiving turkey has changed a lot since the pilgrims celebrated their first successful harvest with a feast in 1621.

The creatures of the countryside that Benjamin Franklin wanted to establish as the national bird have been replaced by turkeys that live their whole lives indoors in a cage.

For years, the only alternative was to head into the woods with a shotgun and some patience.

Now the emergence of free-range farms has given consumers a chance to buy a turkey much like the ones the pilgrims ate nearly 400 years ago.

Jay and Carol Maddick raise all-natural, free-range turkeys at Campo Lindo Farms south of Lathrop. The 1-day-old birds arrive through the U.S. mail in August and grow up on the farm until they are processed and delivered the week before Thanksgiving.

Throughout their time on the farm, they are free to leave their barn as they please to graze on grass, bugs, weeds or whatever seems edible at the time. The turkeys have become popular with customers in the Kansas City area.

``Most of the birds are spoken for already,'' Maddick said. ``We have a waiting list every year because there are always people who forget they ordered one and go out of town to see their family.''

Turkeys represent a small fraction of the Maddicks' operation. They raise chickens for meat and eggs along with beef and lamb—all of which are free-range. Chickens make up the largest part of the business. Campo Lindo Farms has 3,600 egg-laying hens and processes about 650 chickens per week for meat at their small, USDA-inspected facility.

``I had experience with every kind of animal but chickens before we got started,'' Jay Maddick said. ``I hoped that people would buy some chicken and then see all the beef we had, but the chickens just kind of took off.''

While washing eggs to send to grocery stores across Kansas City, Jay Maddick described some of the reasons he and his wife chose to run a free-range farm instead of a conventional one. He explained that small producers have to find a niche market, because they cannot compete with large companies like Tyson that make profit on volume. He also thinks the preservatives found in most big-brand chicken are unhealthy.

``Tyson's chicken and my chicken have nothing in common, except they both have feathers,'' Jay Maddick said.

The animals' diverse diet and the opportunity to roam free add to the flavor of the product.

``There's nothing that will make a better egg than bugs,'' Jay Maddick said. ``There aren't very many bugs out with the cold weather, though. I can tell the difference in our eggs by the season.''

One drawback of letting chickens feed in the open is the exposure to predators. The Maddicks shut their birds in the barn at night, but they still lose a few animals during the day.

“We have hawks, owls, coyotes and even foxes and other animals around,'' Jay Maddick said. ``I saw a hawk carry off a chicken just the other day. You just learn to deal with it.''

The Maddicks employ two full-time workers and get part-time help from a local high school student. Their two children, Brandon and Isabel, also help out with chores on the farm. Jay Maddick said the seven-day-a-week job is ``as bad as running a dairy,'' but he tries to keep the work days to around eight hours.

Carol Maddick did not have an agricultural background before starting Campo Lindo Farms in 1996. She said she enjoys the lifestyle because she has a chance to spend more time around her family.

``One of the most rewarding things for me is to sit down and know that you grew what you're eating, because I never had that growing up,'' Carol Maddick said. ``I think it's important for people to know where their food comes from.''

Carol Maddick's road to a family farm in rural Missouri was a long one. She grew up in Chile, where many farms carry the name ``Campo Lindo, which means beautiful country. Her family moved to St. Louis in the 1970s, which eventually led her to the University of Missouri-Columbia.

``I was one of those girls from St. Louis who grew up with horses and wanted to become a veterinarian,'' Carol Maddick said. ``I got a degree in animal science and was planning to go to vet school, but then I met Jay. So here I am, living on a farm, and I wouldn't change a thing.''

Campo Lindo Farms products are available at many grocery stores and restaurants across Kansas City and at the Parkville Farmers Market on Saturdays. The farm's eggs can be found in the health food section at St. Joseph Hy-Vee.





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