Thanksgiving and Duerksen’s Turkeys – A Northern Michigan Tradition

By Tricia Phelps

Duerksen Turkey Farm is a third-generation farm in Mancelona, Michigan. In the 1940s, Rick Duerksen’s grandmother began raising turkeys, though just enough to sustain the family. As a young boy, he looked forward to the day he would raise turkeys on a farm of his own. Soon after Rick married his wife Sue in 1976, they bought his uncle’s farmland in Mancelona to make that dream come true.

Rick and Sue Duerksen - Photography by John L. Russell
Rick and Sue Duerksen – Photography by John L. Russell

Originally, Duerksen’s was a breeder operation where they raised the turkeys for eggs rather than meat. In 2007, they shifted their focus and seized the opportunity to produce healthy, local turkey meat.

That first year, the Duerksens raised about 200 turkeys in pasture. Once word got out, the demand for their poultry products exceeded supply. Every year since, they’ve increased production to keep up, but the community’s taste for these special birds seems to outpace their planning. This year, they’ve already sold out of 3,200 birds destined for Thangsgiving tables across northern Michigan.  (There are still Duerksen’s turkeys available for Thanksgiving through retailers, see below.)

Duerksen’s turkeys are pasture-raised, antibiotic-free, growth-hormone-free, and rasied on non-GMO feed grown here in northern Michigan.

“Doing things the right way was always been the foundation of the farm. Health is extremely important,” said Sue Duerksen.

Duerksen Turkey
Photography by John L. Russell

The poults, or baby turkeys, arrive at Duerksen Farm when they’re just a day old. The Duerksens drive down to Zeeland to pick them up. On the ride back to Mancelona, the van is kept warm with soft music playing to soothe them and keep them relaxed. (Can you imagine hundreds of poults on a 150 mile ride all talking at once!?)

Back at the farm, the baby turkeys are kept warm and comfortable in the barn, with the temperature a constant 90 degrees. Too much variance in temperature could mean trouble for young turkeys, and these first days are critically important for their health.

While turkey typically comes to mind this time of year, the Duerksens’ all-natural turkey is available year-round. The products are processed on the farm and include varieties of ground turkey, breakfast sausage, breasts, thighs, and even BBQ pulled-turkey. It isn’t until after Labor Day that they start selling turkeys for Thanksgiving, though customers are clamoring well before then to reserve one of their own.

If you’re reading this and want to get your hands on one of the Duerksens’ 3,200 turkeys raised this year, you may be out of luck; the number of Thanksgiving turkeys they planned to sell directly have already sold out.  But you may have a chance to buy a turkey from one of the local retailers that feature the farm’s products: The Grain Train in Petoskey, Evergreen Market in Williamsburg, and Oryana Natural Foods in Traverse City. Starting this Saturday, Oryana will have their selection of Duerksen Turkey available on a first-come first-served basis.

Rick and Sue have customers who’ve been purchasing a Duerksen turkey for their holiday table since the very beginning. The relationships are reciprocal; while the Duerksen’s certainly depend on their customers to make a living, these families depend on a Duerksen’s turkey to make their holiday feast complete. Sue says that relationship is truly “heartwarming.”

For some Thanksgiving recipes to go along with your Duerksen’s turkey, see this post on the blog.

Duerksen’s Turkey Farm
Mancelona, Michigan

On our TLD Website database:

You can find Duerksen’s turkey at these local retailers and farmers markets:

And check out the right-hand column of this page for a $5.00 Coupon from Oryana in Traverse City. Good till November 27th.