Valley Bounty: Hettie Belle Farm
“Raising animals with care for people who give a damn,” is the motto at Hettie Belle Farm, located in Warwick, MA. Owners Olivier Flagollet and Jennifer Core raise 100% grass-fed beef and lamb, as well as pastured pork, chicken, duck, and turkey, fed certified organic grain.
Flagollet and Core worked together at The Farm School in Athol, instructing classes, managing livestock production, and creating The Farm School’s meat CSA. After moving to Warwick to be closer to their jobs, they noticed there was land to lease right behind their house, with a barn big enough to shelter animals and store hay. They bought their first animals in the winter of 2010 — ewes, a ram, and some calves, adding piglets and chicks the following spring.
People began to take notice of how they were raising their animals on pasture, with a strong focus on field management. Surrounding landowners approached them to see if they would be interested in renting or leasing their land to raise animals, or hay. Today, Hettie Belle Farm consists of several plots of land, with 50 acres in pasture and 20 acres of woods.
With Thanksgiving approaching, I called to talk with them about turkeys.
Baby turkeys, known as poults, are extremely fragile — even more so than baby chickens. Each year, Hettie Belle Farm purchases 50 poults in May. They spend at least the first month of their life in a coop near Flagollet and Core’s house, surrounded by an electric fence and filled with heat lamps to help keep them warm. When they are two months old, they are moved to a bigger barn and left there for a few days to help teach them it is their home. After those few days, they will be let outside to roam free during the day and returned to their coop at night.
Because they’re raised outdoors, it was important to select a turkey breed that still had strong natural instincts and hadn’t been bred to grow as quickly as possible. They landed on the broad breasted bronze turkey, a variety known for their large size and dark, metallic color.
“Once the turkeys are adults, they spend all day outside on pasture eating grass and foraging for seeds and bugs. They love grazing, especially if you raise them with geese, the geese will teach them how it’s done,” explains Flagollet.
Every year, Hettie Belle loses a few birds to predators such as hawks, coyotes, and foxes. Flagollet explains that this is a loss they have learned to accept. “To us, being able to raise our birds truly range-free, and the life that we are able to give them, and the product it creates, these positives outweigh the risk, says Flagollet. And if we did raise them in a coop, there is still no guarantee that a predator wouldn’t get to them.”
The turkeys are processed around five months old, weighing anywhere from 22-35 pounds. According to Flagollet, their pastured diet (alongside being fed organic grain) makes the meat tender and juicy yet firm. The birds are selling out fast, but there are still a few available if you are looking for a local Thanksgiving turkey.
The backbone of Hettie Belle’s business is their winter meat CSA. While they have already sold out 150 shares for this year, a waitlist has begun for their summer shares.
To find more local purchasing options for this holiday season, please visit buylocalfood.org/farmguide.
Emma Gwyther is the development associate at Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture.