The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

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November 23, 2013

Setting the table: For many, holiday fare starts at Blair County farm

MARTINSBURG — For Rhonda and Roger Stock, Thanksgiving Day is the best of all holidays.

By Wednesday, hours before the big day rolls in, they will have completed dressing and selling the last of the 120 broad-breasted turkeys they have been feeding and nurturing for months.

If all goes as planned, those big birds will be adorning Thanksgiving dinner tables across the region and providing some of the most succulent breast meat and drumsticks available.

“You’re going to get a fresh bird,” said Roger Stock as he cared for some of the pigs raised on the farm.

While others are baking pies and cleaning the house, the Stocks are doing all they can to make sure those who order their birds are getting a top of the line, fresh as possible turkey.

“It will be a little crazy from now till Wednesday when everything is picked up,” Rhonda Stock said Friday. “We start processing them tomorrow and will continue till Wednesday.”

The Stocks and their four young children live on the family-owned Blair County dairy farm in the heart of Morrisons Cove.

“For us, Thanksgiving Day is kind of a like a good relaxation day,” said Roger Stock, 36, who has spent his life on the farm.

With 240 Holsteins to milk twice a day, 100 pigs to care for and

600 tillable acres in corn and hay, the Stocks have little time for extras, but the find the turkey enterprise to be one of the most rewarding.

“They don’t get preservatives and things. All they eat is corn and soybeans and some grass,” he said.

Roger Stock’s expertise in poultry started when he was 5 years old and got six laying hens.

“I peddled those eggs around to the neighbors, and that’s how I saved the money to purchase some turkeys,” he said.

The tiny enterprise grew, and by the time he was age 8, he

was selling fresh Thanksgiving turkeys to his rural Martinsburg neighbors.

He continued in the holiday turkey business until he was a young adult and newly married.

“I decided to quit. I told my mother I’d raise one for her every year for Thanksgiving,” he said.

But it was a Christmas card he received from a neighbor that year that sent him back into the business.

“A neighbor up the road said we ruined her Thanksgiving because she couldn’t get a turkey off of us, so I started raising them again,” he said.

Over the years, Roger Stock said, the turkey industry has changed significantly. When he started nearly three decades ago, the best turkeys were those with lots of dark meat.

“Now they want big breasted turkeys. They’re being developed to have a nice breast on them,” he said.

The Stocks’ children are well on their way to following in the family farming footsteps.

Tamara, 11, a member of 4-H, raises and shows goats, pigs and beef while Roger Jr., 8, in his first year of 4-H, raises and shows the same.

The two younger children, Raylee, 6, and Emma 2, are gearing up to do the same while the whole family makes the Pennsylvania Farm Show a must on their January calendar.

The Stock children show pigs at the statewide agricultural event.  

“We’re trying to raise them so they know how to work,” Roger Stock said.

Meanwhile, the Stocks will spend their Thanksgiving just up the lane at the home of his parents, Roger and Pam Stock.

About 30 family members will gather at the Thanksgiving table and feast on one of Roger and Rhonda’s biggest birds.

More cooks may find themselves dealing with a frozen bird this holiday due to a shortage of fresh turkeys reported by Butterball, one of the nation’s largest turkey producers.

Butterball offered no reason, but said in a release that its poultry had trouble gaining weight on some of its farms.

The shortage appears to be with larger Butterball birds and has no impact on frozen turkeys, the company said.

Kathy Mellott covers agricultural issues for The Tribune-Democrat. Follow her on Twitter at Twitter.com/kathymellotttd.

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