Time is running out to order and purchase a turkey from Maine's small turkey producers. Fears of a shortage and increased interest in locally sourced poultry have created a high demand for the birds this Thanksgiving. Credit: Julia Bayly / BDN

In 40 years of raising turkeys on his Mercer farm, Scott Greaney said he’s never seen anything like this year: It’s the first time he’s been sold out of turkeys months before Thanksgiving.

“Just when you think you’ve seen it all, I sold out in September,” Greaney, who operates Greaney’s Turkey Farm said. Greaney sells turkeys wholesale and retail and said there was heavy demand in both this year. “We could not take on any more stores and even if I wanted to, my wife would have me sleeping in the barn if I did.”

With just over two weeks until Thanksgiving, Mainers who haven’t yet ordered their locally sourced turkey may have to put extra effort into finding their bird this year — and be prepared to pay more for it if you do manage to find one.

Turkey farmers are reporting dwindling numbers and even waiting lists for those wanting a local bird for the Thanksgiving table. Much of this, according to those who raise turkeys in Maine, is due to the double whammy coming from reports of a national turkey shortage and a growing interest in sourcing local food in the wake of the pandemic.

On the national level, industry officials are saying any fears of a turkey shortage this year are unfounded, despite millions of the birds being euthanized due to outbreaks of the deadly avian influenza earlier this year.

“If you are looking for a turkey product this Thanksgiving, you’ll be able to find one,” according to Joel Brandenberger, president of the National Turkey Federation. “There has been a lot of discussion about whether avian influenza or the general economy is going to affect this holiday season [but] there will be an ample supply of turkeys available.”

Commercially raised turkeys are currently selling for between $1.69 and $2.99 per pound in the Bangor area.

Farm raised turkeys in Maine sell for about double that price, or more, due largely to the increased costs of grain and fuel.

Tyler Jennes, owner of JB Farm in Chesterville, currently has turkeys available and is selling them for $4 a pound. It is a slight increase in price from last year, something he said was driven by rising grain prices.

“In talking to other turkey farmers there were a lot who had scaled back due to avian flu concerns,” Jennes said. “But avian flu did not impact us.”

Even though some poultry farmers and backyard chicken keepers had to euthanize flocks exposed to the highly contagious pathogen, the effects of avian flu were minimal in the state, according to Maine agriculture officials.

“The turkey supply in Maine is unlikely to be impacted by [avian flu] as these birds generally come from smaller hatcheries,” said Jim Britt, director of communications for the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry. “And we haven’t had [avian flu] cases in the state’s collective grow-out turkey population.”

Jennes said he still has a few birds available for Thanksgiving, but cautioned against waiting too long.

“Don’t wait until 1:59 p.m. on Wednesday before Thanksgiving,” he said. “We completely sold out last year, and we almost didn’t have one to eat ourselves at Thanksgiving.”

At Pine Tree Poultry in New Sharon, farm owner Pauline Henderson started a waiting list this week of people wanting a Thanksgiving turkey.

“I have about 15 names on the list,” she said. “We had more demand this year earlier on than in past years and a lot of new customers.”

Henderson suspects the increase is coming from people who turned to local farmers for food during the two years Maine was under tight COVID-19 restrictions and subject to national supply chain shortages.

“Those people went local and they want to stay that way,” Henderson said. “They are also worried about any national turkey shortages.”

Like other turkey farmers in Maine, rising costs associated with raising birds forced Henderson to bring her prices up around $.10 a pound to between $4.75 and $6.00 a pound, depending on size.

Greaney is helping match turkeys to buyers by keeping a list of farmers he knows who still have birds available.

“If someone calls us I ask them where they live and try to send them to a farm in their area that still may have four or five left,” he said. “But don’t wait, if you see one, grab it.”

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Julia Bayly

Julia Bayly is a reporter at the Bangor Daily News with a regular bi-weekly column. Julia has been a freelance travel writer/photographer since 2000.