Serving Minnesota and Northern Iowa.

Marquette raises heritage breeds for direct market

By Carol Stender

Date Modified: 12/06/2012 2:35 PM

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BUFFALO, Minn. —By day, Larry Marquette is a science teacher at Dassel-Cokato High School. He also works with the FFA chapter. But his spare time is all for the birds — the birds on his family's Buffalo-area farm, that is.

His Chatham Preservation Farm raises chickens, Muskovy ducks and American Buff Geese, but most of the farm's preservation efforts are focused on turkeys.

Narragansett, Bourbon Red, Blue Slate, Chocolate and Beltsville Small White are his breeds.

Heritage breeds have a naturally higher resistance to disease, tolerate weather conditions better and have slower growth rates than other domesticated turkeys. His heritage turkeys take around nine months to reach market weight with toms dressing out at 15 pounds and hens at seven pounds.

Marquette finds it easier to raise his own turkeys than to purchase the heritage breed poults from out of state, which requires testing the poults for disease before they enter Minnesota. He has done it when purchasing some out-of-state poults, but the 4-H alumnus enjoys working with the birds from eggs to adults.

Establishing a bird breeding program was something he was always interested in, he said.

The turkeys can breed naturally. It's common to have one tom for 15 hens. Marquette has two toms for seven hens.

Marquette pays equal attention to the eggs. Turkeys are seasonal layers and don't lay in the fall or winter, he said. He gets around 40 eggs form his small flock annually and places them in an auto-turn incubator. The incubator turns the eggs every three hours. After 28 days, the first eggs hatch.

He's mindful to keep the birds in spacious quarters over the winter. They don't like tight spots, he said. They also like to roost.

"They like to have something to climb onto," he said. "It's important to have something for then to roost on in the outdoor pens."

They are safe when roosting in high places, he said. On the ground they can't see prey flying above them.

He keeps some birds for breeding purposes and sells others. It's part of direct market sales he's established through Chatham Preservation Farm.

The farm is owned by his parents, Gordon and Shirley Marquette. They had a dairy operation until they sold the herd in 2000.

Marquette's brother, David, raises dairy steers and raises crops.

Larry earned a degree in ag bio-technology from the University of Wisconsin-River Falls and earned his teaching license through the University of Minnesota-Morris. He taught first in Annandale then Dassel-Cokato.

"That was one of my goals all along —to stay in the area," he said.

He became interested in raising food and selling produce through farmers markets. He started a Community Supported Agriculture operation and sold vegetables through his customers' shares.

He added chicken, then turkey.

Besides poultry, the farm is home to both Saanen and Nubian dairy goats. The goats are a project for his nieces, he said.

He also raises Herford hogs, a breed listed with the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy.

A growing demand exists for heritage breeds, he said. Most are raised on small operations like his.

He direct markets the birds and has had no problems selling them.

The one kink in the system is the processing, he said.