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November 15, 2017

Whiffletree hopes to sell 661 birds by Thanksgiving

Photo/Don Del Rosso
No antibiotics, no chemicals, no GMO grains,” Jesse Straight says of his farm.
If (success) centers around influence and bank accounts, sure, I’m a loser. But if it centers around minute-by-minute, day-by-day quality of life around family and community, then I think what I’m doing is good.
— Jesse Straight
Whiffletree Farm
• Size: 82 acres

• Where: 8717 Springs Road, west of Warrenton

• Owners: Michael and Terry Straight

• Operators: Jesse (their son) and Liz Straight.

• Products: Eggs, chickens, turkey, beef and pork — all raised with humane, organic methods

• Store hours: 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays; 1 to 5 p.m. Saturday

• Phone: 540-229-5192

• Email: .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

• Website: www.whiffletreefarmva.com

• Facebook: Click here


By the Numbers

661
Thanksgiving turkeys that Whiffletree Farm has slaughtered and expects to sell

$4.75
Price per pound farm charges for whole turkeys

$6
Price the farm pays per turkey chick raised for slaughter

10,000
Chickens slaughtered and sold per year

160
Farm pigs slaughtered per year

100
Dozen eggs harvested per day

80
Farm steers slaughtered per year
By .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)
Staff Journalist
If the planets align, he could sell all of his 661 turkeys by Thanksgiving Day.

That would be the ideal, suggests Jesse Straight, who operates Whiffletree Farm along Springs Road about three miles west of Warrenton.

So far customers have agreed to buy about 400 birds, Mr. Straight says.

Leftover turkeys — perhaps as many as 100 — will be sold in parts and as ground meat.

“Demand for full turkeys kind of plummets after Thanksgiving,” he explains.

On Saturday, Mr. Straight and his 15-member crew processed the last round, totaling 161 birds.

Besides turkeys, Whiffletree products include chicken, pork, beef and eggs.

“They’re all pasture-fed,” Mr. Straight says of the animals’ diets. “No antibiotics, no chemicals, no GMO (genetically modified organism) grains.”

Committed to the humane treatment and killing of animals for food, Mr. Straight slaughters by hand.

“We go out of our way to make it as humane as possible, and respectful,” says the 35-year-old Fauquier High School graduate who earned a bachelor’s degree in religious studies at the University of Virginia.

Mr. Straight makes quick work of the birds, who seldom resist or make a peep. Placing a gentle “bear hug” on them, he holds their feet with one hand and necks with the other.

He then puts the turkeys upside down in plastic five-gallon buckets attached to the exterior wall of a barn on the 82-acre property.

Holes in the bottom of the buckets receive the animals’ heads.

Using a 6-inch knife, Mr. Straight makes two quick cuts to a pair of arteries in their necks.

A steady stream of blood drains from the turkeys into a concrete trench.

“Their experience of death is fainting,” Mr. Straight says of the process. “I try not to cut their windpipe.

“I think that shows a general respect not to kill animals with machines.”

Mr. Straight places the birds, which weigh about 13 to 20 pounds, on a nearby table, where Rob Schabb removes their heads and cuts off their feet.

Jonathan Elliott plunges the turkeys into a “scalder” — a large metal tub of water heated to about 155 degrees — that loosens feather follicles. The birds next get transferred to a “plucker,” which mimics the spin cycle of a washer machine and removes all feathers.

Other crew members gut the turkeys and give final “quality-control” inspections before shrink wrapping the birds and placing them in freezers.

Nothing goes to waste at Whiffletree. For example, it composts turkey blood, heads and unused innards; feet get packaged and sold as dog chews at $6 a pair.

Besides Whiffletree products, friends help stock the farm store with grass-fed lamb, duck eggs, fermented fruit, organic baked goods, wild salmon, organic herbal items, organic maple syrup, raw honey and the like.

“I’m a big fan of Jesse,” says Ike Broaddus, who lives near New Baltimore and co-owns Old Bust Head Brewing Co. at Vint Hill. “I trust him. I buy his chickens, pork and his turkeys — every Thanksgiving.”

The farmer’s compassionate handling of animals and rejection of antibiotics and other chemicals “in the way he raises them” also impressed Mr. Broaddus.

“I think that treatment is reflected in the product. I just think it’s a healthier meat and the flavor is tremendous.”

An equally important consideration, Whiffletree’s agricultural practices honor the land and the environment, Mr. Broaddus adds.

“I admire what he does, and I want to support that.”

Whiffletree serves about 60 area restaurants, including more than a dozen in Fauquier.

“Whiffletree has a very solid product,” Executive Chef of Field & Main in Marshall Anthony Nelson says of farm’s turkeys. “They’re flavorful, they’re the perfect size.”

Mr. Nelson ascribes that to Whiffletree’s treatment of animals.

“What’s the adage?” he says. “A happier animal produces a happier product. It’s a better life for them, and it transfers to taste. They’re allowed to move around. They’re not stressed.”

Whiffletree’s ethic also matches the restaurant’s model, according to Mr. Nelson, who has visited the farm.

“They’re humanely raised,” he says of the animals. “That’s a big part of our sourcing.”

Field & Main, which has ordered 30 turkeys, expects to serve about 170 people Thanksgiving Day, Mr. Nelson says.

The son of a successful commercial painting company owner, Mr. Straight studied religion and medicine at U.Va., with a notion of perhaps becoming a minister or a doctor.

But, after graduation, a friend recommended he read Wendell Berry’s “A World Lost,” a novel that partly explores the values of family and community.

“I was hooked,” Mr. Straight says. “The appeal of farming was the Wendell Berry-esque reintegration of life, the connection of family, home, work — all these things coming together.”

Mr. Straight routinely puts in 12- to 14-hour days. That doesn’t bother him.

“There’s no commute,” he says. “I’m with my family. I’m here doing this.”

On a good day, Mr. Straight has three meals with his wife Liz and their six children, whom they home school.

“And the kids come out with me and help me do the morning chores,”

While the world needs corporate “professionals,” Mr. Straight has no interest in that.

People measure success differently, he says.

“If it centers around influence and bank accounts, sure, I’m a loser. But if it centers around minute-by-minute, day-by-day quality of life around family and community, then I think what I’m doing is good.”

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BJ · November 18, 2017 at 10:29 am
We picked up our turkey on Saturday. Clean perfectly processed bird, in just the right size for us. We are very lucky to have this kind of farmer and farming right in our community.
Observer · November 17, 2017 at 5:53 am
Best turkey I ever tasted was from this farm.
Kay G. · November 16, 2017 at 9:46 am
We need more farmers like Jesse... all over this country. SO glad he is here in Fauquier! His work and lifestyle are incredibly impressive.
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