Orwell turkey farm bounces back from devastating season

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ORWELL, Vt. (WCAX) The state's largest turkey farm is celebrating strong sales after they experienced a hard hit weeks before Thanksgiving last year.

It's the holiday that keeps Stonewood Farms in business. "Thanksgiving is how we pay our bills," said the farm's owner, Peter Stone.

Vermont's largest turkey farm typically raises 30,000 turkeys each year. But when a devastating and deadly bacteria called fowl cholera wiped out half of their flock last season, half of their sales were gobbled up as well. "Last year I didn't have turkeys for a lot of stores," Stone said.

He says it led to an entire off-season of making improvements to the farm's barns, taking preventative efforts so future sickness stays out."They're dirt floors, so around the edge where the sidewall meets, we poured concrete so nothing can dig under anymore," he said.

Those improvements are paying off. Products are again piled high, and Stone says the farm is recovering. They raised 18,000 Grade A turkeys for this Thanksgiving without any problems. "The birds were really healthy. It seemed like it was a really good year," he said.

Stone's loyal customers, like Diane St. Clair, are returning too, picking up their poultry. "I think it's got amazing flavor and roasts really well. And I'm happy for them, I'm happy they're back," she said.

Stonewood says it will take years before they can pay back money borrowed amid last season's crisis, which they estimate cost them hundreds of thousands of dollars. The farm also decided to raise extra turkeys this year to catch up on other products, including ground turkey, sausage, and boneless breasts.

There's still about 5,000 live birds at Stonewood. They are set to start being processed next week, and about a quarter of them will be sold in time for Christmas.