Thanksgiving may be a day dedicated to gratitude for what we have and to appreciate loved ones, but no one can deny it's also a day devoted to homage of the turkey.
As such, many families in the province will likely be eating a bird raised right here in the Fraser Valley, if not in Abbotsford itself.
The province of B.C. ranks third in Canada for turkey production, most of it occurring in the valley, and accounts for approximately 13 per cent of all national turkey farm cash receipts.
B.C. turkey farms produced 24.3 million kilograms of meat and generated $39.1 million in cash receipts in 2009, according to the B.C. Turkey Association.
Pat Wiebe, head of business development at Rossdown Farms and Natural Foods in Abbotsford - one of the larger turkey producers and processors in the valley - said that Thanksgiving followed hard on the heels by Christmas is a crazy time of year.
The family-run organization produces roughly nine million kilograms of turkeys a year, but a full 60 per cent of that takes place during the traditional holidays.
The company processes an average of 4,000 turkeys or more a week, but that number can double at Thanksgiving and Christmas.
"The market is still dependent on the seasonal bird. Everyone loves their fresh turkey all crammed into the months of October and December," said Wiebe.
"The last of the birds are out the door and in customers' hands now. The whole process starts in the beginning of August for us."
Rossdown is already gearing up for Christmas, readying replacement poults, or young turkeys, and confirming the number of eggs in the hatchery. Unlike most other growers, Rossdown controls all aspects of the production of its free run birds from hatching, feeding, growing, processing and shipping them to market.
It allows Rossdown control over quality of the product, which includes organic turkeys, from farm to plate, said Wiebe.
The process starts with day-old poults heading into climate-controlled brooding barns that are designed to be warm enough for the tiny birds and give them easy access to water and feed.
Turkeys aren't all that easy to raise, he said, because they have trouble learning to eat and drink in the first five days of life.
"Turkeys aren't the brightest animals," Wiebe said with a laugh.
"They need lots of management when they are young."
The poults are moved from the brooding area into the growing barns when they are about six weeks old.
The birds, which have room to move around in the barn and aren't subject to a lot of stress or handling, grow until they are 12 to 18 weeks old, when they are selected for market.
The turkeys are transported to the Rossdown processing plant on Bradner Road.There the birds are hand-slaughtered with an incision to the neck artery.
Soon after, the carcass is placed into a scalding tank filled with hot water where the large feathers are loosened. It then makes its way into a barrel picker, which is a steel bin with rubber fingers inside that spins the turkey carcass and plucks off any remaining feathers.
The bird makes its way to the evisceration room where Rossdown employees clean it out by hand. The turkeys are rinsed and chilled in another tank, then hung on lines to drain before being sized, graded and packaged for market.
The organic turkey is a "completely different beast," said Wiebe.
As soon as a poult is hatched, its growth is subject to strict regulations monitored by a third party, he said.
The birds' feed must be completely organic, the growing space provided to an organic turkey is larger and it must have access to the outdoors.
An organic turkey also can't receive medication of any kind. If it is treated with antibiotics, it loses its organic designation and must be sold as a conventional turkey.
"We are completely sold out of organic birds. We could have had tripled the amount this Thanksgiving and still been sold out," said Wiebe.
"But with organic turkey, the biggest challenge is the price point . . . the meat is significantly more expensive, and the average consumer only buys an organic turkey for a special occasion."