WESTFORD — For the past 35 autumns, motorists driving on Old Stage Road here have slowed in front of Adams Turkey Farm, rolled down a window and heard “Gobble gobble gobble.”
To the passerby, that is the sound of a thousand Thanksgiving turkeys, but to Judy and Dave Adams and their son Phil, it’s the sound of the most tiring time of the year.
“We start in the dark and end in the dark,” said Phil Adams, whose family owns and operates Adams Turkey Farm, in Westford.
The Adamses raise and process about 2,000 turkeys annually on a gorgeous, 265-acre tract of mountain-surrounded property. While Adams Turkey Farm is not among the largest turkey farms in Vermont — some harvest 10 times that amount of turkeys each year — it might be the one that has diversified the most as it has grown.
“That is what we’re comfortable doing,” Dave Adams said earlier this month, during a chat at his farm.
Neither Judy nor Dave Adams grew up on farms. They were childhood sweethearts in Essex Junction and later married. He worked as a machinist for a long time. She has a degree in animal science from the University of Vermont.
When Judy and Dave started farming in Westford in 1981, at their current site, they briefly boarded horses and raised beef cows, along with turkeys. The latter sparked an impromptu chat between Dave and a local store owner.
“If I raise fresh turkeys, will you buy them?” Dave asked.
“Absolutely,” the retailer replied.
Adams Turkey Farm began with 100 turkeys and ballooned to 350 by the mid-1980s. The family added its on-site, state-inspected processing facility in 1984.
“We just went with it, made some mistakes along the way, and ended up making it work,” Dave said. “Don’t ask me how to write a business plan. I have no idea.”
In addition to the turkeys, the Adamses grow and sell gourds and pumpkins; operate a small, 1,200-tap maple sugaring operation; and cultivate a 100-tree, cut-your-own Christmas tree farm. They started raising broiler chickens for meat, and now produce “thousands a year” for sale at Vermont health-food stores and restaurants.
“We produce a lot of poultry here,” Judy said.
“But we’re still small and exclusive,” Dave added. “That way, we’re not the Wal-Mart of turkey farms.”
The Adamses buy their turkey chicks every June from a hatchery in southern Quebec, and their secret for raising them is “a lot of TLC,” Dave said. “We also spend more on bedding than an average turkey farmer would.”
The Adamses’ 40-by-70-foot open-air barn is clean and pristine. The tom turkeys inside it are big; they can weigh out from anywhere between 30 and 35 pounds, while smaller birds range from 20 to 25 pounds.
Judy starts taking orders in August, and the flow intensifies after the change to fall weather. Judy, Dave and Phil start processing their birds in early November, with help from two Jamaican seasonal workers.
Adams Turkey Farm processes about 100 birds per day during peak season. The direct on-farm price is $3.89 per pound. Adams Turkey Farm also sells its turkeys to stores and restaurants in Vermont.
Phil, 27, is third in line among Judy and Dave’s four children, who also include: Dave Jr., a wildlife biologist in Vermont; Elizabeth, a research doctor in New York City; and Amanda, a junior at UVM, who wants to help with retail sales at Adams Turkey Farm.
Judy and Dave are proud that their children grew up on a farm.
“They all worked on the farm and have wonderful memories and experiences here,” Dave said. “And I was able to rearrange my schedule so that I didn’t have to miss anything — games, ballet recitals, nothing. We were home when the kids got off the bus, and we spent time together on the farm as a family.”
Phil has remained the most active on the family farm, and he is the successor to it.
“I used to bring him out here, in a stroller or on my back, while I worked in the turkey barn,” his mother recalled. “He loved it. I did, too.”
Phil has a vision to usher Adams Turkey Farm into a new era, not by physically growing or expanding it to 10 times its size, but by offering more diverse meat-based products, such as turkey pie. He and Judy are already off to a solid start with a pet food they make and sell from their broiler chicken byproducts.
Judy and Dave are confident that their son will grow the farm and continue to keep their customers’ faith in their products.
“We enjoy having a great reputation with these turkeys,” Dave said.
Phil noted his luck in another regard: Sometimes, those working in seasonal industries — such as turkey and Christmas tree farmers — work themselves to actually resenting the very season they’re out to serve. That is not the case at Adams Turkey Farm.
“We love Thanksgiving, and we have a great Thanksgiving here,” Phil said. “Thanksgiving is always a way for us to celebrate another great season.”
But then … the barn is empty.
“Honestly? That’s always been the hardest part of all this for us,” Dave said. “When the barns are quiet.”
So that’s when Judy orders the chicks for next year.