As Thanksgiving Day approaches, we turn our attention and appreciation toward the fowl farmers who help make the day full of family, food, fun and football feel fulfilling.

For Danielle Copley, a yearning to be in the country and raise her own food for her family has resulted in her becoming one of those hawkers of holiday hens and T-Day toms.

Located in Waterford, PA, Copley’s Fresh Start Farm was founded by Danielle and her husband Rick. Neither had a background in agriculture, but they were eager students.

“You could consider us YouTube farmers,” Danielle explained. “Neither of us came from a farming background, but have always enjoyed the peaceful, calm feeling of being in the country. Not ones to be intimidated, we read, read, read, then jumped in – and enjoy working as a family to build this into the well-functioning homestead of our dreams.

“We were blessed to acquire this property in the fall of 2015, after feeling in our hearts for many years that we belonged in the country,” she continued. “We wanted to raise our two boys with room to roam and enjoy nature, and to supply our own food and milk. Knowing where your food comes from and how it was raised is a very exciting thing.”

Danielle said it felt like a very slow journey at times, and then with little warning, things accelerated to a very fast pace. “It has been an amazing adventure learning and mastering the new facets on our farm,” she said. “Not a day goes by that we don’t stop to enjoy the beauty that we have been blessed with. We are excited to be able to share these blessings with our customers.”

The Copleys began farming seven of their 20 acres in 2016. The entire operation was worked by just the two of them, with Rick also working full-time off the farm. Today, they are helped by their two grown sons, Mason and Landon.

They started with a small flock of laying chickens, adding goats later that autumn. As their business grew, they soon after added pasture-raised meat chickens and turkeys and forested Idaho Pasture pigs.

Copleys honored to be a part of tradition

At Copley’s Fresh Start Farm, founded by Danielle and Rick Copley, chickens, turkeys and Idaho Pasture pigs all play a role. Photo courtesy of Copley’s Fresh Start Farm

Danielle is pleased with how her farm is able to play a positive role in many families’ holiday gatherings.

“This is our fifth year of pasture-raised non-GMO turkey production. Each year we have increased our numbers,” she said. “This year we raised 125 turkeys and we are honored to be a part of so many local families’ Thanksgiving traditions. We always look forward to seeing our many, many returning customers each year and hear how much they enjoy the tradition of presenting a Copley turkey to their family and friends.”

The Copleys raise all of their turkeys on pasture and supplement them with Non-GMO Project Verified feed. “We believe in raising our animals as closely to nature as possible which is why we practice regenerative farming while working with our land and not against it,” Danielle explained. “Knowing turkeys can be fragile in our northwest Pennsylvania climate, we support their immune systems with natural products like cayenne pepper, garlic, apple cider vinegar and oregano oil. We sell the majority of our turkeys whole.”

Some customers do request half, spatchcocked or pieced turkey, and Danielle makes every effort to satisfy each request. “We are known for growing gorgeous, large turkeys that are sure to impress, with some dressing out at over 30 pounds,” she said.

Asked how the 2023 turkey season is shaping up in comparison to prior years, Danielle gave a positive report. “We had a great growing season,” she said. “We had a dry spring, a bit of a wet summer and a great fall, which allowed our turkeys to thrive.”

When raising poultry on pasture, weather plays a large factor in the feed conversion rates. The Copleys’ final turkey weights so far indicate that it was a very successful growing season.

The Copleys provide a convenient option of placing a deposit online via their website, and most of their customers prefer to pick up their orders on the farm. Danielle said that she receives positive feedback from customers when they arrive on site and get the opportunity to see how the turkeys are raised for themselves. The farm’s turkeys are available for purchase in a handful of local retail locations as well.

Looking ahead, Danielle hopes to continue growing all operations on her farm and to begin offering the option of shipping their products. That list of products is ever expanding.

“Our primary production is pasture-raised, organic, soy-free-fed chicken – we sell wholes and cuts on-site and in many local retail locations,” she said. “We have upped our production of forested Idaho Pasture pork by the whole and half. Our flock of layer chickens, which is now over 100, provides our community with high quality eggs.”

As the farm continues to evolve, Danielle has been focusing on introducing value-added products such as goat milk soap, spice rubs, pure pastured pork lard and organic dog treats.

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by Enrico Villamaino