Turkey Time: Custom-raised for this unique holiday season

Local ranch offers pasture-raised birds for holiday meals.

If you are trying to decide where to get a quality holiday turkey, you can’t go wrong by asking the advice of a Michelin-starred chef.

“I have used Paicines Ranch turkeys many times,” said Chef Jarad Gallagher, owner of the Smoke Point BBQ in San Juan Bautista. “They are a quality product, well-raised and well-cared for. They have supreme flavor and cook up beautifully.”

Originally called “Rancho Cienega de los Paicines,” the ranch has been in operation since 1842, with many of the structures dating to the mid-1800s. Changing hands over the years, it was saved from being turned into a golf resort in 2001 when Sallie Calhoun and Matt Christiano purchased the land.

Paicines Ranch, one of BenitoLink’s donors, raises and sells lamb, beef, and pork, as well as chicken eggs. This Thanksgiving marks the second year the ranch has raised and sold turkeys.

Mary Rowen, manager of the Paicines Ranch Event Center and the pastured meats operation, attributes the quality of the turkeys to the ranch’s founding philosophy. 

“We sell broad-breasted turkeys like in the grocery store,” Rowen said. “But the turkeys you get in the grocery stores are not pasture-raised. They are usually raised indoors and never see the light of day.”

All of the meat sold at Paicines Ranch comes from pasture-raised animals.

“All of our turkeys are raised on green grass on pastures certified as organic,” Rowen said. “They are in a portable coop, so at night they just hop in there and roost. The next day, we keep the coop closed and move them into the next pasture.”

The turkeys graze in the nutrient-rich grass, looking for insects, and are fed organic grains as well. This natural approach is not only good for the turkeys, but helps restore and sustain the fields as the birds break up manure looking for insects and leave their own waste behind as fertilizer.

Marc Luff, who became ranch manager last year, was responsible for bringing turkeys into the operation. 

“Marc raised turkeys back in Ohio,” Rowen said. “When he came out here, he suggested we bring in turkeys because we already had chickens. And it worked in perfectly with what we were already doing.”

Last year, a miscalculation in timing led to large turkeys. Hoping to produce turkeys in a 12-24 pound range, they ended up with birds weighing between 18-28 pounds, too large for most families, even during Thanksgiving.

“This year we planned better,” Rowen said. “And this turned out to be fortunate because, with the virus, family gatherings are not going to be as large as they usually are. If they were as large as they were last year, I don’t think we would have sold a lot.”

In preparation for smaller Thanksgiving meals this year, Paicines Ranch also offered smaller portions. Photo by Emily Skow
In preparation for smaller Thanksgiving gatherings this year, Paicines Ranch also offered smaller portions. Photo by Emily Skow.

It has been widely reported that demand for turkeys has decreased this year and that smaller birds are preferred in the marketplace.

“Last year we sold 118 turkeys,” Rowen said. “And this year we had 138. But we parted some out. We have packaged some as half turkeys or turkey breasts to better fit what families might want this Thanksgiving.”

Regardless of the source, leftover turkey is an inevitable part of the season. Smoke Point BBQ’s Chef Gallagher provided a recipe to help solve that problem, with best wishes for the holidays.


Thanksgiving Leftover Casserole

Serves six to eight people


Leftover turkey—diced into ½ inch pieces

Leftover mashed potatoes

All leftover veggies—diced into ½ inch pieces

Frozen corn—1 cup

Frozen peas—1 cup

Leftover gravy—a minimum of 4 cups (if you do not have enough leftover gravy, substitute any store-bought turkey gravy)

Mayonnaise—1 cup

Sour cream—½ cup

Cooked Pasta—8 cups 

Leftover Stuffing, crumbled and dried in oven—3 cups

Shredded Cheddar Cheese—1 cup

Salt, pepper, and cayenne to taste

  1. Smear the mashed potatoes in the bottom of a casserole dish. 
  2. Mix turkey, leftover veggies, peas, corn and cooked pasta together. Pour on top of mashed potatoes. 
  3. Mix gravy, sour cream and mayo together. Pour over pasta.
  4. Mix dried stuffing and cheddar cheese together. Sprinkle on top of casserole.
  5. Wrap in foil and bake at 350F for 40 minutes. Remove foil and place on low broil setting. Crisp top for five minutes.



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Robert Eliason

I got my start as a photographer when my dad stuck a camera in my hand on the evening of my First Grade Open House. He taught me to observe, empathize, then finally compose the shot.  The editors at BenitoLink first approached me as a photographer. They were the ones to encourage me to write stories about things that interest me, turning me into a reporter as well.  BenitoLink is a great creative family that cares deeply about the San Benito community and I have been pleased to be a part of it.