WEST GARDINER — With the sun reflecting off the disappearing layer of snow, Judy Abbott was enjoying a calm moment Saturday morning. 

The turkeys that she and her husband, Tom, raise at Foggy Moon Farm had been shipped off the day before for processing. Customers who have reserved birds will stop by to pick them up Tuesday and Wednesday evenings. 

Despite Saturday’s short lull, the weeks leading up to the winter holiday season are the busiest for the Abbotts. While all of the holiday turkeys and pork were spoken for by the end of September, the care and feeding continues. 

For 15 years, they have been raising and selling turkeys from their West Gardiner farm. About five years ago, they added pigs and two years later, they added cattle.

“The hardest time of the year is when everyone starts eating more,” Abbott said. 

Before Tom Abbott left on a recent trip, he filled the turkey feeders with 15 50-pound bags, and Judy Abbot has since added five more bags. 

The 10 pigs, which will be sent to market during the second week in December, are eating 150 pounds of food each day, she said. 

Tom Abbott had also loaded up the hay feeder for the cows and it was empty Saturday. 

“I would be panicked about that if I didn’t have in the back of my mind that before the day is over the grass will be showing in the field, and Tom can put two bales in the feeder in the morning,” she said. 

Growing the business has been an exercise in planning — how many chicks need to be ordered to accommodate for losses, how long a growing season, when to send the animals for processing and how to increase their herd of cattle.  

“Tom and I are happy that we’re doing this,” Abbott said. “One of the reasons is that we get so much exercise. We’re healthy. The other is that you always need to be learning and growing. You can’t just stagnate when you retire.” 

Tom Abbott is a former dean at the University of Maine at Augusta and currently works as project manager for the university’s unmanned aircraft systems program. Judy Abbott was a financial adviser, stock broker and insurance agent before she sold that business. 

“When we bought the house, we always knew we would have a farm here,” Judy Abbott said, sitting in the sun room converted from the farm’s original milk room with a view of the fields behind the house.  

The Abbotts moved to West Gardiner in 1979, and the enterprise had roots in both of their childhoods. Judy Abbott’s grandfather earned a degree in agriculture at the University of Maine and managed farms throughout his life. The Portland neighborhood where she grew up was populated with small farms and her father grew vegetables. Tom worked summers on a farm in Sanford. 

The when, she said, came about 15 years ago when her husband announced he couldn’t wait any longer, and headed out to build a pen for turkeys. 

“He left me in the dust,” Judy Abbott said. “That’s how my husband is. He’s very quick to implement when he makes up his mind.” 

This year, the routine of daily chores was complicated by the weather. The cold snap before Friday’s snowstorm froze water sources solid, and Judy Abbott had to take a sledgehammer to the ice in the bulls’ water supply so she could pull out the heating element and test to see whether it was working. 

“The pigs’ water froze, but I put a big tub in there, and it hasn’t frozen yet,” she said, and the turkeys were smart enough to peck at the puddles in their yard. 

“There are days when it can be so stressful,” she said, adding that the results are worth it. 

The quality of turkey is the best she’s ever had, she said. 

Part of the equation is what the animals eat. Along with high-quality grains, the animals get local zucchini, summer squash and dropped fruit and it makes a difference in the quality of the meat. 

The vegetables come from Farmer Kev’s, just down the road. 

Kevin Leavitt, owner of Farmer Kev’s, said the vegetables that go to Foggy Moon farms would otherwise go to waste. They are oversized squash and what’s left in the field. 

“They’re here for the taking,” Leavitt said. “It helps that they’re right down the road.”

In exchange, he said, he gets turkeys that he can give to employees. 

“They are way better than what you could get at the store,” he said. “They’re more moist.”    

For the Abbotts, part of the reward comes through anticipated profit. 

They make money on the turkeys, but not on the pigs. Abbott said if they raised the prices on the pigs, which they sell by quarters, halves or whole, they would price themselves out of the market.  

Adding cattle to the operation will turn that around. They plan to breed cattle and build a herd, and Judy Abbott plans to build a creamery to make cheese. 

“It will pay for itself,” she said.  

The enterprise offers rewards other than money. 

Every year, she said, she gets to greet her customers at the barn door when they come to pick up their birds and wish them a Happy Thanksgiving.

“The quality product is what pleases me and makes me excited about doing this, and it’s how pleased my clients are that they have such a delicious Thanksgiving turkey,” she said. 

Judy Abbott leads a tour of the barn Saturday at Foggy Moon Farm in West Gardiner. She and her husband, Tom, raise turkeys, pigs and cattle. (Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal)

The turkeys have gone to the slaughterhouse, but there are still pigs at Foggy Moon Farm in West Gardiner on Saturday. (Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal)

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