It All Started with a Blue Turkey
Mojo is a word that evokes power, energy, and magic. All these descriptions are evident when visiting Blue Mojo Farm, a vibrant and innovative home to ostriches, Muscovy ducks, Brahma chickens, and Recessive Blue Slate turkeys.
On the outskirts of Washington, D.C, Blue Mojo Farm is located in the small, historic community of Aldie, Virginia. Tucked between the Catoctin and Bull Run Mountains, the farm is remarkably inventive, full of thriving poultry and waterfowl raised alongside advanced aquaponic equipment and new methods for growing sustainable food.
Blue Mojo Farm got its name from Eddie Beuerlein and Jill Bowyer’s first heritage turkey. The Blue Slate hen named Mojo used to ride around the property perched on Eddie’s shoulder.
Blue Slates are currently listed in The Livestock Conservancy’s Watch category. Fewer than 5,000 breeding birds exist within the United States. Turkeys in this category live within ten or fewer breeding flocks. And, the global population is estimated at less than 10,000. The Slates progressed from the Critical category in 2007 because of the resurgence of interest in raising heritage turkeys.
Eddie and Jill first met Mojo while visiting a local farmer. Eddie recalls, “All of a sudden, this huge blue turkey started following us around.” The couple became entranced by the friendliness of the bird; he seemed to be encouraging interaction and was very vocal with cooing.
The couple did not set out to raise turkeys, therefore Mojo was definitely not part of the plan. Eddie and Jill first began looking for fowl when their son got a tick bite and developed Lyme disease; they researched ways to eliminate ticks and other insects from their woody surroundings. The pair had arrived at the local farm planning to buy guinea fowl to take care of the tick problem. But, once they made a connection with the boisterous turkey, they quickly decided to bring home one of their own.
They picked out a smaller, young bird and named it Mojo. The name would inevitably prove to be a perfect match. “Turkeys get a bad rap,” Eddie notes, but “they are not what you expect.” In his experience, the birds might follow you around. He’s also learned they all have unique personalities. Mojo certainly did.
Eddie and Jill no longer have guineas and are currently focused on raising other poultry breeds at risk of extinction. Their first-hand encounter with a heritage breed has spurred them into a decision to dedicate their farm to raising rare animals… and sometimes these animals find them.
Eddie recalls finding a strange visitor one night after returning from feeding the turkeys. He discovered a duck hiding underneath his vehicle. Just like their encounter with the turkey, a personal encounter with an animal led Eddie and Jill to welcoming even more rare breeds to Blue Mojo Farm.
They figured the presence of a duck indicated there were more ducks residing nearby, which meant their land was probably a good environment for raising ducks. As Eddie says, “We ended up picking Cayugas, a breed that could handle our winters, was a good egg-layer, and a good all-around bird.” At the time, Cayugas were listed in The Livestock Conservancy’s Threatened category with less than 1,000 breeding birds in the U.S. But, thanks to breed stewards like Eddie and Jill, Cayugas have now been moved to the Watch category with significant population growth.
In addition to Cayugas, Eddie and Jill were on the lookout for a bigger duck. They came across information on Silver Appleyards on The Livestock Conservancy’s website, and raised those as well for a couple of years. Silver Appleyards progressed from Critical to Threatened in 2016. Ducks still make up only a fraction of the fowl population dominated by chickens. But, many rare duck breeds have experienced growth over the past several years as more people rediscover their contributions to both farm and table.
To make matters even more interesting, on top of the shoulder-riding turkey, Cayugas and Silver Appleyards, the Beuerleins purchased ostriches, leading to some culinary adventures with their eggs. It turns out an ostrich egg can make a spectacular deviled egg!
According to Eddie, people have driven four to five hours just to see their birds. This, of course, leads to more awareness of heritage breed conservation and the importance of stewarding these precious genetic resources.
Unfortunately, they’ve also had to make some difficult decisions and downsize along the way. They were not able to sell enough ducks or heritage breed turkeys to make up for the cost of raising them, and have sold off many breeds to allow them to focus on the ones that would be most unique and marketable. “When we did the math, it just wasn’t working out. No one wanted to pay $12 a pound or more for a turkey we’ve raised by hand on the farm for 1-2 years, and we’d have to make at least that much just to pay for feed costs,” laments Jill. Difficult decisions like these are part of the journey of raising heritage breeds, but this does not undermine how crucial Eddie and Jill have been in conservation work.
After making the tough call to downsize, Eddie and Jill switched directions so the farm wouldn’t see the end of their work in conserving heritage breeds. In 2019, Eddie and Jill began working with renowned turkey breeder Kevin Porter to bring back the Recessive Blue Slate Turkey, only recently reintroduced to the United States. Jill laughs, “No matter what, we will always have Blue Slates around. It’s what started this whole adventure!”
From a turkey named Mojo to a stint with Cayugas and Silver Appleyards, Bourbon Red, Royal Palm, and Bronze turkeys, Muscovy ducks, Brahma chickens, and finally to ostriches, Eddie and Jill are open to experimenting and learning as they move forward. While the breeds they raise have changed, their dedication to research and experimentation remains constant. For this reason, the pair are key assets in conserving heritage breeds. They continue to welcome both new animals and new methods to their Virginia farmstead.
The family lives by the adage “not everything in life has to be fast.” They believe one should research, learn, and experiment. That perspective works well with heritage breeds, where the animals invite you to slow down and observe. “With heritage breeds, one thing we’ve found is things tend to happen a bit slower, and you don’t want to rush it,” concludes Eddie. But the wait is worthwhile when you to cultivate those animals that radiate mojo.
Story was originally started by Katherine Walker. Edited and completed by Taryn Elliott.