If you think your holiday preparations seem to be starting earlier and earlier, stop by David and Lilly Smith's house. They've been getting ready for Thanksgiving all year.

The Smiths are poultry farmers, and this is the busiest time of year at their 67-acre farm in Sparks, Md., in Baltimore County, as people from all over the Baltimore-Washington area stop by Springfield Farm to pick up their holiday turkeys.

The Smiths use natural farming techniques -- no antibiotics or hormones -- to raise the birds. They specialize in so-called heritage breeds that you won't find at your local grocery store. The birds are smaller, but they command premium prices for their fuller flavor.

It's their sixth year in business and the niche has proven successful so far. David Smith's background in marketing has been an asset in building the business, he said.

Think free-range turkeys might be your calling? Smith said groups like the American Pastured Poultry Producers' Association can help you get started.

You're on your own when it comes time to find something to do with all those feathers, though.

-- Mary Ellen Slayter

Free-range turkeys are smaller, and tastier, than breeds sold at most grocery stores.