I’m so excited about today’s post! Friends of our who raise turkeys on their family farm are guest posting today! One of the birds in Jackie’s photos below might very well be the turkey your family eats on Thanksgiving day. How cool is that?!
Hello! We are Josh, Jackie and Zane Witte. We raise cattle and turkeys. We raise approximately four flocks of 16,000 turkeys a year. Today, we are going to be telling you how the turkey that you eat on Thanksgiving is raised.
We raise turkeys for Cargill Meat Solutions. In the grocery store you can look for the label Honeysuckle White.
The operation is a little confusing. We own the farm and barns that the birds are raised in but we don’t own the turkeys. Cargill supplies us with the turkeys, feed, and other needs, while we supply the labor to take care of the birds. We have a brooder house where the baby turkeys- or poults, stay for the first 6 weeks of their lives. From there, the birds are moved to our grow-out barn where they remain until around 16 weeks of age. At that point, Cargill comes to get the birds for processing. Our turkeys can become anything from ground turkey to your typical Thanksgiving Day turkey. Let’s look at the process a little more, shall we?
Poults require a certain type of care to get the best start possible. We set up cardboard pens that will keep the birds close to the ‘brood stoves’ (heaters). If the birds get too far from the heaters and get cold, they will huddle together to get warm and accidently smother each other. We have to keep the barn at 90 degrees for the poults so we use a lot of propane! The heaters are the small circular shapes hanging from the ceiling.
The poults are delivered on a climate controlled truck, mostly in the early morning and at night. The truck is filled with boxes of turkeys. We load the boxes off the truck and onto our pickup trucks. Our brooder house is 440 feet long so we use the trucks to drive down the center of the barn.
Then it’s time to get the turkeys settled in for their stay on our farm. Remember those boxes of poults? The yellow boxes hold 100 baby turkeys each.
We have to carefully take each turkey out of the boxes and into their new homes. We are blessed to have great family and friends who come out to help. Aunt Jess and Zane are unloading the poults by hand.
When the poults are adjusting to their new life, we have to sort of teach them how to eat. You know the old adage that turkeys are dumb? Well, guess what, they really are. Josh’s grandparents used to raise range turkeys, and the birds would actually drown themselves from looking at the sky during a rainstorm. (Which is one of the reasons barns are used. Being free-range isn’t all its cracked up to be by commercials!) At any rate, we have to trick them into eating and drinking.
Fun Farm Fact: Turkeys are attracted to the color green. Thank me later when you win lots of money on Who Wants to be a Millionaire? So we put green colored feed on top of their normal feed and their water comes out of a green nipple. The turkeys instinctively peck at the green and then get the taste for food and water. Pretty cool, huh?
As the poults get used to their surroundings, they spread out a little but for the most part like to stay close together for warmth. (The big red thing in the middle is another type of waterer that they use when they get older).
They also have to get used to our little turkey wrangler.
When the poults get older and bigger, we remove the cardboard pens and let them have free run of the barn.
Eventually, the turkeys run out of room in the brooder house so we have to move them to the 770 foot long grow-out barn. The barns are connected with an alley that the birds will walk through. This is the turkeys’ new home until they are big enough for processing. Our birds weigh around 22 pounds when they leave our farm.
After the birds leave it’s time to clean out the barns. I didn’t photograph this because it’s a nasty job. We take out all the old litter and manure and spread it on our cattle pasture. Turkey manure is an excellent fertilizer so whatever litter we don’t use, we sell to local crop farmers. Then it is time to start the whole process over again!
I hope you have enjoyed your peek into the life of turkey farming. Be sure to remember where all of your Thanksgiving meal comes from and thank a farmer! Happy Thanksgiving from Witte Farms!