The highlight of my year has been marrying Joe, aka the turkey farmer.
He grew up in western Ohio where he often helped his mom in their turkey starter house. His dad worked off the farm until Joe was about 14. Part of his dad transitioning to full-time farming was taking care of turkeys in a couple finishing barns. Even though I’ve grown up on a farm I’ve never been around turkeys, so I have embraced the opportunity to learn.
My first visit into this barn was in November of 2013. I remember walking in through a utility room that has a large sink, water heater, paperwork and storage for supplies. Then a door was slid open to the large area where the turkeys live.
Poults arrive in the starter house when they are one day old. The barn is kept a toasty 80 degrees for these young birds. The barn holds a group of 6,000 turkeys that are all the same age.
When the poults arrive there are ten cardboard rings dividing the barn into smaller sections. The rings keep the birds closer to feed, water and heaters. As the birds grow they need more space and the cardboard rings are removed.
For the first week the waters are cleaned every morning, and the turkeys are fed by hand twice a day.
There are 40 bell waterers that hang in the barn for the duration of the turkey’s stay and an additional 40 fresh-flow waters that are used in the cardboard rings to help the turkeys get acclimated to drinking water. Initially 6,000 turkeys have access to 80 waterers that are cleaned out daily. That’s 75 birds per drinking fountain. There are about 320 students in my son’s school and they all share 3 drinking fountains.
Once the cardboard rings are removed the waterers are still cleaned every day, and the automatic feeding system is monitored and maintained as needed.
The turkey food is made of corn, soybeans, vitamins and minerals. Turkey feed is very nutrient dense which helps them grow quickly, efficiently and naturally. No hormones are fed or administered to growing turkeys.
Another chore is tilling the coop. The birds live on a layer of clean, fresh wooden shavings or sawdust. The farmer works to ensure that the sawdust stays as dry and clean as possible so that the turkeys can maintain healthy feet. The coop is tilled or turned up to help keep the litter (or bedding) dry on an as needed basis.
At five weeks old the turkeys leave the starter house and move to a finishing barn. The finishing barns are much bigger because the turkeys need more room to grow. These barns also have curtains to allow for more airflow because an older, heartier bird can handle slightly cooler temperatures.
Animal care is similar across all species. The farmer must spend time each day making sure that animals have clean fresh feed and water and a dry place to rest.
The feeding system is automated in the finishing barn, so daily checks and regular maintenance ensures that turkeys always have access to feed. The waters are cleaned every day and moved between a series of hooks to help keep the litter as dry as possible. The coop is tilled as needed, about weekly.
Tilling the coop
Joe’s family only raises male turkeys which are called toms. The toms are full grown and ready to be harvested at twenty weeks old and 45 – 47 pounds. So these turkeys are raised for deli meat because a forty pound bird wouldn’t fit in very many ovens.
I enjoy the enthusiasm and care that my turkey farming in-laws put into growing our turkey. They are a big family and welcome all hands to help. My little farmer and I were quickly recruited to help clean waters and feed baby birds. We worked our way up to helping till the coop and even clean out barns. We have enjoyed learning more about turkeys and the people that raise them!