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The WorstBest Part of Raising Turkeys

I just made up that word: worstbest. 

Worstbest describes something that you simultaneously dread and look forward to.  Something that you hate but also love.  Something that is the worst and the best, all at once.

When I was teaching, the first day of school was the worstbest.  All summer long, I dreaded it.  But once it came, I was super excited.

Pacifiers are the worstbest.  They save your sanity for a few months and then make you crazy as you try to figure out how to pry them out of your toddler’s life.

The worstbest month is December.  Christmas = best.  Winter = worst.  (That’s not to be confused with January.  January is just the worst.)

And the worstbest part of raising turkeys?  Loading them out to market.

It’s the worst because it’s a lot of work.  It’s not always easy to get a 45 pound turkey to go where you want him to.  And all those turkeys moving stir up a lot of dust.  Plus, the turkeys are loaded out at night, so that they arrive at the processor first thing in the morning and don’t have to wait on the truck too long.  Good for the turkeys.  Not so good for the farmer.

The trucks line up at sunset – it takes 18-20 semis to take all of our turkeys to market.

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Inside the barns, the turkeys wait for their turn to leave.  You can see that even at their largest, they still have plenty of room to move around.  (By the way, remember that these turkeys reach their 45 pound weight without steroids or hormones.  Great nutrition and breeding help them get this big.)



A  specially trained “loading crew” works with Bart.  They shake the big orange plastic bags at the birds to “herd” them toward the load out door. 


When a group of turkeys is on the right path, the crew stands back and lets them move at their own pace towards the door.  The turkeys’ movement stirs up dust, which is why this photo is sort of fuzzy.


Outside the barns, a special machine, like a conveyor belt that can be raised and lowered, is used to get the turkeys from the barn to the truck.


At the top of the escalator, two members of the load out crew are there to make sure the turkeys make it safely into the truck.


When it’s really cold, panels are added to the side of the truck to protect the turkeys.  I took these pictures on a mild November day.


So yeah, loading out turkeys is unpleasant.  It’s hard work.  It goes late into the night.  It’s dusty.  It’s the worst.

But it’s also the best.  It’s the best because it means that 20 weeks, almost 5 months, of work is finally paying off.  It’s the end of the cycle.  It’s a successful flock.  It’s the feeling of intense satisfaction that comes from seeing something through, from start to finish.

It’s the worstbest part of raising turkeys.

(By the way, want to see what happens after they leave the farm?  I thought this video from Temple Grandin was FASCINATING! If you’re reading this in email or a feed reader, you might have to click over to see the video.)

Would you like to comment?

  1. I am a big fan of Temple Grandin!

    That video was a really great way to show people that processing plants aren't full of freaked out birds being tortured. Thanks for sharing!

  2. 18 - 20 semis...! That's a LOT of turkeys. (not a job for the local backyard...lol)
    Thank you for sharing. I have never had a chance to see that operation and had always wondered how they did it. ...and love, love Temple Grandin.

  3. Wow! I thought it was an awesome sight when we have 7-8 semis here to ship our beef cattle! 18-20 is A LOT of semis!!! I totally know what you mean about worstbest: whole-heartedly agree about the 1st day of school, and whole-heartedly agree about shipping livestock, I think it's a 'worst' because we have our cattle for 8-9 months, and get our "favorites"--those friendly ones or good-looking ones that greet us at the feedbunks each morning. But, at the end of the day it's all just production agriculture.

  4. My hubs has a question: Are the "loading crew" your employees, from the processing plant, or from the trucking company? Cattle don't require their own loading crew ;)

    1. Great question, Carrie! The loading crew are managed by a group of turkey farmers in the area. Kind of a cooperative of sorts. I don't know all the details, but they serve central Iowa and are under the guidance of some of our farmers. In one part of Iowa, it was common for high school boys to serve as the load-out crews...sort of a rite of passage...but now they have a specific loading crew, too, I think.

  5. Katie - this is such an excellent post. It gives such a good face to your place in the ag industry. How long do you have between shipments to clean barns etc? I hope you get a bit of a break in between. So many of us packed chickens around here in high school (loaded them, whatever) there are so many chicken farms in the area -- some of us girls vaccinated and it was not fun. It was super great to make what seemed like a wad of cash to a sixteen year old, but not so fun working at night.

    On a final note, great job on the photos too Katie, you do a great job on this blog all around.

  6. Great question. Because our flocks are rotating, there is NEVER a time that we don't have turkeys. That is definitely the hardest part of farming...there is no break on our farm.

    When we load out, we generally also have a 1 week old flock and a 10 week old flock as well. We have about four weeks to clean out the barns before we move the youngest turkeys in there. Sounds like a lot of time, but it goes quickly!

  7. Great post Katie! Growing up in a community with lots of turkeys I knew some of this but not all of this. Thanks for showing everyone the process!

  8. Absolutely stunning photos!! Thanks for the insight into a turkey farmer's life and I appreciate your term worstbest - totally relate! Harvest is my worstbest time - love the family/food/fellowship that harvest brings and it's my favorite time of the year, but it's the worst because my husband is gone all the time!