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Q & A with a Turkey Farmer

This time of year, people have a lot of questions about our farm.  And who can blame them? People want to know how their food is grown, and few have visited a turkey farm.

I’m happy to talk about my farm, because I think that the best place to get information about the way food is grown is from a farmer.

So today, I’m answering those questions.  From the basic (and slightly stupid) ones to the advanced (and slightly offensive) questions, you’ll find all the answers here.



Do you butcher all your turkeys for Thanksgiving?

No.  We raise toms (male turkeys) year round for further processing.  This means that they are made into turkey products like lunch meat, hot dogs, and pepperoni.

Most Thanksgiving birds are hens, and many come from Minnesota, the top turkey producing state in the nation.

Why are your turkeys in barns?

We raise our turkeys indoors to protect them from three things: disease, predators, and severe weather.  Turkey comfort and health are top priorities and our barns contribute to both.

Are turkeys raised in cages?

No. Turkeys live in large open barns where they can move freely.  Our barns are about the size of a football field (and we have 5 of them!)

IMG_0244But your turkeys look so crowded in pictures.  Why do you shove so many into the barn?

Our turkeys look crowded because they are social and “flock” together whenever there is any excitement, which includes a photographer in the barn.  Remember, our barns are BIG, but the photos generally show less than 50 feet of the barn clearly.  You can’t see that the back of the barn is nearly empty when those birds are crowded up around us.

How big are your turkeys?

Our turkeys are nearly 45 pounds when they go to market!

Why are your turkeys so big?

Turkeys have been bred to be big to meet consumer demand for lean turkey breast meat.  Breeding, combined with EXCELLENT nutrition, create the big birds we raise. (Think about it – every single meal they eat is designed to give them exactly what they need to grow!)

Can your turkeys walk?

Yes!  There was an article in the New York Times over twenty years ago reporting that turkeys are so heavy they can’t walk.  That’s not true.  As turkeys have been bred to be bigger, they’ve also been bred to have stronger legs! (More about that here.)

What’s the difference between organic turkey and “regular?”

The biggest differences are that organic turkeys eat organic feed, cannot be given antibiotics, and must be allowed access to the outdoors.

Why is organic turkey so much more expensive?

Organic turkey costs up to 5x more than conventionally raised turkeys for many reasons.  Organic feed is more expensive and access to the outdoors puts turkeys at risk of predators and disease.  And because antibiotics can’t be used, if a turkey gets sick, it often dies. A lot of expensive feed going into a bird who died before going to market raises the average costs of the birds who DO make it to the processing plant.

Do you give your turkeys hormones?

No! There are no hormones used in any poultry production in the United States!

What about steroids?

No! There are no steroids used in any poultry production in the United States!

Do all turkeys get antibiotics? Is it safe?

All of our birds get antibiotics to prevent two different diseases when they are young.  Then, they get antibiotics ONLY if a disease outbreak occurs.  We work with a vet and follow strict withdrawal guidelines (the amount of time we need to wait after giving antibiotics to send birds to market) and every flock is tested for antibiotic residue to ensure that meat is antibiotic-free.

Is it safe? Read more about that here.

IMG_0016How old are turkeys when they’re butchered?

About 20 weeks old.

Why are your turkeys white?

We raise broad-breasted white turkeys for two reasons.  First, as the name suggests, this breed has a lot of breast meat, which consumers love.  Second, dark feathers leave marks in the skin of a turkey, which consumers do not love.

What happens when a turkey gets sick?

When one turkey is sick, chances are a lot of them are sick.  Our vet runs a blood test or necropsy (autopsy of a bird which has already died) to determine the best course of action.  When antibiotics are needed to treat an illness, we administer them through the water to the entire flock.

What’s the difference between a wild turkey and domesticated/farm turkey?

Broad-breasted white turkeys, the breed we raise, have white feathers and a lot of breast meat. They grow to be almost twice the size of a wild turkey.  Their diet is different, so the meat sometimes tastes different, too.  Wild turkey often tastes “gamier.”

What’s a heritage turkey?

Heritage breed turkeys are similar to wild turkeys.  They do not have as much breast meat or grow as quickly as broad breasted white.

Is there really a shortage of turkeys this year?

Turkey production is down, but it won’t really affect consumers.  Retailers haven’t raised prices – in fact, your Thanksgiving bird is DOWN 2 cents on average from last year!  (At 91 cents a pound, I’d buy a couple extras and throw them in the freezer if I were you!)

Do you buy a Thanksgiving turkey or use one of your own?

We buy one, just like you do!  However, we eat turkey meat off our own farm quite a bit.  Remember when I said every flock is tested for antibiotic residue?  We send in small fat samples from several birds that have to be “sacrificed” for this purpose, and we put that meat in the freezer.

What other questions do you have? I’ll answer them in the comments below!

coverAnd don’t forget, My Family’s Farm, the non-fiction children’s book I wrote about our turkey farm, is free on my blog!  Read it with your kids this week and have a happy Thanksgiving!

Would you like to comment?

  1. Thank you for answering my question!!!!

  2. Ooops, there are no stupid questions.

  3. Thanks for sharing! This is great info to know about how the food on our table is taken care of! :-)