The business of raising turkeys

As we prepare for our Thanksgiving Day feasts, a roasted turkey is most likely somewhere in the picture. Whether it’s your job to prepare it, carve it or simply enjoy it, the turkey usually takes center stage at holiday gatherings.

In fact, the National Turkey Federation estimates that approximately 45 million turkeys are eaten at Thanksgiving and 22 million at Christmas.

While most of us only appreciate this bird during the holiday season, for some farmers, turkeys are a year-round business. In 2009, more than 247 million turkeys were raised in the United States; 5.2 million were raised in Ohio.

Dan Eifert, owner of 4EEE Turkey Farm near Celina, OH has been raising turkeys for 40 years and knows what it takes to keep the birds healthy for the 20-plus weeks it takes to get them to market size.

“We hand-feed them for the first week, but turkeys are pretty smart. By the first day, they can find their own feed and their own water,” Eifert said. “The biggest challenge is to get them off to a good start. From day one, the temperature has to be just right, and you have to make sure the airflow is good. They need good air and controlled temperature.”

While turkey farmers like Eifert work hard to raise healthy, nutritious birds for consumers, there are some misconceptions about how the meat is produced in the United States.

The Minnesota Turkey Growers Association debunks some of those misconceptions:
  • The majority of turkeys in the U.S. are raised in barns that are environmentally controlled and scientifically designed to keep the birds comfortable and to protect them from predators, disease and inclement weather.
  • Turkeys are fed a balanced diet of corn, soybeans and essential vitamins and minerals at every stage of their life. Fresh water and feed are available at all times.
  • Turkey farmers do not feed their turkeys hormones or steroids. In fact, all poultry in the U.S. is raised with no added hormones or steroids.
  • Most turkeys are treated with antibiotics, as needed, when they aren’t feeling well (Turkeys labeled “antibiotic-free” at the supermarket are not treated with antibiotics).
Turkey farmers, like the majority of farmers, are good stewards of the land. According to the National Turkey Federation, the protection and proper use of natural resources is an important objective for the turkey industry.

Turkey Production and Land Use (National Turkey Federation):
  • Because of the intensive nature of modern turkey husbandry, very little land is actually devoted to production. The biggest potential impact is from the use of the bedding material used in turkey production houses, known as litter.
  • Litter is rich in nutrients, such as nitrogen, and is recycled as an organic fertilizer on farm fields.
  • Careful management ensures that litter is used in accordance with the nutritional needs of crops so that nutrient enrichment of groundwater and surface water is eliminated or minimized.
The turkey industry has grown during the past two decades from a single-product, holiday- oriented business into a fully integrated industry with a robust product line that competes with other protein products on a year-round basis.

So, when you sit down at your table this year and pile your plate high with all of those Thanksgiving Day favorites, like that carved turkey, take a moment and give thanks to the farmer who raised it.

I wish you and your families a Happy Thanksgiving!

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