Antibiotic-Free?

Antibiotic-Free Poultry Production | via MinnesotaTurkey.com

Whether or not you agree with the increase pressure put on animal agriculture to raise animals while responsibly using little or no antibiotics doesn’t really matter anymore because there is no denying or slowing that movement down right now.  We have had many changes in how and when we use antibiotics in our operation with more to come in the not too distant future.  I don’t want to talk too much about what these changes are but want to instead look at the effects of what these changes have on farmers who raise them.

As of now, we still raise birds conventionally, which means we still use antibiotics when needed.  The difference is now everything is more a reactive use to challenges instead of a proactive one. This means we have to have symptoms of disease or increased mortalities to justify usage and then a prescription by a veterinarian to use it.  We are trying to use probiotics and other “natural” products to support optimal health but the fact of the matter is living, breathing organisms get sick no matter which supplements they are given. We only need to look at ourselves to realize this.

There isn’t a worse job any farmer has than to pick up diseased animals or having to euthanize an animal due to the effects of a disease challenge. I know many people argue that the conditions the animals live in and the fact they are confined are the reason for this but I strongly disagree with them. We try to maintain optimal conditions for our animals as they are growing. This includes:

  • Giving them confined areas when they are young to keep them close to the heat sources they need and increasing their “play space” numerous times the first few weeks of their lives as they grow.
  • Moving from brood barns to finish barns between 4 and 5 weeks of age which gives them the proper room to grow and increased ventilation to maintain proper air quality.

Many practices in modern agriculture were designed over the years to protect and benefit animals and are now being scrutinized by activist groups and consumer groups. We try our best to raise our animals in the best conditions possible and still there is no doubt that we will have a challenge at some point in time.  When we do use antibiotics, we use them according to label usage and we follow withdrawal guidelines for them to ensure the meat is safe and each flock we market is tested to prove this.

Disease challenges are very stressful on animals, but also, it is very stressful on the people caring for them. If anyone thinks farmers don’t care about the animals they raise, I would love to invite them to join one of us during a disease challenge. Add to the stress from the increased workload and watching animals go through the effects of disease, every animal that dies, is revenue lost. So between physical, emotional and financial effects, it gets hard at times to deal with. Everyone handles it differently but, no matter how, it still takes a toll on farmer’s health.

Antibiotic-Free Poultry Production | via MinnesotaTurkey.com

Taking a step back, I often wonder, what percentage of the consumer population is demanding these changes. Then, what percentage of these people base their demands on factual data?  Also, is it worth it for processors to pursue these markets or is it a short term trend that will come and go?  I know many food chain restaurants have made large public press releases when going with cage-free eggs and serving only antibiotic free or free range meats. There are commercials everywhere on TV about it as well. I wonder what would happen at these establishments if consumers would be offered these options along with conventional options on the menu. Then, each option sold at a cost which reflects the actual cost to produce them.  Would people be willing to pay the increased price for these products or not? So I guess the best question to anyone reading this is how important is antibiotic free, cage free, organic, etc. products to them and what are they willing to pay for the finished product?

I really wish I was more of an answer man right now than a question man but these are some of the questions we need to ask ourselves. I don’t have the answer to whether or not we can feed a growing world population with these new production changes. I hope so, if that is the way we continue to go in the future, because otherwise we will have bigger issues to worry about. But I do know, based on the last 15 months, it will cost more for farmers to produce products this way. My greatest hope is that, IF consumers are willing to pay more for the end product with these labels or guarantees, then hopefully both processors and farmers are able to see their own profits increase.

 

 

What is Brooding?

In my January blog post you were introduced to these little gals as they arrived at our farm and made themselves at home.

In the video above, the poults are babies, one day old, and in pens. During the time poults are in pens is referred to as brooding. The length of time for brooding poults is generally up to 5 to 6 days depending on how the birds are doing.  The amount of chore time dedicated to brooding is significant. Someone is in the barn most of the first day to ensure the poults are spreading out, eating, drinking, warm enough, and that all systems are working properly. The poults are tended to numerous times during the day throughout each day of brooding.  The red Plasson waterers in all of the pens are emptied and rinsed many times during the brood to ensure the water remains cold and fresh.  The green water lines are called Ziggity watering systems. The water lines are flushed every day as well to promote bacteria free water. The feeders and scratch pads are topped off numerous times per day with fresh feed to encourage eating. A worker being in the barn also keeps the birds up and active as they are very interested in people and will often flock to you if you stay to too long in the pen. The pens are made new for each flock with 18” cardboard which is cut specifically to the size of pen required for the brood barn. They are held up with metal stands.

Each day during the brood, all of the feeders are filled with fresh feed.  The process begins by grabbing feed scoop(s) and filling the feed cart with feed.  The feed is  brought into the barn from the feed tank outside.  It is augered into the barn and into the feed cart through the feed fill system. In this photo you see the fill system filling a feed box for one of the feed lines. To fill the feed cart, the white plastic tube goes into the feed cart instead of the feed box.

When the feed  cart is full of feed, it is pulled around the barn to each pen and the feeders in the pen are hand filled using the feed scoops.

During this time, the workers are evaluating the health of the flock, the temperature of the barn, the height of the feeders and waters, the ventilation and the humidity which can all fluctuate depending on the flock and the weather conditions.  Because ventilation is so important, I will address it in another blog post.

Feeding turkeys during brooding is a lot of manual work. Along with assessing flock heatlh, air quality conditions and feeding, the workers are also adding new dry litter as necessary and filling in depressions in the litter created when too many turkeys want to sit in the same spot.  The barn temperature during brood is around the 90 degree range.  We all rather enjoy it when the feed cart is empty, knowing we did a very important job very well.

When it is determined the poults are ready to be let out of pens and to have access to the entire barn, all the brooding equipment is removed and the middle feed and water lines are lowered.  We call this process letting birds out of pens.  We start at the far end of the barn and begin by taking  down and removing  the draft shields, metal stands and the feeders.This is a big job that requires lots of careful walking to ensure the little turkeys running around are not hurt. Turkeys are very inquisitive and are quickly running around the barn.

The above video clip is of the same flock at 3 weeks of age.

At age 4 weeks 5 days they will be moved to the finishing barn.  Stay tuned!

Tweet me @LynBackGess!

A New Turkey Flock for a New Year

Gessell Family via MinnesotaTurkey.com

Happy New Year from the John and Lynette Gessell Family!

With the frigid temperatures, the recent thaw fooling us into thinking it is spring, the passing of Martin Luther King Day, the beginning of a new MN State legislative session, the inauguration of the 45th President of the USA, and on the farm 3 load outs, 3 move overs, and 3 new flock arrivals, along with the completion of the remodeling work on the second floor of one of our brood barns, it is no wonder that “the Holidays” seem like so long ago. Nonetheless, it is our sincere wish that your 2017 will be filled with peace, promise and prosperity.

Our family rang in the New Year preparing for and getting new baby turkeys. The new babies arrived on New Year’s Eve. As I helped the guys brood birds on New Year’s Day, I thought about upcoming blogs in 2017. So much of what we do, how we do it and why we do it is second nature to those of us who are in the business of raising turkeys. I sometimes presume that most everyone else does as well, but of course that is not the case. So thinking about how to best relay the how, what and why of our work is a bit overwhelming.

I will begin with explaining how we get a new flock. We are independent turkey farmers so we have all the financial investment in each flock we raise. We purchase the baby turkeys, all of the feed fed to the flock, and we are responsible for all the other inputs related to raising turkeys, fuel, electricity, labor, facilities, etc. Therefore, we do everything within our power to care for each of the turkey in the very best way we are able, so as many turkeys as possible get to market. We want every one of the birds to thrive so we can sell them to Jennie-O Turkey Store, get paid for them and make a living.

To get new baby turkeys, called poults, the barn is set up, which means the brood barn or starter barn is carefully prepared for the new turkeys poults.

Turkey barn prepared for a new flock | via MinnesotaTurkey.com

The barn is clean and warm, ready to accept baby poults that are generally only 24 hours hatched out of the egg when they arrive at our farm. The temperature in the barn on day one is a warm 86-92 degrees. Notice the cardboard pens.

Turkey barn prepared for a new flock | via MinnesotaTurkey.com

The pens are designed to keep the baby turkeys close to the warmth of the brooder stoves and to have easy access to fresh feed and cold water. After all, they are tiny babies and need a comfortable nursery, as little stress as possible, frequent feedings and many little sips of water. The bedding is sunflower hulls which are clean and fresh for each new flock.

Turkey barn prepared for a new flock | via MinnesotaTurkey.com

Baby poults are delivered from the hatchery in a climate controlled truck. When the truck arrives at the farm, it backs up to one of the main entrances to the barn.

Turkey barn prepared for a new flock | via MinnesotaTurkey.com

The birds come in plastic boxes of 100.

Turkey barn prepared for a new flock | via MinnesotaTurkey.com

The boxes are unloaded from the delivery truck and onto a trailer by way of good old fashion muscle.

Turkey barn prepared for a new flock | via MinnesotaTurkey.com

When the moving trailer is full, it is pulled to the far end of the barn with a utility tractor.

Turkey barn prepared for a new flock | via MinnesotaTurkey.com
The next step is to place the baby birds into the prepared pens. The plastic sections are removed from the box , the box is walked to the pen, placed onto the floor and quickly and gently the birds are scooted out of the box into their new home.

Turkey barn prepared for a new flock | via MinnesotaTurkey.com

The babies very quickly find the water and the feed and in no time at all are settled into life on the farm.

Turkey barn prepared for a new flock | via MinnesotaTurkey.com

Turkey barn prepared for a new flock | via MinnesotaTurkey.com

Turkey barn prepared for a new flock | via MinnesotaTurkey.com

Over the course of the next five to seven days the birds will receive intense care and oversight. Stay tuned!

Lynette

(Tweet me @LynBackGess!)

The Penny

The Penny - How It Relates to Turkey Production | via MinnesotaTurkey.com #turkeyeveryday #agchat #MNAg #minnesotaturkey

Santa brought my daughter, Abby, the “Game of Life” board game this past Christmas and let’s just say we have played a few games the last few weeks. I remember playing the same game when I was growing up but the new version has definitely changed with the times. You can choose to go to the “Career Route” or “College Career Route”.  Pretty normal decision made by most graduating high schoolers. And just like in real life, the College Career Route takes half your money instantly but your income come payday is hopefully a little higher for the rest of the game.

There are other decisions you need to make on the way such as choosing to go to night school to change careers half-way though, or just continue on the life path you were on.  Also, choosing to take what is called a “Family Route”, which increases your chance of having children, or continuing again on the life path you are on.  The last decision you have to make is whether or not to choose a risky path, where quite a bit of money can be made or lost, somewhat like investing money, or the safe path which is status quo. At the end you count the money and whoever has the most, wins the game. Pretty neat concept to teach children about the flows of life.

The Penny - How It Relates to Turkey Production | via MinnesotaTurkey.com #turkeyeveryday #agchat #MNAg #minnesotaturkey

My wife, Brenda, two older children, Abby and Wyatt, and I were playing a game the other day and we were counting our money at the end when our youngest child, Isaac, just happened to come to the table with an actual penny in his hand. I decided he won the game since he was the only one who had any money on the table with actual value.

A penny…our smallest unit of currency won the game!  I have heard many reports of why we should stop making pennies since they cost more to mint than they are is worth.  There are a lot of people who won’t bend over to pick one up when found on the ground and most convenience stores have a “take one, leave one” container at their counters so you don’t have to have a few cents making noise in your pockets.  What role does the penny have in our society?  I don’t have the slightest idea but I can tell you what it means in our business.

Our marketing contracts with our processor are all based on net pounds of live production.  This means we get paid a certain amount for every “useable” pound of bird we sell.  We talk in tenths and hundredths of a cent daily.  It is very common to get hung up on one or two tenths of a cent when it comes to negotiating these contracts.  Yes, that’s right, $.001.  It won’t go a long way in filling your gas tank but when you multiply it out over a couple million net pounds of turkey processed it adds up fast.

Our contract pays us what formulas say it SHOUD cost for certain thing such as feed cost, poult cost, heating cost, and then there is a classification called “Other Growing Cost”.  These are exactly what the words say, all the other costs associated with raising birds such as: labor costs, electric expenses, medication costs, loan and interest payments, and bedding costs to name a few.  This whole portion is called the Base portion of the contract. Then there is a Market portion of the contract that adds to or takes away from the Base portion depending on what the Base value is compared with the Market value.  If the Market value is higher, it pays a premium and if it is lower, some is taken away.  At the end there are a few incentives or deductions based of performance and we have our value we get paid per net pound of bird.

It is so interesting to look at how a tenth of a cent savings here or a quarter of a cent there can make a huge difference on the bottom line. It so easy to say we should have done this or that looking back at a flock after processing but a little harder to see when the birds are in the barns.  I guess the best thing to do is to just keep “picking up the pennies” when we see them during the flock and hopefully they will add up at the end.  A few examples are things like not running too much heat and wasting fuel, leaving lights on during summer days, having feed spills all over the barn, and most importantly keeping the birds comfortable with optimal growing conditions.  Each difference might only make a fraction of a difference but when added together can mean a lot.

That is why I always will bend down to pick up a penny when I see one on the ground. It might be the difference in winning or losing the game whether it is business or Life.

Happy New Year to All!

Pete

Farm Trucks & Cleaning Turkey Barns

Cleaning out turkey barns | via MinnesotaTurkey.com #turkeyeveryday #MNAg #agchat

Clean Out Equipment owned and operated by Riverbend Acres and Riverbend Trucking of Melrose.

One of my most favorite things on our turkey farm is the farm pickup truck.

I am not certain any farming operation could live without one. Ours happens to be a 1996 green, at least I think it is green, Chevy Silverado. I remember when we purchased it as a used vehicle; oh boy it was a good lookin’ shiny truck. We would regularly wash it inside and out, drive carefully and slowly on the gravel roads, avoided using it for dirty work and farm use. Well eventually, the green Chevy became more of the utility truck – you know the vehicle that is handy and generally available because, by then, it was not as shiny and new as it used to be.

Over time the Chevy pickup was transformed into an all purpose mobile shop, hardware store, lumber yard, service station, home office, recycling bin and moving truck. The former grey interior with the carefully Armor All-ed dash and control panel, became uniformly and thickly dust covered, faded and cracked from the elements. The floor mats, well they just plain disappeared under the necessary items that collect in a working farm truck like a battery charger, a can or two of WD 40, extension cord, crescent wrenches, pliers, hammers, pipe wrenches, wrappers from Little Debbie chocolate covered doughnuts, chaff, candy wrappers, receipts, work gloves – well you know. The formerly well buffed and waxed exterior has given way to rust, dents and a driver’s side door that stays shut only if the driver holds onto the handle or the half open window and the driver learns quickly not to take a right turn too fast!  After way too many missed regularly scheduled maintenance service jobs, the pickup just does not run as smooth as it used to. It has gone downhill with age.

But, I tell you what, that darn farm pick up is dependable, trustworthy and essential. It was about a month ago on the farm, when we ran into vehicle gremlins, everything from a dead battery in the car to the other truck being in the shop getting new tires. The last option was the farm pickup. By gosh the ol’ Chevy, started right up and we were on the road. So often, I hear the sputtering, missing engine as John heads out to the barns.

We use the pickup truck pretty much every day on the farm.  We can haul basically everything and anything in that truck.  Typically we use it to load and haul turkey gates, to check turkeys, run errands and do whatever is needed.

One of my favorite things to do is to drive around in the summer in the farm pickup truck with the windows down, looking at the crops of corn and soybeans, smelling the freshly cut alfalfa.  When cruising around in the spring and fall, my senses are reminded that manure needs to be cleaned out, spread and incorporated onto farm fields.

We too are part of that process.  We clean our barns after each flock.  Cleaning is a big job because for us it means the entire barn is cleaned.

The first task is to blow down as much dust in the barn as possible. Dust accumulates on rafters, fans and stoves due to the turkeys stirring up dust by running around in the sunflower hull bedding on the barn floor. The dust is blown down with a blower which is mounted to a bobcat/slid loader. Here’s a tip – don’t stand in the front of the blower or you will be blown over! It is a powerful blower, but it needs to be in order to reach to the rafters and to have enough power to remove the dust that sticks to screens that get rusty over time.

After the dust is down, then the walls, fans, vents and screens are power washed using a large water tank pulled through the center of the barn. Off the back of the washing tank are two high pressure washer wands that are used to power wash all surfaces.

After the washing is complete, then the litter on the floor is moved by a bobcat/skid steer to the center of the barn forming a mound of litter throughout the length of the barn. Great care must be taken when moving the litter to the center of the barn. The bobcat operator must pay close attention to the bucket and maneuver the bobcat and bucket to avoid hitting walls, supporting poles, or most importantly, the operator must have the skill to operate the levers and bucket so the floor of the turkey barn does not get torn up. The floors in the barns consist of heavily compacted clay, which is a solid and a water impermeable surface, but still no match for the power of a bobcat bucket.  If the driver does not pay attention to the position/angle of the bucket on the floor while moving the litter, the bucket will make holes in the floor, which results in an uneven living surface for turkeys.

The litter that was moved to the center of the barn is then removed with a front end Michigan loader, taken outside of the barn and immediately loaded onto semi trailers. The semi trailers are then covered with a heavy canvas and the litter leaves the farm and goes to farmers to use on their fields for fertilizer.

The process of cleaning is labor intensive, but clean facilities are a vital part of creating and sustaining a healthy living environment for the turkeys to grow.

John & Lynette Gessell | via MinnesotaTurkey.com #agchat #MNAg #turkeyeveryday

Lynette and her turkey farmer husband, John!

I am thinking about those old farm pickup trucks again. I’ve come to the conclusion that farm pickup trucks kind of take on the persona of the farmer themselves. Farmers begin young, handsome and strong, working daily to build their farming operations. Over the years, they don’t take the time for as much basic maintenance as they should, and eventually the farmer begins to show their wear and tear. After years of daily hard work, they may not look quite like they did when they were “new,” but be assured they will “run” when needed in all kinds of weather, in any condition and they just keep going.  They are dependable, trustworthy and essential to a farming operation above all else.

I love both of my farm trucks!

Twitter me @ lynnbackgess

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas & Happy New Year!

On behalf of Minnesota’s 450 turkey farmers, turkey companies, and all of our vendor members, we wish you and your family a very Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! We hope your holidays are filled with love, joy, happiness and plenty of turkey on your table!

Winter is Here!

Turkey barn and feed mill in the snow and cold | via MinnesotaTurkey.com #turkeyeveryday #thankafarmer

Keeping a constant eye on the changes in the weather is something I have gotten really good at over the last 10+ years.  Thanks to modern technology, it is very simple to do from anywhere.  We use smart phones, tablets and computers to check if temperature patterns or winds will change over the course of a day or especially overnight.

Turkeys are very susceptible to changes in temperature and changes in wind direction.  Our barns do have some automatic curtains and fans and heaters are set to start and stop according to conditions in the barns but many barns still have some doors and vents that are manually opened and closed each day.  This is the most important job a turkey grower has: manage the air in the barns.

We have a philosophy that there are three things that a turkey farmer needs to be able to successfully manage to make sure conditions are right for the birds to meet their optimal growth potential.  They are:

  1. Air Conditions
  2. Water Quality and Availability
  3. Feed Quality and Availability

The bottom line for turkey growers is greatly affected by the management of these.  USUALLY, the larger the bird at market, the better the return and I don’t know of too many farmers, or any business owners, who don’t do what they do in order to make a profit.

All this being said the last week has been tough to look at the weather. Winters can be tough doing what we do. When cold spells come there usually is a similar pattern, and I have to cope with extended forecasts. I first look ahead and see that it is going to start getting cold. Then I recheck the forecast later that day or within the next couple days to see if they made a mistake. Then I usually get sick of thinking about what is to come and concentrate on what we have to do to be ready to handle it.

Making sure all heaters are working, making sure all doors, vents etc. are sealed up good are some of the things we check on when weather turns bitterly cold.  Rearranging plans we had for outside projects, moving birds from barn to barn, rebedding barns with wood shavings to keep them dry, and anything that can be rescheduled for a better time are usually done when it works.  Sometimes schedules do not allow us to do this, so we have to do bear down and do it in the cold but we always try to keep in mind what is best for people and turkeys. Storms and extreme weather patterns make for some very long days at times so we also have to be sure to manage our own well-being. I am always grateful for the efforts put forth by people who work for us but during times like these that my gratitude goes to another level.

Please remember as you buy and consume meat protein products that there are countless hours involved in getting these products to you and a lot of these efforts never get recognized, in fact, they are more often scrutinized. Please take the time to thank farmers for what they provide for all of us.  As I said in my last blog post, I am “Proud to be a Part of the Ag Industry”.

Merry Christmas!

Pete

Meet Lynette Gessell – Sharing Our Family Farm Experiences

Meet Turkey Farmer Lynette Gessell | via MinnesotaTurkey.com #minnesotaturkey #turkeyeveryday #turkeyfarming

Lynette’s family in a recent photo on the family’s farm.

There weren’t many cars parked around the church as I headed into Sunday Mass this weekend, in the small central Minnesota town I call my home. The sounds of muffled gunshots reminded me why the crowd was sparse.  It was the last day of the firearms deer season and the hunting crews were out on a last push to fill their tags.  In that walk into church, I could hear the rattling of a corn auger and a tractor engine, and in my mind, I could envision the river of corn flowing out of a gravity box into the hopper as a whiling auger carries the corn up into the bin, with wafts of red chaff blowing off the corn and into the wind, covering the ground making it look like red snow.  An additional pause in my walk, allowed me to hear the revving of a combine as a farmer Gary prepared to make his way to take more corn off the field, likely because some storage space had been freed up making room for more corn.  A glance to the north and I can see 10 vehicles parked in the farm yard.  It’s time for all hands on deck to bring in the harvest of venison and corn.

Hearing the familiar sounds like the combine, the auger and the gunfire have meaning for me and I can easily context them in the experience of living and farming in a rural community.  They ground me in the pattern and predictability of life.

Lynette Gessell | WingTips Blog | Minnesota Turkey Farmer

I consider myself incredibly fortunate to carry the memories of growing up on a dairy farm and now active on a turkey, beef and crop farm.  The richness in the fall rituals of hunting and harvest touch a deep place within me, one that brings comfort, gratefulness, excitement and pride.  I feel sad for people who have not had the opportunity to experience farm living and rural communities.  There is nothing glamorous about the experience, but I believe it is through living the lifestyle and the “hands on” of farming that brings one to fully understand why farming is considered a vocation verses a job and why people yearn for a place in the country.

I look forward to the opportunity to share our family experiences of living and working on our turkey, beef and crop farm.  I am humbled to think that you will use your valuable time to read my posts. I sincerely hope, that at the end, my effort will honor your time and intellect, by providing something you will enjoy reading, perhaps gain new knowledge, enjoy a chuckle, or for other farmers out there, the resonance of a shared experience.

My husband John and I live in Central MN where agriculture in all forms is the primary industry.  We are surrounded by hard working folks who watch the weather, watch the markets and watch their pocket books.  A tally of the various farming operations in the neighborhood include beef, corn, soybeans, honey bees, hay, vegetables, strawberries, broilers, dairy, hogs and turkeys.

I write this blog post in mid November just as people begin to think about the upcoming holiday season opening with Thanksgiving.  Thanksgiving is obviously an important time of year for the turkey industry.  The food we raise, turkeys, becomes center stage for our North American holiday.  To be an integral part of the long tradition of families gathering together at Thanksgiving makes me very happy.

John is the third in his paternal line to take on the business of raising turkeys.  Our daughter and son in law joined us as growers too, and so we mark four generations of raising turkeys.  We raise light hens.  Light hens are female turkeys.  They are delivered to the farm when they are one day old.  We take care of them of on our farms until the hens weigh thirteen and a half to fourteen pounds.  The birds are then loaded onto semis and transported to Melrose where they are processed by Jennie-O Turkey Store.  The whole bird is then placed into Jennie-O packaging, ultimately making its way to the grocery stores for consumers to purchase and enjoy.

Our primary job is to take care of each and every turkey, each and every day, and get each and every turkey to the plant in premium shape for Jennie-O to make great products.  It is important that we as independent growers, along with the entire turkey industry, do whatever is under our control to ensure that the turkeys that make their way from our farms, into the grocery stores and onto the dinner table of families on Thanksgiving and all year long will be the most appetizing turkey ever!

I hope you have gotten to know me a bit in this first post.  Oh, my name is Lynette.

I am at the end.  Was your time well spent?  Let me know on Twitter Lynette@LynnBackGess – I would love to hear from you!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Meet Pete Klaphake – Proud to be Part of the Ag Industry

Meet Turkey Farmer Pete Klaphake | via MinnesotaTurkey.com #minnesotaturkey #turkeyeveryday #turkeyfarming

The Klaphake brothers, their sons, and their father – photo taken a few years ago on one of the family’s farms.

As way of introduction, my name is Pete Klaphake and I am a third generation turkey farmer from Melroe, MN.  I am part owner of Klaphake Feed Mill, Inc and R&L Turkeys.  We raise around 30 million pounds of hen turkeys primarily marketed as frozen whole birds you find in the freezers of grocery stores.  We also manufacture and haul all the feed our birds consume out of our feed mill.

I am personally involved in running the day to day operations of the turkey farm side of our business.  I do this with my dad, Rick, and my cousin Ashley’s husband, Matt.  Our feed mill is run by my uncle, Leon, and his son, Chris.  My mom, Deb, my aunt, Mary, and her daughter Ashley help keep our office running smoothly.  We employ around 25 people between the farms and mill.

Our operation is a combination of 33 fully owned barns, 6 partially owned barns, and 6 leased or contracted barns on 14 farms.  All of our farms are in the central Minnesota area.  We try to keep as many of our farms with single age birds to help control disease.  This means all the birds on most of our sights were usually hatched within 1 day of each other.

I grew up working on our farms, however, I never thought this is what I would do for a living.  I graduated from St. John’s University in 1999 and still had no plans of becoming a farmer.  It took less than 6 months after graduation to change my mind.  I was sick of tying ties and polishing shoes.  I missed being outdoors and lacing up work boots.  It was a tough decision and there were some days I regretted it at first, but looking back now it was one of my best.  I truly do love what I do especially when I get to care for the birds.

Turkey farming is a very demanding lifestyle.  Live animals need attention 24-7 and we have always have birds somewhere in our operation 365 days a year.  Also, there has been a lot more paperwork and record keeping that has come along with what we do.  It can be difficult at times to keep up what is going on with my family.  I am lucky to have a wife who keeps things in line at home.  Her name is Brenda and fortunately, she grew up on a dairy farm.  She understands the farming lifestyle and what it is like to care for live animals.  She realizes I might not be home some nights till our children are in bed or she might have to pick them up at one of the farms when she is done working because I still have a few hours to work to finish. This makes things go so much smoother in our lives.

Meet Turkey Farmer Pete Klaphake | via MinnesotaTurkey.com #minnesotaturkey #turkeyeveryday #turkeyfarming

Pete and Brenda and their three spunky children!

We have 3 spunky children: Abby who is 8, Wyatt who is 6, and Isaac who is 3.  We live on one of our farms between Sauk Centre and Melrose.  They love living in the country and the boys like to go with me to check the birds quite a bit (I am still trying to work on getting Abby to help more but she is better at coming up with reasons to stay out of the barns than I am at getting her to step foot in).  This is by far the best part of turkey farming.  Being able to enjoy the ups and downs with family.  To help control something that was started over 50 years ago, try not to screw it up too much and maybe have the potential to pass it on to another generation.

Meet Turkey Farmer Pete Klaphake | via MinnesotaTurkey.com #minnesotaturkey #turkeyeveryday #turkeyfarming

Growing up on a turkey farm definitely has its perks! :)

I look forward to continuing to share with you various aspects about our industry.  My goal in deciding to do this is that we are able to make readers aware of the time and care we put into our birds and why you should feel confident in choosing to put our product in your shopping cart or on your plates.  I want to be open on topics and issues we face in our industry and how they affect all of us.  My family eats a lot of turkey and we wouldn’t if we didn’t think it was safe.

Our feed trucks have a logo on the side of them that says, “Proud to be Part of the Ag Industry”.  Such a simple statement but it has never been more true than right now.  If you eat turkey often, thank you.  If you don’t, please try it, you might be surprised.

Pete

What Do Consumers Want?

Animal Agriculture Alliance consumer panel

The Animal Agriculture Alliance held its annual stakeholders conference in early May in Washington DC. This is always an excellent conference that tackles a myriad of hot topics and important issues for poultry and livestock, as well as agriculture in general.

This year, organizers did something a little different to kick things off. They pulled together a panel of seven grocery shoppers from the DC area and asked them a few questions about food and agriculture. The kicker? The shoppers initially didn’t know they would be sitting in front of an audience full of farmers, ranchers, and agriculture representatives.

The results were fascinating!  As Hannah Thompson, communications director for the Animal Agriculture Alliance, wrote in her weekly blog post for Meatingplace.com this week, “One of the biggest takeaways for me is that there is no “the consumer” – while it’s easy to make generalities, each individual grocery shopper has their own priorities and opinions. Even among our panel of seven there were distinct opinions on buying organic, wanting to see more of the slaughter process and which grocery stores were best.

Thompson also noted that while there was little consensus about food and farming from the panel, the group did skew on the very skeptical side about our food system. According to Thompson, “Because of all the conflicting information they hear about food, they are left skeptical of most claims and information sources. In a word association question, one panelist responded that “natural” was “not necessarily a good thing,” while another called the term free range “bogus.”

The good news is, these panelists are hungry for information about where their food comes from and want to connect with more farmers via social media.

So what does this mean for turkey farmers and our industry? It means that you must continue to put yourselves “out there” in whatever ways are comfortable for you.

  • Do you love to write? Then our Minnesota Turkey blog might be just the ticket and we’re looking for regular bloggers.
  • Do you love social media? Then think about a Facebook page for your farm.
  • Do you like snapping quick photos or videos on your phone? Then Instagram is an ideal place to share those images.
  • Not into social media? Then think about joining Minnesota Turkey’s speakers bureau to get connected with civic organizations and school classrooms.

You can view the full panel discussion from the Animal Agriculture Alliance here – starting at about the 4:38 mark. It’s well worth a look-see!

And if any of the ideas above sound interesting to you, please feel free to contact Lara Durben, MTGA Communications Director, at 763-682-2171 or ldurben@minnesotaturkey.com for more information.