Down Time on the Farm = Getting Ready for the Next Flock!

Getting ready for the next flock | #turkeyeveryday #MNAg #agchatCurrently on the farm, we are experiencing a bit of “down time.”  Although this down time was nice on Christmas day, it doesn’t mean there’s nothing to do and we’re sitting around drinking coffee, relaxing the days away.

What is this down time, you may ask? Recently, our flock of hens were done laying eggs, and were sent to market to be harvested for meat (these hens will be further processed into products such as ground turkey or deli turkey sandwiches). No hens laying eggs means no eggs to collect every day on the farm. The empty barns need to be cleaned out and disinfected, getting everything ready for the next flock. The poultry litter (manure and bedding) is removed and later used as fertilizer on our fields. We use skid loaders to remove the poultry litter, however there are plenty of areas in our barns where we need to use a pitch fork to manually remove the poultry litter, too.

After the poultry litter is completely removed, the barns need to be washed. This is done by using a tank sprayer pulled on a wagon and a power washer sprayer – every nook and cranny, even the ceiling, must be cleaned.  After the barns are washed out, they are disinfected.  Cleaning and disinfecting barns with water in the harsh Minnesota winter can be challenging; we keep an eye on the weather and try to schedule it for a warm winter day, but mother nature isn’t always in tune with our schedule on the farm.

Even though there aren’t turkeys in the barns, our employees still wear coveralls and their farm-specific shoes under rubber boots while in the barn. During the process of removing the poultry litter and cleaning, we make sure to close up the barns at night, ensuring we don’t welcome any wild animals to make a new home. It is common for wild animals, such as skunks or birds, to carry diseases that would potentially threaten the health of our birds. It is very important to still practice good biosecurity (keeping the inside of the barn clean by keeping outside bacteria out).  We are working hard to prepare the barns for the next flock – remember, bird health is our number one priority!

At the end of January, our next flock will start laying eggs. These hens come to our farm when they are a day old (baby turkeys are called poults) and stay on our farm until they are done laying eggs. This down time provides us time to vaccinate those hens. Vaccinations are one of our biggest tools in the tool box we use to help keep our hens healthy.

By cleaning out our barns, vaccinating our hens, and catching up on other projects during this down time, we are able to provide work to our full-time employees who normally collect eggs every day.

There’s never a dull moment on the farm!


Meet Erica Sawatzke – 6th Generation Turkey Farm Family!

Oakdale Turkey Farm | via #familyfarm #turkeyeveryday

Erica with her dad, Dana, at the entrance to Oakdale Farms.

Ever since I was a little girl, if I had the opportunity to talk about my family’s turkey farm, I took advantage of it.  Minnesota is the top dog for turkey production compared to all other states in the U.S., but not many know this statistic or how farmers raise their turkeys.  It all starts with the egg, and eggs are the business my family is in.

I am blessed to be the 6th generation on my family turkey breeder farm in west central Minnesota.  Our farm was homesteaded in 1866 by my great-great-great grandfather who was discharged from the Civil War.  My great-great grandmother started raising turkeys at the turn of the century for extra income to help feed her family.  Her son, my great grandfather, loved turkeys and decided to expand the flock.  He and his family spent many weekends showing their birds throughout the Midwest at turkey shows – this was how farmers promoted their turkeys to sell for breeding stock.

Oakdale Turkey Farm | via #familyfarm #turkeyeveryday

Erica’s Great Great Grandmother who started raising turkeys on the farm with a flock of poults.

My grandfather was next in line and continued that love of turkeys with raising turkeys on the range for meat consumption and raising breeding hens in a barn, while my grandmother was busy promoting the turkey industry with her slogan “Eat more turkey!”  When my father joined the farm after graduating college, they both decided to specialize in breeding hens to focus on egg production.

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Erica’s Great Grandmother with her turkeys on the range, circa 1940’s.

Today, my grandfather (who is the young age of 85), father and uncle all farm full time.  My cousins, sisters and I help – it’s not uncommon to find us picking eggs on the weekends or driving grain cart during harvest (we also grow corn and soybeans).  I recently got married to an agriculture teacher who grew up on a dairy farm; jumping in to help with chores is nothing new to him, either!

Oakdale Turkey Farm | via #familyfarm #turkeyeveryday

Erica’s Great Grandfather with his family at a turkey show circa 1950’s. Erica’s Great Grandfather is 2nd from the right and Erica’s grandfather is second from the left.

Poults (baby turkeys) arrive on our farm from the hatchery when they are one day old.  They will stay on our farm until they are done laying eggs – they start laying at about 7 months old.

The hens (female turkeys) will lay an egg approximately every 25-26 hours for about 8 months.  We sell the eggs to a hatchery.  Our hens are not raised in cages, but are kept inside a barn.  The barn protects our turkeys from the harsh Minnesota weather we experience here, predators such as coyotes, and diseases from wild fowl.


Along with being involved on the farm, I have a full-time job with the Minnesota Turkey Growers Association.  I work as their Ag Program Specialist & Membership Coordinator.  I wear many different hats where my responsibilities range from managing our association’s membership to communicating with our lobbyist on regulatory laws that affect our farmers to promoting the turkey industry.

Oakdale Turkey Farm | via #familyfarm #turkeyeveryday

A hen turkey.

I realized at a very young age that it’s important to talk about your farm and how your family makes a living.  I was involved in 4-H and FFA growing up, which gave me the opportunity to talk about my family farm.  Once I got to college, many of my friends were involved in agriculture but with “4-legged animals” and didn’t understand raising turkeys.  I have always believed in appreciating your roots, taking pride in what you do, take a stand on what you believe, and share with others your passion.  Following in the footsteps of my grandmother, talking turkey is truly in my blood!

I hope you’ll stay tuned to learn more about how we care for our hens’ day in and day out!