In this first episode, host Steve Olson is joined by turkey farmer John Zimmerman of P&J Products Co., and special guest Chuck Foreman, the iconic Vikings running back who loves turkey.
In a new ongoing series on the blog, Minnesota Turkey will introduce you to some of our members – while others are farmers or work for turkey companies and/or allied industries. All have a passion for turkey!
Up first is Max Velo with Evelo Farms, who has been actively involved in the turkey industry for 13 years. With a farm in Ottertail County, he raises 400,000 hens per year. Max is married to wife Piper and the couple recently welcomed their first child, a daughter. In his spare time, he enjoys music and reading books.
What’s the latest technology you implemented on your farm?
The latest technology I have implemented on my farm are Stenner pumps. I use them for managing a consistent water sanitation program. Clean and sanitized water is one of the most important factors in turkey health.
What’s the best farming advice you ever received?
Farming is tough. There are so many factors that are out of my direct control that can affect my farm and my results in large ways. Keeping expectations realistic is very important. The best farming advice I have ever received would be from two people. “Know your numbers” from my uncle, and “Plan for the worst but hope for the average” from my father.
Why did you decide to become a Board Director of the Minnesota Turkey Research & Promotion Council?
I grew up on the farm and have been doing chores my entire life. I chose to become a Board Director to meet more people in the industry, get a larger perspective of what turkeys mean to Minnesota, and have a reason to take a day off once in awhile.
In my introduction blog, I introduced our farm as a “turkey breeder farm” and mentioned that I would write more about it later. Here we are a few months down the road, so I thought it was about time I explain what goes on … on the farm!
We are all about turkey eggs!
Our hens will start to lay eggs when they are about 30 weeks of age (7.5 to 8 months old) and will stay in a laying cycle for about 28 weeks (7 months). During a hen’s cycle on our farm, she will lay about 100 eggs.
Our hens are housed in a barn protected from our harsh Minnesota winters and hot summers, protected from neighboring predators such as coyotes, and are given a safe environment to lay their eggs. Our hens are not kept in cages (in fact, cages are not common practice in raising turkeys) – they roam freely and can enter and exit a nest on their own free will to lay their egg.
Most hens will lay their eggs in a nest (like the photo above); however there are some hens that lay their eggs on the floor.
The nests are all on a master timer. The timer is set to go off on the hour for ten hours a day – in essence, the eggs are collected ten times a day from the nests. How does this happen? The back of the nest moves forward, gently pushing the hen out of the nest.
When it moves back to place, it gently pushes the egg onto a conveyor belt as you can see in this video:
The conveyor belt carries the egg to the front of the barn to a table:
Here, we are able to collect the eggs:
Because the hens lay their eggs in a nest, the eggs are laid in a clean environment (keeping in mind, we routinely clean the nests and tables).
Remember the eggs that are laid on the floor? Those are also collected every hour by walking through the entire barn. This is also a time where we are checking the general health of our hens and making sure they have fresh water and feed.
After the eggs are collected from the tables and the floor, they are washed in our egg washer. The egg washer is similar to a car wash – the eggs move through the washer on a belt.
After they are washed, they are stored in our egg room. The egg room is kept at 57-60 degrees Fahrenheit with low humidity. In this environment, the eggs are kept in a dormant state until the egg truck arrives to take our eggs to a hatchery. The egg truck comes to our farm twice a week.
We sell our fertilized eggs to a hatchery. Once they arrive at the hatchery, the eggs are placed in an incubator where they will stay for 28 days until they hatch – that’s how long it takes! Turkey farmers (like my fellow bloggers Lynette and Pete) purchase baby turkeys (poults) that are one day old from the hatchery to raise on their farms to produce wholesome turkey for families like yours.
You may be asking yourself if turkeys lay eggs, then why don’t I see them in a grocery store. Turkey eggs have a higher value (compared to chicken eggs), thus are not sold in grocery stores. Turkeys are not as prolific and efficient when it comes to laying eggs as compared to the chicken that has been domesticated for thousands of years.
Until next time – thanks for reading!
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:
- Air Conditions
- Water Quality and Availability
- 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”.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
Minnesota Turkey Growers Association
108 Marty Dr., Suite 1
Buffalo, MN 55313-9338