Katie and Bart Olthoff have been raising turkeys since 2009 in Squaw Creek Iowa. Bart Olthoff’s family has been farming in that part of Iowa for five generations and he was working for the USDA when they were approached by a local turkey farmer who decided to expand their business by investing in young, local farmers rather than expanding their own operation. Squaw Creek Farm. This is how Katie describes their operation on their website:
Twenty thousand (20,000) male baby turkeys (poults) come to us when they are 1 day old. We unload them into a big, toasty, 90 degree barn called the “brooder.” They live there until they are about 5 weeks old. Inside the barn, there are automated feeders and waterers, which are triggered by the turkeys, so they have unlimited access to these. The temperature in the barn is controlled by a thermostat, and there are vents that open and close automatically to help adjust it if needed. The turkeys are not in cages – instead they are on sawdust bedding from a local sawmill. For the first two weeks, chores take a few hours each morning, because of the supplemental feeders and waterers that we fill by hand. We also chore the poults at night, but this is usually a quick walk through to make sure all equipment is running smoothly and that the turkeys seem comfortable.
Around 5 weeks of age, we move the turkeys to one of our two finisher sites. The finisher sites have two 528 foot buildings, so the turkeys have plenty of room to spread out as they grow. These barns also have automated feeders and waterers and again, the temperature is controlled for the turkeys’ comfort. Our finishers are tunnel ventilated, meaning that there are huge fans at one end that suck air through, creating up to a 10 mph breeze in the barns when necessary. (Most livestock barns have curtains instead and rely on the natural breezes to cool animals.) We also have misters that cool the birds in the summer.
The turkeys stay in the finishers until they are ready for market at 19 1/2 weeks. Until then, my husband chores them twice a day, walking through to check equipment, pick up dead, and look for any signs of distress or disease. At the time they go to market, they average about 41 pounds. These are not your Thanksgiving birds! Our birds are processed for lunch meat and ground meat. In fact, the processing plant we use supplies turkey to all the Subways west of the Mississippi River!
In the meantime, we would have already started a new flock in the brooder. At 5 weeks, they would move to the OTHER finisher site. In between flocks, there is about 4 weeks to clean and disinfect, and that is actually the busiest time for us. So, every 9 weeks, we get a new flock of 20,000, and there is no break in between! We raise almost 6 flocks, or 120,000 turkeys, in one year!
On March 14, Food and Farm Discussion Lab held our first Ask a Farmer Q&A with Katie. The questions came from FAFDL members. The conversation has been condensed, lightly edited and organized for continuity.*
FAFDL: What do you feed the turkeys?
Katie: Turkeys eat a mixture of corn and soybean meal, with vitamins, fats, bone meal, and bakery meal mixed in. We do not mix feed on site. We have a feed mill nearby (owned by a group of 12 turkey farmers) where our feed is mixed.
In the grocery store there are different size birds. How is that managed on the farm? Is there natural variance in weights or will you feed groups for more or less days to get desired size bird? Do the female turkeys reach laying stage during your operation? If so, are eggs considered a bonus, or a chore to deal with?
Great question. We raise male birds – toms – for further processing. Our birds are over 40 pounds when they go to market. Most whole birds are hens. And I’m not sure how the weight variance happens – I imagine it’s the age they are sent to market. Modern breeding has developed birds that are very similar in size.
The occasional female slips through. There are sometimes eggs at market time. The load out crew (mostly Hispanic) sometimes takes them home to eat. We’ve never eaten one.
Are the males hatched on your farm or delivered from an outside hatchery ?
Our birds come from a hatchery about 5 hours away. Delivered at 1 day old.
Is there any seasonal production differences / demands (Thanksgiving) ? Or do they balance the demand and slaughter over the whole year?
Because our birds are toms for further processing, we have no seasonal variances. Read More…
1. SHUTDOWN LEAVES SOME SENIORS WONDERING ABOUT THEIR NEXT MEAL
Patrick Center | TheSalt | NPR
You’ve no doubt heard of Senior Meals on Wheels preparing hot meals delivered to the elderly. But there’s a different meal program that’s been put on hold because of the partial government shutdown. It’s the USDA’s Commodity Supplemental Food Program.
In Michigan’s western Kent County alone, more than 1,300 low-income seniors depend on . For them, it’s a nutrition lifeline: They can’t just go to a food pantry for similar assistance.
Bill Anderson, 81, and his wife, June, 83, are among those affected. Medical emergencies have depleted their savings. Social Security provides enough money to pay the utilities and insurance, but they turn to the government food program for meals.
2. SHIPPING CONTAINERS CAN ADD EXPORT MARKETS FOR FARMERS
Bill Wheelhouse | Harvest Public Media
“If you want to deliver to a foreign customer a product that has been well taken care of, not crushed in the bottom of the hold of a ship, you need to have it in smaller quantities,” he said. “Some people want it genetically modified, some people do not want it genetically modified. Some want this kind of soybean, another one (wants) another strain of soybean. So you can segregate the types of cargo that you are shipping out by moving it into container.”
The items going overseas range from the corn remnants at ethanol plants for animal feed, to a small shipment of soybeans that will arrive directly at a bakery in Korea, to soybeans that will be used to make tofu.
SHORTAGE OF WORKERS HAMPERS CHILE NEW MEXICO CHILE HARVEST
Ted Robbins | NPR
Southern New Mexico is America’s iconic home of chili harvesting and production. But production is a fraction of what’s produced in India and China — countries with large pools of labor. Still, in the fall, New Mexico farmers need hundreds of workers to handpick their crops. Even paying $14 an hour, they can’t find enough help.
4.FOOD PRODUCTION VS. BIODIVERSITY: COMPARING ORGANIC AND ORGANIC AGRICULTURE
Doreen Gabriel, Steven M. Sait, William E. Kunin, Tim G. Benton | Journal of Applied Ecology | via Alexander Stein
Grain production per unit area was 54% lower in organic compared with conventional fields. When controlling for yield, diversity of bumblebees, butterflies, hoverflies and epigeal arthropods did not differ between farming systems, indicating that observed differences in biodiversity between organic and conventional fields are explained by lower yields in organic fields and not by different management practices per se…
Synthesis and applications. Our results indicate that considerable gains in biodiversity require roughly proportionate reductions in yield in highly productive agricultural systems. They suggest that conservation efforts may be more cost effective in low-productivity agricultural systems or on non-agricultural land…
In summary, farmland biodiversity is typically negatively related to crop yield; generally, organic farming per se does not have an effect other than via reducing yields and therefore increasing biodiversity. Only plants benefited substantially from organic farming at comparable yields.
It is not clear that the relatively modest biodiversity gains can be justified by the substantial reductions in food production. Indeed, the relatively low yields of organic farms may result in larger areas of land being brought into agricultural production (locally or elsewhere), at a biodiversity cost much greater than the onfarm benefit of organic practice… Thus, organic farming should be mainly encouraged in mosaic (low productivity) landscapes, where yield differences between organic and conventional agriculture are lower…
FARMER’S PLOWING UP MORE AND MORE OF THE PRAIRIE
Grant Gerlock | Harvest Public Media
In recent years, high grain prices spurred by the ethanol boom set off a nationwide plow-up. A study by the Environmental Working Group shows from 2008 to 2011 farmers reclaimed 23.7 million acres of grasslands, wetlands and woodlands for farming – an area roughly the size of Indiana.
“When you have corn and (soy)bean prices as high as they’ve been for the past year-plus, you expect some pasture land is probably going to go to crop land,” said Mary Kay Thatcher of the National Farm Bureau Federation.
Some of that land had been farmed in the past but was enrolled in a conservation program that pays farmers to temporarily keep land out of production. But land that has never been farmed is also being turned into new farm ground.
The U.S Department of Agriculture reports that in 2012, 54,877 acres of land in Nebraska with no history of growing crops was broken out for farming. That was the most in the country, but the same thing is happening across other Midwest states like South Dakota, Iowa and Kansas.
THE PEOPLE SIDE OF GMO’S
Steve Savage | Applied Mythology
As with any new technology, the development and commercialization of biotech crops is a story about people. Its a story about people with ideas and vision; people who did hard and creative work; people who took career or business risks, and people who integrated this new technology into the complex business of farming. By various artifacts of my educational and career path, I’ve been in a position to know many of these people as friends and colleagues over the last 36 years. Their story is important, but it tends to get lost in much of the conversation about biotech crops.
Many narratives about “GMOs” leave out the people side, presenting it instead as some faceless, monolithic phenomenon devoid of human inspiration, intention and influence. Thats not how it happened. Other narratives about “GMOs” demonize those who made biotech crops a reality. Such portrayals are neither fair or accurate. The real stories of these people matter, because trust in a technology is greatly influenced by what people believe about those behind it.
That is why I’d like to write about what I have observed about these real and trust-worthypeople over the years. I’ll start with the period 1976-1982.
IOWA VIEW: THE STATE HAS TURNED INTO A ‘TOILET’ FOR INDUSTRIAL AG
Bill Leonard | The Des Moines Register
“Family farm” once meant a fruitful homestead built on an ethic of hard work, a love of the land, a spirit of neighborliness and a reverence for nature. Today, “family farm” is a hallowed but hollow buzzword of the political spin doctors and is used to give legitimacy to a lie. It’s the benign image masking land-use practices that, as Iowa environmental writer Bob Watson put it, “have made Iowa a toilet for industrial agriculture.”