Tuesday, September 2, 2014

What Do We Do Different Than The Commercial Growers

We do things a little different here at Wights Fresh Turkey Farm. My husband and I took over the farm 19 years ago from my parents so I am a 3rd generation turkey farmer. At that time we decided to take a more natural healthy approach in raising our  turkeys. So we started with the cleaning of our brooder coops and pens. We scrape all the coops and pens out the end of each year. Then we power wash the brooder coops with hot water only, no chemicals. You don"t want to wipe out all the good bacteria with disinfectants it is important to find a good balance. Then let them  dry and wait for the baby chicks.  Our outside pens we scrape really good then let the sunshine do the rest again no spraying with any chemicals at all. After a good month of sitting in the  sun we order in 4 dump truck loads of clean sand and spread it all out. Again it is important to find a good natural balance outside also. In doing this  we have been able to greatly improve the overall health of our turkeys and lower  our mortality down to 6% or less. The  Industry average on mortality is over 10%.  We have found this truly is a great way to find a perfect balance without the use of chemicals and disinfectants  to clean and sanitize.

 Raising of the turkeys.

Each year we bring in 2 batches of baby chicks 3 weeks apart. This will give us a variety of sizes for our customers come Thanksgiving.  We start our chicks out in the brooder coops with pasture grass for their bedding. We have automatic drinkers but we feed the birds by hand for the first 7 weeks.



Commercial Brooder Coop

Commercial brooder coops are set up with wood shavings as bedding and automatic drinkers and feeders from the start. They are kept  in their brooder coops 5 to 6 weeks. Then they are moved to the larger coops. At this time the brooder coops are cleaned sanitized and disinfected to get ready for the next batch due in about a week to 2 weeks.                              


After Our turkeys are old enough to leave the brooder coops .

At 7 weeks we move the turkeys outside to finish being raised so they can enjoy the fresh air and sunshine. We have 2 groups we raise . They are fenced in to protect them from the predators and we also  provide cover for them from the storms but they are never in coops during this time. They will  spend another 13 to 14 weeks outside growing . Our first group of turkeys will be a mix of  both the toms and hens. This group will be 20 to 21  weeks old when we start processing. The smaller birds which will be all hens, will be 17 to 18 weeks old. On average,  we raise our turkeys 4 weeks longer than the standard commercial birds.

Commercial  Coops

Large commercial growers will move their birds to larger coops at 6 weeks. they will finish raising their birds in a more controlled setting inside the coops with sides that can be dropped down for ventilation during the day and raised back up and night as weather permits.  They usually go to market  when they reach the age of 14 weeks for the hens up to 16-18  weeks on the toms.   

What do we do different with our  feed

We choose to mix our own feed here at the farm. Using top quality grains along with vitimins ,minerals and electrolytes Through the year we will mix a total of 175 tons of feed . We do not put any type of growth enhancers or additives in our feed and we  do not use antibiotics to promote weight gain or  as a  preventative measure. It is not needed when turkeys are raised the way we do, no overcrowding and only 1 flock per brooder and pen per year.  We also find it very important to feed our turkeys natural greens in there diet . So we always have bales of hay for them to pick at and eat. We find this really improves the overall health of the birds. They will eat approximately 140 bales of hay each year

Commercial feed

A lot of large Poultry Companies will state that they do not use growth hormones or steroids in there feed which is true they were banned years ago. However for the past 40 years it has been a common practice to run a low dose of antibiotics used as growth promoters continuously  in there feed . Also it was found to help birds under stress and improve overall health conditions on an industrial scale,throughout their growing cycle.When it was found to help promote a more rapid weight growth and in less time it was good news for the industry. Generally the antibiotic added to the feed must be removed  a certain amount of time before processing day before they can be processed. So they can be classified antibiotic free at time of processing.This made it so that more meat would be produced per bird in less time using less feed.Which in turn  keeps the consumer price less expensive. In 2010  the FDA released a study  that 80% of antibiotic drugs in the United States were sold for use in food animals -most of them not to treat animals illness but to promote faster growth and to compensate for crowded stressful conditions on an industrial scale.There is a growing concern that many of the antibiotics like tetracycline being fed to animals are the same as those we depend on for humans. They are given in these low doses virtually everyday of the animals life except the last couple of weeks. Raising  concerns for the developing of antibiotic resistant illnesses. Much of the problem is, it is not only a commonly used practiced in commercial poultry,. But also in beef and pigs as well commercially . Livestock producers in the United States use approximately 24.6 million pounds of antimcrobials for non therapeutic use every year. But right now if they quit using them it would have a huge impact economically to the consumer. As overall production numbers would drop significantly on the amount of pounds of meat  produced  for human consumption.    

 We do not follow this practice  instead we choose to raise our turkeys longer to get the desired weight and do not add any type of additives to our feed

What Do We Do Different in Processing and Sales

From the beginning of the first day the chicks arrive we are completely hands on just the  2 of us during the raising of the turkeys. This does not change during the processing. We have a small State Inspected Plant that meets all Federal Guidelines. We have a great crew that comes in to help process every year during the month of November to get the fresh turkeys ready for our customers. We average about 400 turkeys a day as most of the work is done by hand we don't have a lot of automated machines to do the work.Again during the processing there is absolutely no additives or preservatives added to our turkeys at any time during the process. After they are bagged we store them in our coolers to age the meat naturally like old time meat markets used too, for a few days . Making them a  a much juicer , tender turkey. I do not know of any other poultry plant that follows this process. Our main goal is to provide you the consumer  with a top quality  fresh turkey without it costing you $4 and $5 + dollars per pound like many small turkey farms charge for their turkeys. We want our customers to be able to enjoy a great all natural fresh turkey at an affordable price. We have our  small retail outlet located in West Haven Utah which helps make this possible. Customers can start placing their orders June 1st and have a turkey ready for them to pick up fresh the week of Thanksgiving and Christmas. We do not take orders via the Internet. With  a limited supply of 5000 birds I have to  keep track how many turkeys we have to sell and what sizes they are so we can fill all the orders. Just keeping up with all of the phone sales is constant work come November as we always sell-out each year. We try our best to get everyone really close to the size they ordered. There are also a couple of stores in Salt Lake and 1 in Highland Utah that carry our birds. All the information on getting one of our turkeys is on an original  post dated October 1 2013  and now says Order Now for 2014 

Commercial processing 

 I remember a lot about commercial processing  from when my Grandpa owned Ogden Poultry Co.and he raised and processed 750,000 birds a year. It was known as the OPOCO brand. Back in the 1960's and 70's they would process either 8,000 hens per day or 6,000 toms. Plants now process around 15,000 turkeys per day. A turkey is processed, chilled, bagged ,chilled again and is in the deep freeze by the end of the day. The fresh turkeys they produce are cooled down to  24  degrees which is considered a deep chill but not frozen by USDA standards the same day as processed. Leaving no time for the meat to age naturally. Then they are shipped to large freezer warehouses and stored until the holidays.A turkey with a tag on it stating that is is Refrigerated does not meet the USDA guidelines to be labeled as fresh but is actually flash frozen so that they can be shipped to store warehouses then to the stores They want to be sure for the safety of the consumer that the turkeys won't spoil during all the shipping and handling .So when people say they don't see any difference in Commercial brand turkeys that are frozen or fresh that is why. Actually most times the turkey will thaw and feel fresh while sitting in the stores cases. 

 They started injecting turkeys during processing with a 3% sodium based broth around 1970 to help the birds be more juicy and tender. I remember this, because my Grandpa decided to put cook in bags in with his turkeys instead of injecting additives . Over the past 30+ years I never really paid much attention to what the industry had been doing.  Then more and more customers called  wanting a healthier turkey to eat. And wanted to know what made our turkeys  so different. I decided to read some of their labels and found that the amount injected into turkeys had increased considerably.The average now  being between 8% up to 9.5% of the weight of the bird is  injected additives.