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Here I am, a year ago, with the National Thanksgiving Turkey and his alternate in Washington DC.

 

It's Thanksgiving week!

 

After 19 years of working on behalf of Minnesota's turkey farmers, this week still never gets old. From a work perspective, it's a rush to take the litany of media calls we get this time of year from across the U.S. And I love the tradition of our annual Governor's Thanksgiving presentation, which unofficially ushers in the holiday season in our state.

 

On a personal side, I love Thanksgiving as a holiday. I love that it's all about giving thanks for our blessings. I love that it's about enjoying the ultimate comfort meal with family and friends. I love that the biggest pressure is how many slices of pie to have. (As if that is really any kind of dilemma anyway.)

 

Here are a few things I'm especially thankful for this year:

 

1) I am thankful for a job I love. My brother, a farmer, told me last spring that I am the only person he knows who truly loves pretty much every aspect of their job. While I am sure many others do also love their jobs as much as I do, I am grateful to have found a 19+ year career in agriculture communications, working on behalf of Minnesota's turkey farmers. It is truly an honor to share their stories and in return, they have given me so many opportunities to grow and expand my skills.

 

2) I am thankful for growing up on a farm. While I'm certain i didn't appreciate this nearly enough while I was a teenager, I can safely say that with age does indeed bring a certain amount of wisdom. Growing up on a farm is a special existence, gave me an appreciation for hard work and success, and continues to provide me unique ways to connect with people every day.

 

3) I am thankful for all the farmers who help bring us our Thanksgiving meal. Farmers work hard. Really hard. The older I get, the more I am in awe of all the well-rounded knowledge and steadfast commitment they have to run a successful farm business, raise their animals with care, and ensure a successful harvest.

 

4) I am thankful for many fantastic women in agriculture. Social media and blogging has opened up many doors for me and I've met so many amazing people. I am grateful, especially, for all the women in agriculture who have encouraged me, given me new ideas, helped me learn about agricultural industries I'm not as familiar with, and who are my sounding board.

 

5) I am thankful for my mom's Thanksgiving meal. I have a confession to make: even though I talk about turkey every day, I am typically not the one making the turkey for Thanksgiving. That role goes to my mother, who is an amazing cook and hostess. I am grateful that we will travel to the farm this year, relax with my family, and enjoy the roast turkey, stuffing, cranberries, sweet potatoes and so much more that will be on our table. Thanks, Mom, in advance for all your hard work - you rock!

 

This Thanksgiving, I hope you are able to take time and count your blessings with family, as well as enjoy a feast of food that includes the very centerpiece of the meal: turkey.

Stories Worth Sharing

by MNGobbleGal a week ago - last edited a week ago

My goodness, there seems to be a lot of mistrust out there for farmers. I was reading some of the comments on a blog post I wrote for Ask The Farmers last week on the fact (and it is very much a fact) that there are no added hormones or steroids given to poultry in the U.S. One particular person wrote that she believes farmers feed their poultry illegal things anyway.

 

Say what?

 

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It's still hard for me to fathom that people would just automatically think a farmer would break the law when it comes to caring for their animals - but that's the kind of mistrust agriculture is facing. (And yet, some of these same people will believe what they see on an undercover video, which likely was created via illegal means. Ironic, isn't it?)

 

This month, Minnesota Turkey debuted a brand-new website that's a major upgrade from the previous site - more photos and videos, more useful information on key issues like propane and immigration, more links to resources for teachers, parents and students, and, of course, recipes and cooking tips.

 

We're also focusing on sharing several videos we took of turkey farmers and those who work for the turkey industry. These folks talked to us honestly on camera about their family farming backgrounds and what they love about raising turkeys. They also explained what they wish consumers would know about turkey farming.

 

We're calling it "The Real Turkey Farmers of Minnesota" and you can view the teaser video (about 1 minute) here:

 

 

Here's a direct link to another one of the videos, where farmers share what they wish people would really know about what they do. You can also view the rest of the videos here.

 

 

I'm in the business of showing people that turkey farmers are doing the right things by their birds; that's what I do for a living. But I can tell you that I believe 100 percent in my work and the farmers I work for. These are farmers who put the health and well-being of their turkeys as their #1 priority. These are not farmers who raise birds by illegal or uncaring means.

 

My organization - the Minnesota Turkey Growers Association - won't be able to change everyone's minds, but we're committed to showing our farmers' stories and dispelling the misconceptions that are shared and re-shared every day. We believe many people still want to hear from farmers on what's really happening on their farms, and we will be here to help turkey farmers share their stories. Their stories are worth sharing - and worth listening to.

 

As we head ever close to Thanksgiving, my days have been spent putting together press releases and fact sheets all about turkey and getting Minnesota Turkey's newly redesigned website in tip-top shape. (Be one of the first to check it out here!) As I was brainstorming ways to deliver information to consumers interested in turkey this time of year, I realized there are still an awful lot of myths circulating about turkey and turkey farming. I'm sharing a few of them below with you:

 

MYTH:

Turkeys are pumped full of added hormones and steroids so they fatten up quickly.

 

TRUTH:

All turkeys in the U.S. are raised without any added hormones and steroids. There are no hormones or steroids approved by the FDA for use in poultry and haven't been since the 1950s.

 

Turkeys are fed a healthy diet of whole and pelleted grains as well as vitamins. Feed for turkeys comes from Minnesota’s soybean and corn farmers. Turkeys always have access to fresh, clean water.

 

MYTH:

Turkeys are cooped up in barns, so close together they can't move.  (Or another version of this myth: turkeys are raised in cages.)

 

TRUTH:

Turkeys are raised in barns that provide a safe, comfortable home with plenty of space to move around.  Barns - which are specially designed just for turkeys - keep predators away, help farmers control germs and diseases from getting to the birds, and allow maximum comfort – turkeys stay cool in the summer, warm in the winter, and dry during inclement weather. Turkeys are not raised in cages.

 

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MYTH:

There are very few family farmers who raise turkeys.

 

TRUTH:

Most turkey farms are operated by family farmers. Minnesota has the most independent turkey farmers of any U.S. state. and many of our 450 turkey farmers are 3rd, 4th and even 5th generation farm families.

 

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MYTH:

I have to get up at 4 a.m. to roast the turkey for Thanksgiving.

 

TRUTH:

Not these days! A whole turkey (unstuffed) that's 8-12 pounds will take 2-1/2 to 3-1/2 hours to roast (a little longer if you stuff the turkey), so if you are planning a noon feast, you do not have to get up at 4 a.m.  And remember - the best measurement of doneness is with a meat thermometer that reaches 180 degrees in the thigh and 165 degrees in the breast.

 

MYTH:

The white meat of a turkey is better for you than dark meat.

 

TRUTH:

No matter what your preference, turkey is a lean source of protein with plenty of nutrient advantages. While a 3 oz. portion of turkey breast has 20 fewer calories and 3 more grams of protein than a similar-sized portion of turkey thigh, the dark meat actually has a higher mineral count and more iron, zinc and selenium.

 

Did you learn anything new about turkey by reading these myths/truths?

 

With just a couple of days until November, the countdown in my office has truly begun for Thanksgiving. We have to be thinking ahead of the month to make sure we're ready for the extra activity. We're busy all year long, don't get me wrong, but we've got a little extra on our plate this time of year - turkey pun intended.

 

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In the next couple of weeks, I will be happily debuting a brand-new website for the Minnesota Turkey Growers Association, and I can't wait to show it to you. For now, though, I thought it might be fun to give you a few extra bits of turkey trivia to carry you into November. Read these, remember them and you'll amaze your friends and family on Thanksgiving, I promise!

 

Turkey on Thanksgiving - Yep, We All Pretty Much Enjoy It

Approximately 95 percent of Americans surveyed by the National Turkey Federation eat turkey at Thanksgiving. That equates to about 45 million turkeys - or about how many turkeys the #1 state - Minnesota! - for turkey production raises annually. (As a side note, about 22 million turkeys are consumed at Christmas and 19 million at Easter.)

 

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Average Weight of Purchased Turkeys

The average weight of turkeys purchased for Thanksgiving is 15 pounds – that’s about 675 million total pounds of turkey consumed in the U.S. on Thanksgiving. 

 

Serving Leftover Turkey

The top five most popular ways to serve leftover Thanksgiving turkey are: sandwiches, soups or stews, salads, casseroles and stir-fry. (Not a big surprise, especially considering the recent news that turkey surpasses peanut butter and jelly and other options as the most popular sandwich in America. Go turkey!)

 

Does Turkey Cause Sleepiness?

If I had a dollar for every time I have been asked this question ... don't blame the turkey! Recent studies have shown that it is the large, carbohydrate-rich meal rather than just the turkey. The meal releases tryptophans in the brain, causing drowsiness.

 

U.S. Presidents Pardoning a Turkey Tradition

For over 50 years, the National Turkey Federation has presented the President of the U.S. with a live turkey in celebration of Thanksgiving. Harry Truman was the first president to receive this honor in 1947. Each year, the live turkey is “pardoned” by the president and most recently, the bird and his alternate were on display at Mount Vernon until after the holidays, when they were transferred to live remainder of their lives at beautiful Morven Park in Leesburg, Virginia. Incidentally,the actual Presidential pardon didn’t officially become standard practice until President George H.W. Bush started the tradition in 1989.

 

And here's a shout-out to my home state: Since 1947, Minnesota has had 11 turkey industry representatives bring a turkey to the White House, including last year when I was lucky enough to attend the ceremony in person! (You can read all about my experiences here.)

 

This year, you can follow the National Thanksgiving Turkey on his journey from Ohio here!

Perception, Reality or Both?

by MNGobbleGal on ‎10-21-2014 10:01 PM

Do farmers hide their world from consumers? Do food companies bury their proverbial heads in the sand by not talking to their customers? Is fear over Ebola in the U.S. causing wide-spread and unncessary panic?

 

Just making sure you're paying attention.

 

While I know for certain I am not any type of Ebola expert, I can write a little about what I see in the food and agriculture industries every day.

 

I see apprehension. I see confusion. I see mistrust. I see misplaced trust. And I see opportunities.

 

Jay Baer - a marketing strategist, speaker, and author as well as President of the social media and content marketing consultancy Convince & Convert - spoke at a conference I attended last week (Ag Catalyst) and he had some thought-provoking words to say about consumers today.

 

"Perception is reality."

 

I see it all the time - a consumer's perception about turkey, for instance, may be that it's eaten only at Thanksgiving; that it makes a great sandwich; or that the bird is pumped full of added hormones and gains so much weight so fast that it can't stand up on its own two legs.

 

Do I know these to be true?  The first two perceptions, yes - turkey does have a bit of a reputation as a holiday-only bird that also makes a very comforting turkey sandwich.  But the whole hormones thing? Of course this is not true - in fact, it is illegal! - and of course I've written about this perpetuating myth many times.

 

The perception, however false, still persists. It is someone's reality, no matter how untrue.

 

Companies like Monsanto and McDonald's deal with perception all the time, yes?

 

Who among us hasn't heard that Monsanto is evil, hides information from the public on GMOs, and could care less about people's health and well-being.

 

Well, actually, no. It seems to me Monsanto is working pretty hard at reaching out to people to have conversations about the challenges in agriculture and food through social media, its website and events all over the country. You can visit Discover.Monsanto.com to learn more.

 

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McDonald's is a horrible fast food company that wouldn't dare tell us what they actually put in their food.

 

Or would they? Turns out, you can ask ANY question you want of McDonald's and they are working hard to provide honest, open answers. They've been doing this for a while in Canada and now they' ve recently announced the same plan for the U.S. It's true - check it out here.

 

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Perception is reality.

 

Jay Baer had another fantastic quote that I quickly wrote down and have shared with several people already: "Don't run away from questions. Run at them."

 

Yes.

 

This is exactly what so many good groups, organizations and individuals in agriculture are doing, right this very minute. They are answering questions about farming and food - and by any question, I mean any question. GMOs, antibiotic use in animals, organic production, factory farms, animal welfare ... nothing is off limits.

 

Here are just a few examples (I couldn't list them all!) of these groups:

 

Common Ground    

AgChat (especially its Twitter chats on Tuesday nights)  

Ask the Farmers  

I am Agriculture Proud (a Facebook group)

 

In my industry, turkeys most often enter their barns as young poults in the middle of night and they leave their barns, headed for the processing plant, the same way. This is not meant to be mysterious; it's quieter, calmer, safer and best for the birds. But who except turkey farmers actually know this?

 

Perception is reality.

 

In this day and age of instant research and commentary via smartphones and everyone having a soapbox on which to add to the chatter, it can make it challenging to decipher what's really going on. Jay Baer told us last week, "It's not what you know, it's when you know it." Isn't that just the truth.

 

The challenge for those of us in agriculture is to get involved (in ways that make sense for you). Listen to the chatter. Know what people are saying. Share your own stories. That's why I do what I do - I believe in our stories. I believe I can make a difference, and so can you.

 

Perception is your reality, too.  Please go out and share it.

Real Truth with My Real Food

by MNGobbleGal on ‎10-14-2014 10:07 PM

Over the course of the past few weeks, I've heard the phrase "real food" more than I care to admit. As in - "eat real food",  presumably as opposed to fake food? Bad food? Junk food?

 

In a Q & A with a nutritionist in the Twin Cities Star Tribune newspaper this past Sunday, the nutritionist encouraged people to buy "only organic, grass-fed, high quality food" - but "if you can't afford it, buy real food, not factory food."

 

Then a few hours later, I came across promotional video for an online "Family Wellness Summit," which seems like it's doing a very good job of freaking out parents. The video makes generic claims about hundreds of chemicals - barely tested at all - in our food!  Your kids will get sick earlier and more often!  And this quote: "Just get rid of everything in your kitchen that isn't real food."

 

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So I began to wonder ... do I have fake food in my kitchen? I checked a few items and found myself thinking that this whole "real food" phrase might be confusing.

 

Bananas and grapes - okay, this was easy; certainly real food here.

  • Bananas and grapes (from the grocery store), along with squash (from my garden) - this is easy; certainly real food here.
  • The ground turkey in my freezer seems like it would count as "real food". I mean, I think it's a healthy, nutritious protein. But it was raised on a large, conventional turkey farm and processed at a large food company so does that negate the real food thing and turn it into factory food?
  • The can of Rotel diced tomatoes and green chilies - sure, in the summer, I could grow my own tomatoes and chilies (and I do), but what happens for the other 8 months of the year in Minnesota? I think I need my can of Rotel. Is that real enough?
  • The family size box of regular Cheerios that my son eats nearly every day - I'm going with real food on this one; we can't live without Cheerios in my house.
  • Kraft macaroni and cheese: A convenience food, for sure - and not one that I particularly care for. I'd much rather make my own mac and cheese (and I do), but my 10-year-old happens to love Kraft mac and cheese, so sometimes I make him a box. Is this bad?
  • A taco seasoning packet ... conceivably, I could make my own taco seasoning, but the truth is, I don't really want to when I can buy it in the store in a handy little envelope. Does this count as real food?
  • Doritos ... okay, this is probably what "real food" is getting at for most people, right? I mean, Doritos = junk food. I'll give you that one. It would probably better if I didn't have them in my kitchen, but seriously, in moderation, what's the harm? Oh wait, according to the Food Babe, this bag is chock full of GMOs. My take, though? Doritos aren't lethal, despite what the food Babe might tell you. Sometimes I just want a few Doritos with my sandwich. Does this make me a bad person - or a horrible mom?

My point in all this is that the phrase "real food" gets tossed around like a marketing tactic, giving it different meanings to different people. I'm all for "real food" and cooking from scratch - and I do this often - but I'm not going to beat myself up with guilt if I open up a box of mac and cheese when I've just gotten home from a busy day at work and my 10-year-old is starving.

 

I do hope most people understand when a doctor or nutritionist says they should eat more "real food", it means they should nix the candy bars and work in some additional carrots every day. I think, too, the other part of "eating real food" (as I mentioned above) is to do some actual cooking at home - to show people cooking doesn't have to be complicated or difficult, and it doesn't have to take a lot of time to prepare a healthy, nutritious meal.

 

But what about people like the Food Babe, who is one of the "experts" speaking at the Family Wellness Summit? With absolutely no food, nutrition or even science background (unless you count computer science), the Food Babe still has a captive audience who believes the garbage she spews about our food system. (And if you dare to refute her, she'll  ban you from her Facebook page or blog.)

 

I am pretty sure the phrase "real food" has a hidden meaning to the Food Babe, who is all too happy to share her mistruths with her #FoodBabeArmy. (Side note: I understand the Kansas Farm Bureau has invited the Food Babe to visit some of their farms - and I hope she takes them up on it.)

 

The problem with the "real food" argument is that sometimes it can infer that the food farmers raise every day isn't real at all - and that the industrial food production model in the U.S. is big and therefore bad. Rather than embrace the different choices we do have in this country - including various production methods and large and small food companies, the phrase "real food" seems to be used by so-called "experts" who further alienate us from the farm. We're made to feel guilty if we can't afford a certain product or {insert trendy marketing term here}, instead of being grateful we have such high quality, extremely safe food options at a variety of different price points.

 

I do wonder if the nutritionist quoted in the Star Tribune has ever been on a farm, and I'd be curious to ask what her definition of "high quality food" is and why she thinks that way. Do I believe she's purposely misleading people? Probably not - she has her own opinions, which she is happy to share with Star Tribune readers, despite my disagreement. Heck, I'd do the same thing if the Star Tribune would give me some space.

 

The Family Wellness Summit, on the other hand, promises "The science you want. The motivation you need."

 

If their idea of science is the Food Babe, I think I'll pass. I want real truth with my real food - not fear and garbage science.

What I Miss About Harvest

by MNGobbleGal on ‎10-02-2014 08:17 PM

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I don't live on a farm anymore. I work a day job in an office and I live in town.

 

None of this is a bad thing, by the way. I love my job (working with poultry farmers) and I'm happy being able to look out my back porch window and see fields and cows and horses, even though I'm technically within city limits. My own farming is limited to several vegetable gardens and a variety of flowers. It's not much but it keeps me close to the dirt.

 

There are times of the year, however, that I miss the sights and smells and sounds of my family's crop farm in southwestern Minnesota.  Harvest is one of those times.

 

I miss the sound of the combine in the field as well as the trucks driving back and forth with loads of soybeans.

 

I miss the sight of the field against the horizon, as the corn is being taken.

 

I miss walking back by the dryer to check in with my dad to see how things are going.

 

Harvest time is special, although I'm sure I don't have to tell you that. The hard work of the previous months all comes together, and as long as the weather holds, farmers are anxious to get into the field and finish what they started.  Uncertainty, adrenaline, and sheer love of working the land all surge ahead as work continues at a feverish pace until it's done.

 

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I remember riding with my mom to take lunch out to the field.

 

I remember waving to my dad as he drove by the house, heading back to the field.

 

Was it - or is it - all roses and happy times? Of course not. It never is.

 

Equipment breaks down. Corn can be too wet. Frost comes too early. Meals have to wait. Sleep can be hard to come by.

 

Challenges come with the territory.

 

But there is something about harvest time that always makes me long to get home, see the flat expanse of farmland stretch out before me as the combines dot the landscape.

 

And it always makes me grateful that I am a forever farm girl - no matter where I live - and can appreciate what harvest means.

 

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I hope you've had a great first week of autumn. I still can't quite believe summer is over and it won't be long before those of us who live in Minnesota will be wearing warm coats, mittens and winter boots. Yikes! (Although full disclosure - as I write this, it's 80 degrees in Minnesota so we're all quite enjoying ourselves, knowing this won't last too long.)

 

Last weekend was busy but so much fun, and I feel like I packed a lot of activity in just two days.

 

On Saturday, I participated in the 2nd annual Celebrate Ag & Food Day at the University of Minnesota Gopher football game. The organization I work for (Minnesota Turkey Growers Association) was a sponsor, so we set up a tent outside the stadium and spent a couple of hours giving out freebies and, more importantly, talking to fans about farming and agriculture. Other commodity organizations - like Minnesota Pork, Corn and Soybean - also participated along with several agribusinesses like Cenex Harvest States, Land O'Lakes and AgStar Financial Services.

 

The weather was breezy but sunny so a large crowd started milling around the stadium and it became a great opportunity to briefly showcase Minnesota's farmers. We never had a lot of time as people were intent on finding their gate or checking out all there was to see at the stadium, so it was a little like perfecting a 30-second elevator speech - what do we want people to know about turkey in 30 seconds or less. Ready, set, go!

 

As we did last year, we brought out our "Tom Turkey" costume and had one of our volunteers wear it. Most folks love this type of photo opportunity, although I heard this comment more than a few times: "Look at the chicken!"

 

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Ugh - I guess sometimes a "farm animals 101" session is still very much needed.

 

I also ran into Maizey, the Minnesota Corn Growers mascot, so we took advantage of this photo opportunity to tweet out how important corn is to turkey farmers. (Did you know: 75% of the cost of raising a turkey is feed - and much of that feed is corn!)

 

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After the event, I scooted back home, picked up my husband, the kiddo and our dog, and drove out to my family's farm, where a birthday celebration ensued. (Full disclosure - it was my birthday we celebrated!)

 

My parents are big fans of turkey, so we had turkey brats and turkey chili for our Saturday evening meal, and my mom even threw in some turkey sausage crumbles into our scrambled eggs on Sunday morning. (And no, I didn't request any of this - I let my mom pick the menu!) I wish more people knew how easy it is to cook with turkey - I think my mom needs her own Food Network show to show them how it's done! Nothing she made was super complicated, but all had flavorful, fresh ingredients that were easy to prepare. (I am seriously going to blog the recipe for her turkey chili soon - it was so good!)

 

Sunday afternoon, after a big birthday meal with my family (this time it was chicken kiev - more poultry!), we headed to my mom's pumpkin patch with the grandkids and proceeded to pick a lot of pumpkins. I'm pretty sure my mom was worried in the spring that there wouldn't be any pumpkins at all, but clearly she was wrong.

 

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Those of us who grew up and either continue to live on farms - or like me, get to visit often - are so lucky. There is nothing like letting the kids run around in the huge backyard, taking the dog for a walk on the field road, inspecting the corn (and even Grandma's super tall broom corn!) to see how it's progressing, or seeing the shiny combine parked by the shed, ready for harvest to begin.

 

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I know I didn't fully appreciate this setting enough as a teenager, but I'm sure glad I do now.  And I'm equally glad my son will grow up riding the Gator with his cousin, picking pumpkins right from the vine, knowing what farming is all about - along with being able to discern a chicken from a turkey!

 

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Let's Talk ... Chicken!

by MNGobbleGal on ‎09-14-2014 09:51 PM

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I'm going to switch things up a little this week - instead of talking about turkey, I'm going to give chickens some blog love.

 

While I'm most known, perhaps, for being a turkey girl - my Twitter handle is @mngobblegal after all - I also work on a weekly basis with the fine folks who raise chickens and egg laying hens.

 

September is National Chicken Month, so what better time to share with you a few fun facts about chickens than right now? And just to clarify, I'm talking about meat chickens here, not egg laying hens. (I'll be sure to cover hens during National Egg Month in May!)

 

1) Chickens (the kind we eat for meat) are also called "broilers" but no one seems to know this anymore. That's exactly why one of the organizations I work for changed its name a couple of years ago from the "Broiler and Egg Association of Minnesota" to the "Chicken and Egg Association of Minnesota". We got tired of getting blank stares at meetings when we would introduce ourselves.

 

2) Americans eat just over 82 pounds of chicken every year - more than beef, pork or turkey.

 

3) There are no added growth hormones or steroids given to chickens to "pump up" their size/weight. This is a myth that persists today, even though these types of hormones and steroids have been illegal for over 50 years. (Ditto for turkeys.)

 

4) All chicken meat is "antibiotic free".  According to the National Chicken Council, if an antibiotic is used on the farm, federal rules require the antibiotics to have cleared the animals' systems before they can be processed. All of this is monitored and tested by FDA and the U.S. Department of Agriculture to make sure food at the grocery store doesn't contain antibiotic residues. (This is true for turkey, too.)

 

5) Georgia is the top chicken-producing state in the U.S., followed closely behind by Arkansas and Alabama. My state - Minnesota - is 18th and is home to GNP Company, which is the company behind the "Gold'n Plump" brand some of you may see in the supermarket. GNP was started in 1926 by the Helgeson family and three generations of Helgesons have run the company. 

 

6) Almost 20 percent of U.S. broiler chicken production is exported to other parts of the world.

 

7) I just learned last week that there used to be a Minnesota Baby Chick Association - this was way back in the day when there were hundreds of hatcheries in Minnesota selling chicks - or baby chickens.

 

8) One of my new favorite chicken recipes is this Better Than Takeout Chicken Fried Rice - I stumbled upon it a few weeks ago whiel blog hopping and it quickly lived up to its name!

 

There you have it - just a few chicken facts to start off your week. Do you have any chicken questions? If so, feel free to post in the comments and I'll be sure to find answers for you.

Over the weekend I was walking around my yard, taking some photos of my gardens, when I ran into my next door neighbor. He loves to chat about my work with the Minnesota Turkey Growers Association and, really, farming in general - perhaps because he knows this is a big interest of mine, but also because I think he is truly curious, loves to learn and ask questions.  We have great conversations about agriculture!

 

Somehow we got on the topic of turkeys and disease issues, my neighbor wondering if turkeys were susceptible to any diseases. This led the conversation down the path of why most commercial or larger-scale farms raise turkeys in barns. When I explained that turkeys can catch germs and disease from critters, bugs, waterfowl, even humans, my neighbor was pretty surprised. He had no idea - and his perception that turkeys raised in confinement might be LESS healthy (although he readily admitted he didn't really know why he thought that) became a "light bulb" moment for him and certainly a low-key, positive teaching moment for me.

 

My neighbor didn't know that visitors to turkey farms should - at a minimum - cover their shoes with plastic booties (or wear special boots the farmer provides) and, even better, wear Tyvec coveralls over their regular clothes. This helps prevent the spread of germs that humans might have picked up along the way from coming into the barn.

 

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Here I am (center) at Meschke Poultry Farm in Minnesota, wearing coveralls and plastic booties over my shoes. Often I am required to wear a hairnet as well as part of farm biosecurity measures.

 

My neighbor didn't know that that visitors shouldn't visit more than one poultry farm in one day, again to keep potential spread of disease at a minimum via vehicles driving up to the farm and humans walking around.

 

My neighbor didn't know that farm workers who hunt waterfowl need to think about their work and hunting schedules so that turkeys don't inadvertently come into contact with someone who has also handled a duck or goose, which can be big disease carriers. In this case, it's doing common sense things like showering after hunting and putting on clean clothes before checking the turkeys in the barn that make all the difference.

 

My neighbor didn't know that if you own a few chickens in your backyard and you step foot into someone's turkey barn, you may be putting those birds at risk. Your backyard flock may be perfectly healthy, but they still can be carriers of germs and may be in contact with bugs, other animals, birds and waterfowl that carry disease.

 

My neighbor didn't know that turkey barns allow farmers to have better control of the turkeys' environment - from air circulation and temperature to food and water. Barns are the best way to keep turkeys warm in the winter, cool in the summer and provide round-the-clock access to clean water and nutritious food. Plus, barns keep coyotes and other animals from preying - most often with morbid results - on the birds.

 

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Have you ever seen a sign at a farm entrance that indicated that 'no visitors are allowed' or perhaps 'biosecurity measures in place; please keep out'? My neighbor didn't know that most often visitors are limited (or even, in some cases, not allowed) on turkey farms - not because farmers have anything to hide but because they want to make sure their birds have the optimal environment to grow and be healthy.

 

These are all precautions put in place because that's what turkeys need. This is no different, really, than people washing our hands often, covering up a sneeze in order to prevent colds and flu, or taking off our shoes to prevent tracking in of dirt and germs into our homes.

 

In the livestock industry, these precautions are called "biosecurity", a word that can sound sort of mysterious and dare I say a bit scary if you don't know what it means. But in reality, biosecurity practices refer to the everyday things farmers do to care for the birds.

 

It's simply common sense - not scary.

 

You can read more about biosecurity on poultry farms at these links:

 

On The Banks of Squaw Creek

McMurray Hatchery

University of Georgia - Biosecurity Basics

USDA - Biosecurity for the Birds