Last week Cargill announced that all of its turkey farms would stop using antibiotics for growth promotion. (Read the press release here.) This has led to an assortment of questions and confusion from the media and others, including some people mistaking "growth promoting antibiotics" with "growth promoting hormones." I thought I'd run through an explanation of some of the questions I'm hearing:
1) Are antibiotics and hormones the same thing?
No. And perhaps just as important, added hormones or steroids are never used in turkey production in the U.S. - there are NO hormones or steroids approved for such a use. (And this goes for chickens, as well.) Some poultry brands indicate on their packaging that its products are "hormone free" but in reality, this is just marketing. ALL poultry in the U.S. is free of added hormones and have been since the 1950s.
2) What do turkey farmers use antibiotics for?
Approved antibiotics in poultry production can be used to 1) individually treat sick birds, 2) control disease within an entire flock that has sick birds in it; and 3) to prevent disease completely.
Depending on the situation, a farmer may choose to treat only the birds that are sick with antibiotics, but it is also true that a farmer may want to administer antibiotics to an entire flock after some sick birds in the flock are diagnosed. As is the case with humans and germs, sick birds can spread illness to healthy birds pretty quickly so sometimes the best way to ensure a flock stays as healthy as possible is to treat all the birds with medication.
3) What does it mean when we hear "growth promoting antibiotics"?
When antibiotics are administered to birds, the medication can help growth in healthy birds because it keeps them from getting sick. Naturally, healthy birds eat and drink better than sick birds, which in turn leads to better growth.
Cargill is ending the use of antibiotics for the overall prevention of disease; however, they will continue to use antibiotics as needed to treat sick birds and control disease within an entire flock because it's the right thing to do for the birds. Turkey farmers feel it is the humane thing to do to treat sick birds with antibiotics, if that is the treatment prescribed by a veterinarian. I don't know any farmer who wants to see his or her birds suffer from illness.
4) Does anyone oversee the use of antibiotics in turkey production?
Farmers work closely with poultry veterinarians to diagnose disease and administer antibiotics, if needed. Also, all antibiotic use in poultry follows strict dosing guidelines from the FDA.
5) What about "antibiotic free" poultry?
All poultry is antibiotic free because there are strict withdrawal times for every medication - meaning the farmer MUST wait a certain amount of time after administering antibiotics to send the bird to market.
Birds are randomly tested for antibiotic residues before the flock goes to market to make sure no birds have any antibiotic residue. If an unsafe residue is found, the entire flock is held back until samples prove the meat is safe.
6) We hear a lot about antibiotic resistance these days; should we be worried?
It's easy to blame antibiotic use in food animals for the antibiotic resistance stories we're hearing about in the news. However, this issue is quite a bit more complicated than that. There are many factors to consider, including 1) the fact that there are no peer-reviewed research that connects antibiotic resistance in humans to antibiotic use in food animals; 2) the rate of human antibiotic use; and 3) knowing which animal antibiotics are also used to treat human medical conditions - and the answer to that is, not many.
Source: National Turkey Federation
Because antibiotic resistance is certainly concerning to all of us, there are several layers of protection that are in place to ensure that animal antibiotics do not affect public health. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the FDA, and the Department of Agriculture (USDA), along with the veterinary community, animal health companies and farmers, all work together to protect human health. You can read more details here from the Animal Health Institute.
But you don't need take my word for it - you can visit a blog written by my farm blogger friend Katie, who, along with her husband, raises turkeys in Iowa. She wrote a great piece about antibiotic use on their farm and also covered the complicated subject of antibiotic resistance. She's got great information and links, so check it out here if you'd like more details.
I'm a mom and wife and the head cook in my family. I totally get that people are concerned about where their food comes from and may be worried about antibiotic resistance. I am too, but I think we need to look at all the possible variables and make sure the science backs up what is actually going on before jumping to conclusions.
If there is a simple truth in all of this complicated information, it is that antibiotics for turkey farmers are an important tool - but certainly not the only tool to keep poultry healthy, and farmers and veterinarians take their caretaker roles very seriously. For Cargill and other turkey companies along with the farmers who raise the birds, the #1 priority is to ensure only healthy animals are used for food.
Source: National Pork Producers Council
One of the questions I hear from time to time is "are you busiest during November?" It's a fair question, to be sure. After all, I do work for the Minnesota Turkey Growers Association, which immediately and happily brings to mind "THANKSGIVING!" to most folks.
Truth is, November is a different kind of busy. It's definitely a crazy (and fun) time for us, but we're no less busy any other time of year than we are in November. In fact, because of the projects we do all year long, I can tell you that often we are busier.
July is no exception. We have a staff of five in my office and it seems we're going in multiple directions this month. One coworker was busier earlier this week setting up a poultry display for the Red River Valley Fair in Fargo, ND and then headed on to staff a booth at the Minnesota Agricultural Educators summer conference. Another coworker attended to some American Egg Board business (our office also runs the Chicken and Egg Association of Minnesota) and then flew on to North Carolina for the biennial conference of the National Poultry Improvement Plan (NPIP). What is NPIP? Short answer: a collaboration between the poultry industry and state/federal government folks to ensure the quality of poultry and poultry products in the U.S.
As for me, I've been mainly in my office, working on updating our website (now that's a large project!) and making plans for an annual leadership conference put on by the National Turkey Federation in Washington DC. Several of our farmer members will attend this event, along with others in the turkey industry (myself included).
It's my job to organize the travel itineraries of everyone involved and make sure our group has appointments with as many of our Congressional offices as possible. That means contacting the Minnesota, Wisconsin and North Dakota's Congressional delegations and scheduling meetings (or "Hill visits" as we call them) with as many of our leaders and/or their staffers as possible.
While we are in DC, we attend conference events, get updated on various issues and happenings going on nationally in the turkey industry, and network with other farmers, companies and organizations - along with dedicating one entire day to our Hill visits. (Key to happiness: wear comfortable walking shoes.)
I think I've made this trip at least five, or maybe six times and it never gets old. Washington DC is a beautiful city to visit and being able to view the monuments, walk around Capitol Hill and get a real glimpse of how things click (or don't, as the case may be) in Washington is inspiring and just plain interesting to me.
Here I am last year outside of the White House, before I got busy with conference events and Capitoil Hill meetings.
Despite the general frustration about the gridlock we're all witness to in Washington DC right now, our organization and our farmers recognize that it's important that we make these contacts and talk to our leaders about the concerns we have. While everything seems to move at a snail's pace in Washington, I can tell you that that relationships we've established over the years have been very helpful - most recently last winter when the upper Midwest was dealing with a potential propane shortage. (Since most turkey farmers heat their barns with propane, and it gets pretty darn cold in Minnesota, having an adequate supply of propane is necessary for survival. The potential for further shortages exists but we're working together with others on the state and federal level to alleviate this issue.)
This is part of the group from Minnesota who made the trip to Washington DC last year - turkey farmers, turkey company staffers and students from the University of Minnesota, too.
I think those of us in agriculture have heard it many times - we need to tell our stories or else someone else will tell them for us, and we may not like what we hear. That's a big part of why my organization makes our Washington DC trip a priority every year. Turkey farmers and turkey companies - just like those who raise beef, pork, chicken, dairy, crops, etc. - have a lot of to share and one very key place to start sharing is with our Congressional leaders in our nation's capitol.
The Capitol Dome at twlight is a lovely sight to behold.
I just got back from my organization's annual summer conference, held over three days late last week. Turkey farmers, turkey companies and allied members (those who work for companies that service the turkey industry in some way) all gathered for a variety of education topics, networking and the celebration of Minnesota Turkey's 75th anniversary.
I've written about this big anniversary before, and I can't seem to help coming back to this topic again. There's no doubt that, as communications director for this organization, I've been a little focused on ways we can encapsulate the importance of this big event. But more than that, I am simply amazed and so proud to be part of an industry with such a long, rich history.
When I first started working for Minnesota Turkey 19 years ago, it was very true that not many people really knew that our state was among the leading turkey producers in the U.S. (We've been #1 for most of the 19 years I've been working.) Our office and our members have worked very hard to spread that message and show people that turkey is truly a year-round protein option.
But 20 years is only a partial blip on the radar. It's the pioneers of 75 years ago that really paved the way for the turkey industry in Minnesota to prosper. I was lucky enough to meet a few of those pioneers when I first started my job, and I will never forget how passionate they still were about turkey and, more specifically, about the Minnesota Turkey organization.
This is, hands-down, one of my favorite photos I have in the archives at the Minnesota Turkey Growers Association - a photo of brothers Doug and Grady McCulley, who stopped by the office a few years ago and charmed all of us with their stories and enthusiasm for turkey. Both were instrumental - along with many others, of course - in building Minnesota's turkey industry into what it is today.
This is Doug and Grady McCulley back in the day ... when they were raising turkeys and volunteering for the Minnesota Turkey Growers Association and the National Turkey Federation.
Today, Minnesota's turkey farmers thrive in part because they learned many lessons from the farmers that came before them. It also helps that our farmers are close to the source of their feed - corn and soybean meal - and have a top-notch turkey research network at the University of Minnesota. But it's the leaders of the industry - the 2nd, 3rd and 4th generation turkey farm families and the leaders that started several important turkey companies - that ultimately ensured the success of raising turkeys in Minnesota.
Some people with specific agendas might like to tell you that the turkey industry is full of factory farmers. As I have written here before, that's not what I see. For me, farming systems are not typically all black and white - and what some may call industrial farming is really a family farm that just so happens to be larger in scope than days gone by. (Big doesn't necessarily equal bad. It's the quality of animal care that counts, no matter the size.)
I've spent 19 years with many turkey farmers of all sizes and the three things they have in common are their love for farming as a way of life, their commitment to caring for their birds in the best way possible, and their enthusiasm for soaking up new information about better ways to raise turkeys. I see this every day - and I could still see this in the McCulley brothers, years after they had retired from farming.
Minnesota's turkey farmers didn't make it 75 years without a thirst for knowledge and the passion for success. And for that, I'm proud and grateful.
Happy Father's Day weekend!
It's a busy week ahead for me as I'm heading in my organization's annual summer conference. One of my roles at the Minnesota Turkey Growers Association is to oversee the details and planning for our meetings and events. This year, it's the organization's 75th anniversary so I'm excited to celebrate with our members, but it's also a stressful time as I'm trying to get all the last minutes details finalized.
Until I was hired by Minnesota Turkey, I had never really coordinated events of this size or larger so it was all a new experience for me. I can remember how nervous I was those first few conferences - afraid that I was missing details or something wasn't planned quite right - or I wouldn't be able to anticipate what would come up onsite.
Now I know, after planning 18 summer conferences (and countless other events, large and small), that I can never truly anticipate what will happen onsite. I can only be as prepared as I can be and then, ultimately, go with the flow.
In some ways, event planning is a lot like farming.
Farmers plan and plan and then plan some more, but ultimately, there are some things that can't be anticipated - namely, Mother Nature.
I was reminded of this today when I talked to my Dad on the phone. I called him to wish a Happy Father's Day and ask him how much rain the farm had gotten over what has been yet another very wet weekend here in Minnesota. His answer - too much rain! Even 2 inches on their already soaked land has been frustrating, to say the least. But as my Dad said, "What can we do?"
While I can't help alleviate the frustration and stress of getting too much rain on the farm, I do know that my Dad, without even realizing it, helped calm me down heading into this week. I've got a few more projects to complete in the office tomorrow, but once I'm done and the office is packed up, it will be time to "get on with it" (incidentally, another favorite phrase of my Dad's).
And I'm going to remember his wise words when something unexpected comes up onsite: "What can we do?"
Here's my Dad and Mom with my son, Joe - on another rainy weekend in late May, which allowed them to come for a visit and see Joe's piano recital.
I've been talking turkey - no joke! - on behalf of the Minnesota Turkey Growers Association for nearly 19 years.
I've heard a lot of crazy things over the years and received my fair share of interesting requests ... like the time someone called my office looking for a live turkey to "borrow" for a holiday family photo. (We didn't accommodate.)
Or the phone call from someone looking for the largest turkey possible to roast for Thanksgiving - because he and his sister have an ongoing bet about who can roast the largest turkey every year. (We did accommodate - and the story of the dualing turkeys ended up running on CNN all day long on Thanksgiving.)
But the one myth that perpetuates almost daily to this day is the idea that turkeys are raised with added hormones or steroids. You've heard it, I'm sure - those turkeys are "pumped full" of hormones/steroids. How else could they get as big as they do?
Except it's not true. Not at all.
It's actually illegal to raise any poultry (turkeys and chickens) with any added hormones in the U.S. This holds true whether turkeys are raised conventionally or organically.
And I'm well aware that sometimes our own people perpetuate this myth through their own marketing. You've probably seen this too, if you've bought a package of chicken, for instance, in the supermarket that says "hormone-free*" on the label. This type of labeling is allowed as long as the asterisk is added, which tells people there are no hormones or steroids approved for use in poultry production in the U.S.
Is it frustrating? You bet it is. But at this point, I'm not sure there's much I personally can do about this type of marketing. My goal, instead, is to try to make people aware that all poultry is free of added hormones and to remind them they don't need to pay extra for this so-called premium. It's not necessary!
Happy June! While many of you have likely heard it's National Dairy Month, it's also time to celebrate turkey - as in June is Turkey Lovers' Month! I've always thought milk (and cheese, too) is a great complement to turkey so I'm a big fan of celebrating both all month long.
I'm not quite sure how long June has been known as Turkey Lovers' Month - definitely longer than I have been working for the Minnesota Turkey Growers Association (nearly 19 years). The designation was important to the industry many years ago, because turkey farmers have long focused on showcasing turkey as a year-round meat option.
We all know turkey as the centerpiece of Thanksgiving, but these days, only about 1/3 of all turkey is purchased around the holiday season of Thanksgiving and Christmas. The rest is enjoyed all year long.
As you might expect, I cook a lot of turkey at our house and I have some favorite ways to enjoy it:
1) Turkey burgers - Ground turkey has a bit of a reputation of being bland, but that's also the beauty of it. Ground turkey handles seasonings and flavors with ease so you can be really creative and hardly go wrong. One of my more basic go-to recipes is a pound of ground turkey, a Ranch dressing seasoning packet, one egg and about 1/4 cup or a little more of bread crumbs. Mix it all together, form patties and grill. (You can add a slice of cheese too!)
2) Pasta salad - I love to throw cooked, cubed turkey breast into creamy pasta salads. (I'm a bit of a pasta salad addict, to be honest.) My favorite pasta salad has been enjoyed by my family for decades - it's a recipe my mom made for me when I was in high school (she used turkey back then too), it was served at my wedding rehearsal dinner, and I still make it often. I call it "Volleyball Salad" and this link will tell you why and give you the recipe.
3) Spaghetti with turkey Italian sausage - This is a super easy weeknight, family friendly option. I buy Italian turkey sausage (hot or mild, although my family likes hot best), slice it and throw it into some spaghetti sauce to heat up. Just add cooked spaghetti (or any type of pasta - ziti or penne is delicious too), some Parmesan cheese, crusty bread and a salad and you're good to go!
4) Best turkey lasagna ever - Seriously! This recipe is from an amazing cook, whose family raises turkeys in Minnesota. You can't go wrong with this recipe - plus it's easy to make the night before and cook the next day if you are short on time.
You can find one of my favorite turkey appetizer recipes here (perfect for a summer picnic!), or if you're in the mood for classic Minnesota turkey hotdish (that's casserole to the rest of the country), check this out. And link to literally hundreds of turkey recipe options here.
I hope you celebrate both June is Turkey Lovers Month and Dairy Month - a winning combination any time of year!
"If you want to understand today, you have to search yesterday." ~ Pearl Buck
I've been working for the past several weeks on a few projects to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the Minnesota Turkey Growers Association (MTGA), the organization I have worked for the past 18+ years.
It seems on any given work day, I rarely have time to re-think yesterday much less sit down and really familiarize myself with decades of history. It's probably a good thing this anniversary year gives me an excuse to do just that because there is so much to take in and try to organize.
It is both humbling and so interesting to sift through some of the history of this organization, which was started in 1939 by a group of turkey farmers who wanted to come together collectively to help each other grow the turkey industry in Minnesota.
Late last week, I literally sat on the floor in our storage room, pulling out vintage issues of our monthly magazine, Gobbles. (Yes, I know - perfect name, right?)
I started with the 1940s and worked my way until the early 1980s, scanning old photographs with my iPhone (isn't technology awesome? I don't have to run back and forth to a scanner!) and reading some of the articles. As is often the case with history, I noticed that many things have changed (and quite dramatically!) while other things have stayed the same.
Case in point: the methods for raising turkeys in MInnesota have morphed from a seasonal, outdoor (or "on the range," as we call it) production system to one that is year-round in climate-controlled barns (and in the process, much safer and more comfortable for turkeys).
This is what raising turkeys "on the range" looked like in 1945.
However, the more photos I scanned and articles I read, the more I realized that many of the people behind these farms have familiar names, even today.
One farmer was pictured in 1958 on his farm in northwestern Minnesota and now I can say that I have met his grandson, a new Board Director for MTGA this year, who told me he still raises turkeys in that same barn his grandfather stood in front of decades ago.
Another farmer last year served as our President, and 10 years ago, so did his mother - and 10 years prior to that, so did his father.
Even the large turkey companies in Minnesota have multi-generational connections - I found photos of the founders of Willmar Poultry Company, the largest poultry hatching company in the world (right here in Minnesota!), and many of their relatives work for the company today. This is still very much a family-run business - a large, international business to be sure, but a family one just the same.
I think we all too often hear farming today referred to as corporate or industrial - or at the very least, impersonal. Some would even want you to believe the people I work for - the farmers and turkey companies who belong to the Minnesota Turkey Growers Association - are factory farmers and "big ag." But that's not what I see - factory farming is just a misconception and a label, a way to market more fear into the food system, and I don't think big is automatically bad.
I see 3rd, 4th and 5th generation farm families who raise turkeys.
I see farmers and families who have been part of the Minnesota Turkey Growers Association for decades.
I see companies full of innovation and excitement for the future.
I see farmers who have learned from family members before them and continue to tackle new challenges as each generation grows up.
I see fathers, mothers, sons, daughters, grandparents and grandchildren who are raising turkeys to the best of their abilities.
Of course, this isn't any different than so many other agricultural industries, be it hogs, dairy, beef cattle, soybeans, corn, wheat or what have you. Farmers everywhere are full of stories like these.
These stories, these human connections are what we need the rest of the food-eating world to see.
How are you sharing your farm stories? Do you blog or use social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter or Instagram? I'd love to hear about what works for you, so please share in the comments below.
Does anyone cook anymore?
I ask because I was listening last week to a live stream of the Animal Agriculture Alliance's Stakeholder Summit, which focused this year on Millennials (typically folks born from the early 1980s - early 2000s) and how those of us in agriculture should be communicating to them. During one of the panels, there was a statement about how Millennials don't know how to cook - which, after further discussion, became a much broader statement that most people don't know how to cook.
Okay, I'm probably exaggerating a little. But the gist was that quite a few people, even of different generations, really don't know how to cook. And as you can imagine, this is a bit of a challenge for the food industry. Yes, there are a plethora of convenience products available that don't require much more knowledge than how to run a microwave; however, I personally wouldn't want to live by microwave alone. And think about all the food experiences these non-cookers are missing out on! Plus, this also can be a food safety issue - I think we all know the U.S. has the safest food supply in the world, but it's still imperative that people know how to prepare products correctly at home.
Why don't more people know how to cook? Is it because their own parents never taught them? Perhaps their school never offered a foods class - or they never took it? Are they too lazy? Too intimidated? Or too busy with work, school, activities, life? Are there too many quick/easy/take-out options? Or maybe they simply don't have any interest in cooking?
I'm guessing it's a combination of all those reasons. What's interesting is, at the same conference, speakers and attendees alike talked about how consumers want choices in the supermarket, applaud choices in our food system. Yet, ironically, when given all these choices, many people can get confused about what products to buy, which they don't know how to prepare anyway.
According to one of the speakers at the conference, the average supermarket has 38,000 items in the store for consumers. Think about that for a second. 38,000! Perhaps it's no wonder people are confused. Or at the very least, overloaded!
I do quite a bit of cooking for my family, which never used to strike me as too unusual. My mother cooked when I was growing up - and even my dad did his fair share once winter set in and he was out of the fields. (He can bake a mean key lime pie, I'm telling you!) But then I realized as I was writing this blog post, I didn't really do that much actual, real cooking when I was in my early 20s. I wasn't making a lot of money as a reporter at a weekly newspaper so I definitely didn't eat out much either - but I wouldn't buy a lot of meat and subsisted on a few basics that required minimal prep. (And cooking for one has never been that much fun for me - I'd rather eat a bowl of cereal.) My sister still laughs at how little I had in my refrigerator in my first apartment after college. It wasn't until I met and married my now-husband that I began expanding my meal options.
The lack of coking in my 20s wasn't because I didn't know how to cook, thankfully. And now, I love to cook, especially on Saturday and Sunday nights when I have time to leisurely prepare home-made recipes and let out my inner Pioneer Woman. Case in point: my son, who is 10, just told me last week that I am "an intense cooker" (his exact words).
I should mention that in his mind, this isn't such a good thing as it means I'm trying new recipes and making him eat food he thinks he doesn't like. (He's soooo picky - if it isn't mac-and-cheese, chicken strips, pizza or Cheerios, he isn't too interested in it. But I digress ...)
I rather like being "an intense cooker." Both my brother and sister could also be categorized this way, thanks to a mom - the queen of intense cooking! - who taught all of us the way around the kitchen from an early age. And it makes me realize that if I want my son to know how to make something other than a PB & J sandwich, I must do my part to show him the way. He may never be an intense cooker, but I don't want him to be completely clueless in the kitchen.
As for those 38,000 products in the supermarket, overload may be inevitable at least sometimes, but hopefully organizations like the one I work for (the Minnesota Turkey Growers Association) can help consumers of all ages decipher some of those confusing food labels and offer tips and suggestions and, yes, recipes that, when it comes right down to it, are pretty easy to prepare and delicious, as well.
Do you cook? Do you like to cook? I'd love to hear what's typical in your family!
Tuesday's Earth Day collided with a meeting I had in my office with our new board directors and the weekly #AgChat on Twitter. While these three events would seem a bit unrelated - except for the fact that they are all related to agriculture - they were, in fact, more interconnected to me than you might think.
As an advocate for agriculture, I am certainly one of many who question how we can take Earth Day and share messages effectively about farming and our food that resonate with the part of our world that isn't closely connected to agriculture.
#AgChat tackled that question on its weekly Twitter chat, along with the overriding theme of the night - sustainability in agriculture. What is it? How can we, as agriculturists, define it? Can we define it? What are some of the ways farmers are more sustainable now? How will we look at sustainability in the future?
A lively two-hour chat ensued, proving that sustainability, even for farmers and those of us who work in agriculture, can mean different things to different people. But it also seemed apparent, at least to me, that many of us in agriculture see sustainability as a way - through production methods, environmental stewardship, sheer economics and more - to ensure the viability of the farm for generations to come.
Which brings me to the orientation for new board directors that was held at my office for the Minnesota Turkey Growers Association. Each year, our organization holds elections for its Board and this year (as in years past), the three new directors had both similarities and differences in their backgrounds. One was a 2nd generation farmer who's dad was actually a city kid who decided to try his hand at farming. Another was a young farmer in his own right, although his family has been raising turkeys for several generations. Yet another raised turkeys along with corn and soybeans, side-by-side with his wife and their three young boys.
We asked them to talk about the "keys to their success" and each pointed to the previous generation and how they learned from the family members that came before them. It was also clear that all of their farm businesses included continual plans for utilizing technology and upgrades in equipment that allowed them to farm better. Be flexible, they said. Learn from the past but embrace what the future can offer, they said.
New directors get orientated at the Minnesota Turkey Growers Association office this week.
These days in turkey production, this means learning more, for example, about LED lighting and solar power. It also means that the barns are technologically advanced to control heat and lighting and provide the perfect mix of feed and water 24-7.
Practical? Yes. Sustainable? I think so. The continuous education process of turkey farming, including the use of technology and new equipment, means turkey farmers are learning how to raise their birds even better than the previous generation. It also means they are paving the way for future generations to take over their farms.
One of my social media friends, sent out this Tweet during Tuesday's #AgChat: "My friends want "sustainable" to be emotion & feel good but it's not always practical."
That's the crux of the word, "sustainable" - our friends and neighbors might look at it emotionally and see buzz words like small and local and organic -- all of which are great things to be -- but it's not the end-all, be-all. Sustainable can also be folks like my board directors, whose turkey farms can range from big to small and everything in between, and who embrace new production methods and the latest technologies to ensure they are doing the right thing for the birds, their farms and their families, now and well into the future.
I'm not sure we'll ever have one, definitive answer to "what sustainable is", but I'm hoping I can help answer what this means to turkey farmers - on Earth Day and every day.
What does sustainable mean to you?
It's mid-April and in Minnesota, which must mean we're seeing highs in the 30s and a foot of snow.
Wait. What? That's just not right.
Unfortunately, we're having a little "blip" in the spring weather this week, which in reality is pretty common around here but still is not all that much fun. ("Blip" isn't terribly scientific, but you know what I mean.)
This my slightly-annoyed-with-a-spring-snow-storm look - and this was well before we had a foot+ of snow! I know I know, the moisture is probably a good thing; I'd just prefer some rain over snow at this point!
Weather like this gets me thinking about all the turkeys we have in Minnesota. (And we have a lot of turkeys - 46 million of them are raised here each year!) Traditional turkey production these days means, for the most part, that turkeys are raised indoors in climate-controlled barns that keep the birds safe from predators and comfortable whether the weather outside is hot and humid or, in the case of the winter we've had, frigidly cold with nasty windchills and an overabundance of snow.
It really wasn't until the mid 1980s or so that most turkey production in Minnesota was moved "off the range", as it was called - where turkeys were raised outside, exposed to Mother Nature's elements and to various predators that looked at turkeys as tasty treats. The turkeys had shelters scattered around these ranges, but these shelters certainly didn't protect the birds fully from nasty spring "blips" that we often get here in Minnesota.
Looking at the foot of snow in my yard right now, I'm certainly glad that turkeys in Minnesota, for the most part, don't get surprised by a bit of winter weather in April.
I think turkey farming can seem pretty mysterious to a lot of folks - even other farmers - especially when the birds are in barns and we can't really see them. While I often hear arguments from people who think it would be better - or at least more nostalgic - for turkeys to be raised outdoors, I have learned from turkey farmers that there are many benefits to putting turkeys in barns. Once farmers moved their turkeys into barns, the chances of catching diseases from waterfowl and other wild animals decreased. While the threat of disease can never be completely eradicated, of course, the barns do make a difference in helping farmers keep their turkeys healthy. Plus, this also means farmers can raise turkeys year-round - not just during the spring, summer and fall - meaning more delicious turkey for all of us to enjoy year-round.
Don't misunderstand me - I know farmers who put their birds "on the range" beginning in the spring, and I think it's important that farmers have choices as to how they want to raise their animals. (And there are certainly consumer markets for free range turkeys, organically-raised turkeys and other options.) I also don't believe that just the act of putting birds in barns is the end-all be-all of disease prevention; as any farmer knows, there are many factors that go into raising livestock and poultry and all make a difference when it comes to raising healthy animals. There are, however, benefits to raising turkeys in barns.
Minnesota's farmers have a long history of raising turkeys in this state and they are adept at handling a lot of different weather scenarios. To me, however, it makes a lot of sense to ensure the birds are as comfortable as possible by housing them in barns, making sure they have safe and comfortable surroundings and easy access to feed and fresh water 24-7.
I wouldn't wish a spring weather "blip" in Minnesota on anyone - or any unsuspecting turkey.