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.
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.
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:
Happy Labor Day! As I write this, another Minnesota State Fair is winding down and we're staring at the first day of September. Since it's been my 20th year attending the fair on behalf of the Minnesota Turkey Growers Association, I decided I'd write about a few things I've learned along the way. Those of you who are fairgoers yourself will probably relate!
1) Even the simplest agriculture concepts can be new to many people. Case in point - every year we bring out our turkey costumes, coerce a couple of enthusastic FFA students to wear them and engage fairgoers, and every year more than one person mistakes the turkeys for chickens. Every year. And not just kids but adults too! It's a good reminder that sometimes we need to focus on simple facts.
Does this look like a turkey or a chicken to you?
2) The State Fair is truly a family affair. I love watching all the 4-H kids and their families show their animals and talk to fairgoers about what they do. The barns are a busy place at our State Fair and it's a wonderful opportunity for non-farm families to learn more about livestock and how farmers care for their animals. They can also see the connection these kids have with the animals they show - and at the same time, learn that livestock farming is a business. Yes, farmers can and do care for their animals and run a business at the same time.
This is my son, Joe. Now that he's old enough, I bring him with me to the State Fair every year while I'm working - and he helps out! Here he is doing some videotaping of an event - called Gobble Gobble Cluck Cluck Day! - that my organization holds annually.
This year, my 8-month-old niece, Morgan, visited her very first fair and had a blast!
3) Food brings us all together. I'm sure this isn't surprising to any of you who read this. Our State Fair - and no doubt all the other fairs in the country - is inextricably tied to all kinds of food. Food on stick. Deep fried food. Sinfully good food. Even healthy food. I mean, who doesn't love food? My organization's members (Minnesota Turkey) took a look at the State Fair 56 years ago and realized it was a prime event to showcase turkey as more than just a whole bird at Thanksgiving. And 56 years later, we're still doing that - along with hundreds of other food vendors. And while everyone is eating and enjoying all this food, we hope to sneak in a few pieces of information about turkey farming they may not know.
My favorite food at the Minnesota State Fair - a giant turkey sandwich that is so juicy and fantastic. (Of course, I fully admit I'm a little biased toward poultry!)
4) People still love recipes. Say what you want about cooking these days - or perhaps, the perceived lack of cooking. I can tell you, in my very unscientific opinion, there must be people who do still enjoy cooking and trying new recipes. (Certainly the popularity of food bloggers and The Food Network shows us that.) At our State Fair booth, where we have a variety of turkey-related brochures, cooking tips and recipes, we meet with people every day who snatch up our information and even remember from year-to-year what recipes are new and what recipes we've been passing out for a while. I would say, though, that it's accurate our recipes have changed - we've shifted away from a focus on whole birds and, instead, gear most our information toward ground turkey, turkey sausage and other products that can be utilized easily every day. This isn't to say our turkey roasting brochure isn't still popular - it is! - but it seems cooks these days - especially those with young families - are looking for easy, everyday options that can be whipped up after getting home from work or school activities.
5) The State Fair is a lot of hard work! If your kids show animals at a fair or you volunteer your time to man a booth for an organization like Farm Bureau or any of the commodity organizations, then you probably know what I'm talking about! Days and days of work go into making all of this run smoothly - not to mention the actual long hours spent onsite at the fair. It's definitely exhausting work, but also completely worth it. The value of having conversations about food and farms with so many consumers in once place can't be underestimated. Not only do fairgoers learn about what our farmers do, but we learn from consumers what kind of questions are actually percolating in their heads. It's a win-win - especially if we're willing to listen.
Happy Labor to you!
This tom turkey took the crowds at the Minnesota State Fair in stride and helped fairgoers learn more about turkeys in the popular Miracle of Birth Center.
The Minnesota State Fair started Thursday and that means two things: summer is waning and our office is busy, busy, busy!
Like so many agricultural organizations in Minnesota (and likewise in other states with their own state fairs), we feel it's integral to be a part of this event. After all, the Minnesota State Fair brings in nearly 1.7 million visitors each year - and many of these folks live right in the Twin Cities area. This is our chance to meet with fairgoers who may not know much, if anything, about agriculture - and certainly know very little about turkey farming.
We have a consumer booth that is staffed all 12 days of the fair for 12 hours a day. Here, we give out free recipes, cooking information, turkey farming facts and the usual array of fun stuff too - like temporary tattoos and turkey tailfeather headbands.
Here's my son, Joe, sporting one of our turkey tailfeather headbands!
We also operate a food concession stand called Turkey To Go with a long history. The concession stand has been around for a whopping 56 years, when a group of forward-thinking turkey farmers decided they needed a venue that would allow them to showcase turkey as a year-round protein option.
Bingo - the Minnesota State Fair!
This is a photo from the very first year Minnesota Turkey had its concession stand at the State Fair - 1958!
This week, I've spent some time creating a few infographics that highlight Minnesota Turkey on our social media channels (Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest) and direct people to visit us at the State Fair. I'm also in charge of fielding media calls that come in for interviews (lucky for us, reporters love to "talk turkey" during the State Fair!) and I sometimes hold down the fort back in the office when nearly everyone else is at the fairgrounds.
Next week, I'll be headed out to the State Fair a couple of different days to work - always a fun time with great people-watching and even better farm and food conversations. You never know what we'll be asked about turkey, but we're glad people are coming to us to ask their questions!
If you've read some of my previous posts, then you've probably figured out that I write from a slightly different angle than some of the other bloggers featured. While I grew up on a farm, I am not actively involved in production agriculture - I leave that to my brother, nephew and father. Instead, I work full-time as the communications director for the Minnesota Turkey Growers Association.
Because of that, I write about some of the issues I work on in the office on a daily basis and hope that I also give you a better sense of what raising poultry means for the farmers I work for.
Which brings me to this post. This week I am about to take note of my 20th year at Minnesota Turkey, which 1) seems crazy to me (how did two decades zip by so fast?), and 2) makes me realize I have learned a thing or two about working for an agricultural organization.
1) Be prepared to wear many hats - some that fit naturally, some that may surprise and then ultimately delight you, and a few you just have to wear to get the job done.
My responsibilities cover a lot of ground - from a whole range of communications tasks (like overseeing our social media platforms, websites and being the main point of contact with the media) to graphic design, meeting and convention planning and even human resources along with whatever else comes my way.
One minute I might be writing a press release or updating a website, and the next minute I am organizing the hotel blocks for our regional poultry convention or designing a recipe card for the State Fair. Most of it I love. But taking notes and writing minutes for meetings? Not so much!
This kind of variety - well, minus the note-taking - is one of the reasons I love my job and am still here at the 20-year mark. Do I get bored? Never. We don't have much, if any, downtime (mostly a blessing, sometimes a curse) and it's fun to work in so many different areas of interest.
2) There is no such thing as a dumb question - but there will be a few that make you laugh out loud.
As an agricultural organization, we often receive an email or a phone call from someone outside the poultry industry that has a question for us. It might be as simple as how long can a frozen turkey in the freezer last without losing flavor (answer - up to one year), or where a processor can be found for a backyard flock (answer - usually we are able to find small processors via our Department of Agriculture).
However, sometimes the questions just get goofy. Last week, I was asked where someone could source 200 eggs/month for seven Great Dane dogs that eat two eggs/day as part of their diet. (Answer: not sure yet, but the guy might be the perfect candidate for having his own backyard flock of laying hens!) A few years, ago, someone wanted to find the absolute largest turkey possible to roast at Thanksgiving because he had a bet with his sister in Virginia on whose turkey would be bigger. (Winner? Minnesota - and bonus, that phone call ultimately landed a story on CNN that aired all day on Thanksgiving!) And I once took a call from someone looking to "borrow" a turkey for a family holiday photo. Seriously! (We couldn't help with this one, by the way - but it led to a conversation about how turkeys can't simply be borrowed and then returned to the farm as it would be a biosecurity issue for the rest of the flock.)
We're always happy to answer any question we can, but some questions merit more laughter in the office than others.
3) Just when you think you've got the job mastered, along comes something new to learn.
Although my job title hasn't changed over the past 20 years, the work that I do has evolved and changed. When I first started, my computer ran on the DOS operating system (anyone remember that??) and we had one dial-up Internet connection for the entire office that only one person could be on at a time. It took me two weeks to put together our monthly member publication, Gobbles - including laying out the pages by hand on large boards. Today, I can get it done in two days, thanks to computer design programs.
Turkey farming has evolved, as well, along with the rest of the agricultural industry. What we're focusing on today isn't necessarily what was important - or even in the realm of possibility - 20 years ago. Just when we think we've got one issue mastered, another comes along to take its place.
Have I mentioned I'm never bored?
4) "Family Farmer" is NOT an oxymoron.
The individuals who serve on the Minnesota Turkey Growers Association Board of Directors are all mostly family farmers. (Beyond the farmers, a few directors work for turkey processing companies and other companies that service the turkey industry.) This would probably surprise people who like to claim that conventional turkey production is all about "Big Ag" and throw out phrases such as "Factory Farming". But over 20 years, I've been blessed to have met and worked with many, many multi-generational farm families who raise turkeys. I can tell that even "Big Ag" has family farmers - the stats back me up on this along with my own personal experiences.
This is one of the real joys of working for an agricultural organization: getting to know the farmers - and the families - we work for on a daily basis.
5) It's really one of the most rewarding careers you can have.
I, like so many others who make a career out of working in agricultural associations, really appreciate the variety, the people and the work we do on behalf of farmers. My career also keeps me connected to my family farm in ways I didn't even know I would appreciate 20 years ago. And it's provided me opportunities to travel around Minnesota, across the U.S. and even overseas to meet and learn from others in agriculture.
Rewarding? Absolutely! And I wouldn't trade the past 20 years for anything.
I'd love to know how we possibly got to mid-August already? Seriously, when did that happen? I'm knee-deep into back-to-school shopping lists, starting to think about a little fall color for my gardens (eek - fall!), and prepping for the Minnesota State Fair at the office.
This latter task always consumes most of our staff in some form or fashion during August - some more than others. We operate two booths - one for turkey and one for chickens/eggs - where we distribute recipes and informational brochures and answer all sorts of poultry-related questions. We also have a food stand (called Turkey To Go) that serves up the most amazing turkey sandwiches (think pulled turkey that is seasoned to perfection and super juicy).
Needless to say, all of this keeps us pretty busy this month.
The past few days I've been working feverishly to create a large display for our turkey booth that will highlight the history of Minnesota's turkey industry and show how raising turkeys in the 1930s and 40s compares to our modern production of today. It's a fun comparison for me, but I also hope it does the job of explaining to fairgoers with little to no agriculture background how the industry has improved over the past 75 years.
Here are some of the comparisons we're showing:
Bronze turkeys - the breed of choice in the 1930s.
Broad-breasted white turkeys were introduced in the 1940s and are still raised today. This breed became popular mostly due to consumer preference. (Those lovely bronze feathers in the turkey above would leave darker pin marks in the turkey meat when processed, which consumers felt were unsightly.)
In the 1930s-40s, raising turkeys in Minnesota was strictly seasonal (um, hello Minnesota winters!). Turkeys were raised outdoors and farmers had much smaller flocks. In the mid-1930s, Minnesota raised around 2,500 turkeys annually per year.
Today raising turkeys is a major year-round agricultural industry. Birds are raised in barns (easy climate control and birds are safe from predators and disease threats), and flock sizes in Minnesota are much larger; total annual production is 46 million birds.
Turkeys today are very efficient eaters, converting feed to weight gain at a rapid pace - without any added growth hormones or steroids, which are not approved for use in poultry in the U.S. (and haven't been since the 1950s).
Despite all the differences between the decades in production methods, breeds, flock size and the technology, tools and knowledge available to farmers, one thing has remained the same - Minnesota's turkey farms have always been a family business.
Here's a family from the Roseau, Minnesota area in the 1950s. Can you spot the FFA jacket?
There are four generations represented in this picture of a turkey farm family in the Melrose, Minnesota area.
Usually I write about turkeys in this blog space, but after taking the past week off for a little staycation at home, I am feeling inspired to switch it up a little and write about my gardening habit.
The dog days of summer have hit - yes, even in Minnesota - and my flower gardens are blooming like crazy and my vegetable gardens are starting to give us some delicious produce. While I had a few days off from my day job at the Minnesota Turkey Growers Association, I spent a lot of time working in my gardens - watering, weeding, moving plants, putting in some new perennials - and it was exactly how I wanted to spend my time.
Daisies have always been one of my absolute favorite flowers.
Growing up on the farm, my mom has always gardened, and I think I helped (a little, at least) when I was growing up. I didn't start gardening in earnest, however, until I was in my mid-20s - or about 20 years ago - with a tiny plot of flowers outside a townhouse I rented for a year or so. Then, once I married and we bought our first home, I spent hours creating and maintaining the landscape around our house and planted my first vegetable garden.
I was hooked.
A second house and 10+ years later and I've got numerous flower beds, shrubs and three vegetable gardens.
It's the farm girl in me, I'm sure. While I go back home to my family's farm to visit often, I am not actively involved in farming. I do, however, love to get my hands dirty and see plants grow and prosper. It's also a neat connection I have with my mom - she's an amazing gardener and provides me with a myriad of tips, advice and free perennials from her gardens.
Through the years, I've learned several things about gardening that take me back to my farm girl roots:
1) Weeding is never ending. And no matter how dry it gets, weeds always seem to grow even if we're in the midst of a drought. It's a constant battle.
2) Rotate your crops. I try to switch around the vegetable varieties I plant between my different raised garden beds, especially the tomatoes, peppers, onions and carrots. I have one larger bed for yellow beans exclusively (my family is crazy obsessed with yellow beans so I plant my own mini bean field!) and I do not currently rotate that crop because I simply don't have the space.
3) Getting my hands dirty makes me happy. Watching plants grow also makes me happy. And just like I watched my father (and now my brother) take trips to "inspect the crops", I do walk-throughs around my house nearly every evening after supper to see how the gardens are looking.
I am obsessed with hydrangeas and have several varieties - my newest is called "Bobo," a dwarf variety (white blooms, top left) I just found at a local garden store! This small bed is in the front of our house - I almost completely re-did it last week, getting rid of a shrub that wasn't doing well and adding the hydrangea and some pink diascia for a little color. (Later this fall, I'm going to thin out the feather reed grass ("Karl Foerster") because it's getting a little big for the space.) The frog stepping stone is one of my son's favorites - he's 10 and loves frogs.
4) Bunnies are cute ... but only to a point. We've got bunnies seemingly everywhere around our house and they take great pleasure in frolicking around my gardens and eating all the tasty and tender flowers I plant in the spring. This is why I store a large amount of chicken wire in my garden shed that I can use to keep my plants safe from these adorable little plant predators.
Case in point: I had a grand idea to create an 8x8 foot zinnia bed this year with six different varieties of zinnias. It was going to be full of wonderful colors and I'd have zinnias to pick for fresh flowers all through August. Unfortunately, I wasn't smart enough to put a fence around the bed and the bunnies had an all-you-can-eat buffet at the ready.
I still haven't given up on the idea of a zinnia bed - but you can bet my 2015 gardening plans include a raised bed with fencing!
Here's one of my sad little zinnias that the rabbits obviously thought made a pretty delicious meal!
5) Sometimes my peppers just don't have a good year. Like this year, for instance. My two jalapeno pepper plants are completely puny and have yielded all of three (3!) peppers so far this summer. I blame this mostly on the unusually cool spring and early summer we've had here in Minnesota.
You can't always predict Mother Nature - it can be too cold, too hot, too wet or too dry. Luckily, I can go with the flow with my backyard gardens and I can survive just fine if my peppers are less than prolific; farmers, on the other hand, must rely on the good will of Mother Nature and the growing season can be stressful and frustrating, or successful and full of blessings ... and usually, it's a combination of all these things.
I'm grateful for my gardens and how they bring me closer to the land - and back to my farming roots.
Do you garden? If so, what are your favorite plants and how is your garden looking right now?
Here's a look at part of my backyard. When we first moved into the house, this area was deemed my "holding pen" for all the shrubs and perennials I wasn't sure what to do with yet. Now, 10 years later, it has definitely grown into it's own large, completely legit garden space.
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.