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 - notbecause 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: