Raising Turkeys | Then and Now

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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). 

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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?


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There are four generations represented in this picture of a turkey farm family in the Melrose, Minnesota area.