Why Turkeys are Raised Indoors

Senior Reader
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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.)


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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.


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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.