Let’s Talk Turkey

You know what I am talking about!  Thanksgiving is just around the corner and all thoughts turn to turkey.  Well—maybe not ALL thoughts but a great deal of my thoughts recently have been revolving around travel plans for Thanksgiving and what we will be cooking and eating during that fabulous holiday.   We will be in North Carolina for Thanksgiving this year—Aaron has graciously agreed to host us in Raleigh once again and since we are all coming from 4 different states it will be extra nice to be able to stretch out and enjoy some family time in the comfort of Aaron’s townhouse.  Plus the bonus is cooking the traditional Thanksgiving feast will be a piece of cake in his kitchen.  Win Win!turkey cookbook

But more on turkey.  One of my blogger friends Katie who blogs at On the Banks of Squaw Creek is a turkey farmer!  How amazing is it that I know a turkey farmer?   Living in Iowa has definitely opened my eyes to agriculture in a new way and Katie is not only a blogger, turkey farmer and woman extraordinaire—she also has written a children’s book and is part of the Iowa Turkey Federation which is offering a FREE online Thanksgiving cookbook—just click here to go get your own copy!  It’s well worth it and it might just save your Thanksgiving meal.

Katie has also generously agreed to give one of my fabulous readers a copy of her children’s book, My Family’s Farm:Non-Fiction Children’s Book about Turkey Farms. To qualify to be in the drawing for this book just leave a comment in the comment section with a question about turkey farming in general or about Iowa’s turkey production. It is a great book featuring Katie’s own family and farm.  It would make a great addition to any library because it is written for both children and adults.  I am thrilled that she is offering a copy for me to give away and I know that many of my readers would love to have a copy of their own or to give to a friend so don’t forget to leave a comment.  Plus—Comments for a Cause for Movember will benefit also.  (How cute is her little boy?)let's talk turkey

I asked Katie to give me a little bit of info about herself and their farm and she graciously wrote up a little bit that I wanted to share with you. Please read a little of what Katie has to share:

I did not grow up on a farm, and although I lived 10 minutes from my husband’s family for the first 18 years of my life, I didn’t know there were turkey farms in Iowa.

But there are! Around 140 of them! Iowa is 9th in the country for turkeys raised and 5th for turkey processing. The industry contributes more than $1.5 billion to Iowa’s economy every year, and Iowa’s turkey farmers supply Jimmy Johns and Subway with their turkey all across the USA!

Most people don’t know a lot about the turkey industry, and very few know what it’s like to live on a turkey farm.

So (drum roll, please…) here are 13 things you didn’t know about life on a turkey farm:

  1. Our entire family works together on the farm. The boys both had their own jobs from the time they were 2, and love working with Daddy and Grandpa. 96% of farms in the US are family farms like ours.
  1. Our farm is an extension of our family. It is like another child to us, and we treat it as such. We stress about making the best decisions for the farm, doing what’s right (not what’s easy) and making sure our farm is successful in the future. If, for some reason, we lost the farm, it would be like losing a family member.
  1. We have really mixed feelings when it’s time to send our birds to market. On one hand, it’s great because it means that we have successfully raised a flock and all of our hard work is about to pay off. On the other hand, it means that our turkeys are going to die. But, we give them the best life possible when they’re alive, and the harvest methods are really humane, so in the end, we’re okay with it all.
  1. Turkey poop is a really valuable, sustainable natural fertilizer. It’s mixed with the bedding (oat hulls, a waste product from a Quaker Oats facility) and the recycled as fertilizer on the fields that grow the corn and soybeans the turkeys eat. Pretty cool cycle, if you ask me.
  1. Disease prevention is one of our top priorities. We do everything we can to keep the birds healthy. It’s one of the biggest reasons we raise our birds indoors, so they won’t get sick from other birds outside. Turkeys have weak immune systems, so we have to protect them. We can’t even hang out at a farm where there are other turkeys or chickens because of the possibility we might bring a disease home with us.
  1. Speaking of animal health, we take antibiotics,very seriously, and would never do anything we believed would harm human health. This is a super controversial topic, and when we started farming, I did a LOT of research to make sure that what we were doing was truly the right thing to do. And I believe that more than ever, now. (In case you’re wondering, we use antibiotics under the guidance of a veterinarian when we KNOW it will improve animal health. And every single flock is tested for antibiotic residue before it goes to market…all meat is antibiotic free!)
  1. There is no slow time of year for turkey farmers like us. We raise turkeys year round, and winter can be one of the hardest parts of the year for us (although summer’s intense heat is not pleasant, either.)
  1. Even after 5 years on the farm, my husband’s dedication to his birds’ comfort amazes me. He works in all sorts of weather conditions (and barn conditions – baby turkeys need 90 degree temps!) and all hours of the day. When something goes wrong in the barn, an alarm system calls my husband. Usually, this happens when the barns can’t adjust to a drastic temperature/weather change during a thunderstorm or blizzard in the middle of the night. Bart’s phone rings and he jumps out of bed to head out into the severe weather to check on his turkeys. And he never complains. Amazing.
  1. There is actually a class for farm women. And I took it.   What did it cover? Communicating with other stakeholders in the farm (i.e. your husband) and a whole bunch of business/financing/budgeting stuff. I’d recommend it to all farm women, newbies or more experienced.
  2. We eat our own meat…a lot of it! And we eat turkey daily. Lunch meat, turkey pepperoni, turkey sausage, turkey breast and ground turkey are staples at our house, and at least one of us eats turkey every single day.
  3. The farm always comes before the house. Farm repairs take priority over home repairs and upgrades to the farm (new tractor, better skid loader) take preference over home upgrades (new appliances, etc.) And, for the past 6 years, the turkeys have had a generator for when the electricity goes out, but the house has not. (That’s about to change, though! Only because we remodeled a shed and it needs generator power and it only cost a bit more to run the wires to the house…but the method to the madness doesn’t matter, I’ll have electricity even in an ice storm!)
  4. My husband hasn’t been on vacation since we started farming. He is the only one who truly knows how to troubleshoot the equipment in the buildings, and we have 40,000 – 60,000 turkeys on the farm every single day of the year, so there is no break for him. Again, his dedication is amazing.
  5. We are so thankful that we can raise our boys on the farm. It makes all of the stress worth it!
The Olthoff Family

The Olthoff Family

Big thanks to Katie for joining us on It’s Just Life today and for sharing her expertise about all things turkey and for sharing her pictures.  The giveaway for My Family’s Farm  will run from today through November 25th so you have plenty of time to share a comment.  Katie has agreed to ship the book directly to the winner after the winner is chosen by random on the night of the 25th.  Please share with anyone who might be interested—-she is very generously doing this to help educate folks on what farmers really do.  Don’t forget to check out Katie’s blog at On the Banks of Squaw Creek–she has tons of recipes and other fun things.


  1. How interesting! I grew up in farming country, but it was pigs and dairy cows.
    I do have a question for Katie: I’m guessing you purchase baby turkeys? And how long do you keep them before they go to market?

  2. Wow…and I thought I knew a little of chicken/turkey farming as we have a few around our area! Very interesting, especially having turkeys year round and recycling the turkey poop! That’s amazing that the same food they eat is they recycled back onto the fields that grow the food. Good post Beth Ann…

  3. What is the ideal, goal weight for a turkey ready to go to market?

    Now that that question is out of the way, I will share that my second daughter once helped catch turkeys to load onto trucks as a fundraiser for a church youth trip. Not easy, nor fun. So second question: How do you corral your turkeys and who does this task?

    • Great questions!! Katie will get back with you when she is done with her fun in NYC!!!! 🙂

      • Different sized turkeys for different purposes. Thanksgiving birds are all different weights. Our birds are all raised for further processing, so the bigger the better. Our birds are almost 45 pounds when they go to market.

        When we move turkeys from the brooder house to the finishers (at about 5 weeks old and 8lbs) my husband, father-in-law, and a couple other guys help. My boys help if it’s not a school day.

        We have a “load-out” crew that just loads big turkeys for market. A group of farmers banded together to hire them and they load out all the birds in our area. My husband and our part-time hired man help, of course, but we couldn’t do it without the crew!

        Great questions! Thanks for asking!

  4. It’s always fun to hear from Katie! And I can’t wait to hear about your Thanksgiving meal all cooked by your son!

  5. Helen Brown says:

    I learned a lot reading the information on how the tiurkeys are raised and cared for.

  6. I’ve been called a turkey so many times, I find myself always looking over my shoulder this time of year.

  7. Our Thanksgiving has already passed but, there’s never a wrong time to eat turkey!

  8. Fascinating and timely post, Beth Ann. It reminds me that my grandmother always purchased a freshly killed bird each Thanksgiving. I remember the location of the farm, not terribly far from our house in Pittsburgh. I always helped her clean it. Great memories. Thanks so much, Katie and Beth Ann!

    Hugs from Ecuador,

  9. 40,000 – 60,000 turkeys. Whoa, that is a lot of Turkeys. Do you remember when Sarah Palin spoke to the media with her back to a bunch of Turkeys on their way to someones table? (random, aside) Loved the Turkey facts, of-course.
    I really appreciated that the birds are well cared for. I don’t want to give up meat but I’m pretty serious about only eating the meat of animals and fowl that have lived a good life. It costs more but it’s worth it.
    Thanks for talking Turkey Katie!

    • All of the farmers I have met that keep chickens, hogs or turkeys have all been very aware of the quality of life of their animals. While they are not “pets” they are concerned for their well being as if they were pets. I think that is what makes me feel like this farming community area that I live in is pretty wonderful.

  10. 40,000 to 60,000 turkeys? Wow. I can not even imagine that! What a blessing they are to our nation–unsung heroes.

  11. Very interesting! Thank you, ladies.

  12. Wow. So glad I clicked over to your homepage after reading the fill in. This is so interesting and something I have wondered about before. We have a friend in Pennsylvania who raises a few turkeys but it’s nothing like this. I bet Ally would love to learn more about it too. She loves to read and we are always looking for new books! 🙂

  13. It is nice to hear positive stories of animal farming. The turkeys and their human family look so beautiful and healthy 🙂


  1. […] to Susi from Boca Frau for winning the book giveaway for the My Family’s Farm children’s book!!!!  A book will be on its way to you […]

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