As Americans prepare to feast on turkey and all the trimmings in celebration of Thanksgiving, some may ponder where and how turkeys are raised. Rest assured that new technologies and management practices have increased the wellbeing of both turkeys and the people who raise them.
“Water, feed, air quality and biosecurity practices have changed since I began farming,” says Tim Graber, a fourth-generation row crops farmer and turkey producer from Wayland in southeast Iowa. “We are very proactive in taking care of our turkeys’ health and use very few antibiotics. Just like we use preventive measures for our health, we do the same for our turkeys. It only makes sense to have the best nutrition and environments possible for our health. Why not do that for the turkeys? In terms of biosecurity, we relate that to good hand washing practices for ourselves. It is a great line of defense to prevent disease.”
For as long as Tim can remember, he’s been taking care of turkeys. He grew up helping his grandpa, dad and uncles. During high school and college, he also helped neighboring turkey growers when they needed an extra pair of hands.
“I enjoy getting baby turkeys when they are less than 24 hours old and then nourishing the birds as they grow,” says Tim.
Poults are placed in a (cage free) brooder barn where each turkey has at least one square foot of space. This barn is well insulated and kept very clean to prevent diseases. When the birds are about five weeks old, they are moved to a grower barn where they have about four square feet of space to grow. Turkeys are kept in the grower barn until they are 19 weeks old and reach a market weight of approximately 40 pounds.
“I provide the management and resources for the turkeys to be healthy,” explains Tim. “I know that when these turkeys go to market, they were treated with care. I take pride in knowing that all the hard work every day of the year is worth it because we’re providing a safe and healthy protein for the world to eat.”
Turkeys raised by the Graber family and several others in his community are sold to West Liberty Foods, an Iowa turkey growers cooperative. There the turkeys are processed into sliced deli meat and sold primarily to Subway restaurants and other top quick service restaurants, as well as major grocery retailers nationwide.
Raising crops and poultry, as well as a family, in the rolling hills of southeast Iowa was part of Tim’s plan, although he attended Hesston College in Kansas and earned an associate’s degree in Business Management.
“Going away to college and working outside of the farm for a few years helped me to gain a different perspective and learn the business side,” says Tim, who spent three summers following the wheat harvest. Kansas also is where one particular farm girl captured his heart.
“I always knew Tim wanted to return home and raise turkeys, but until I moved here with him, I had no idea how different raising turkeys is from raising crops like my family does,” says Tim’s wife, Lisa.
Livestock and poultry producers have no time off. There isn’t a break in the production cycle that allows those involved with production animal agriculture to get away from it. As their turkey operation – and their family has grown – Lisa made the choice to stop working full-time as a nurse to become more involved in community and school activities.
The Grabers have been married 18 years and are the proud parents of four. Their daughter Morgan, 14, is a high school freshman. She’s involved in all sports. Their 12-year-old son Cody is in seventh grade. He enjoys playing and watching sports. Nine-year-old Brenna is in third grade. She loves animals and dreams of being a veterinarian. Logan, 6, is a first grader. He loves being outdoors and helping around the farm.
“Three years ago we were able to build a house on the farm, and we absolutely love living here,” says Tim. “Living on the farm makes it convenient to check things late at night and/or during the night as needed. It’s also great to have the kids close by when extra help is needed. They enjoy riding their bikes over to give me a hand. The youngest two like to chore with me and play in the sheds.”
Last August I had the opportunity to visit the Graber’s when the Iowa Food & Family Project – of which Latham Hi-Tech Seeds is a proud sponsor – hosted Expedition Farm Country. The care the Grabers take of their turkeys is evident from the condition of their buildings, the condition of their turkeys, as well as the tone of their voices as they explained why they love doing what they do. It was an honor and a pleasure to look beyond their barn doors, and I certainly appreciate the time they took this season to share a glimpse of their farm life with all readers of TheFieldPosition.com.
Today the Graber family is sharing with us a few of their family recipes. The first one is for the Iowa Grilled Turkey Tenderloin, which was sold at the Iowa State Fair for 30 years. I agree this marinade is second to none and am looking forward to trying their family’s fried turkey, as well as the Wayland community’s favorite bacon-wrapped turkey tenderloin. Hopefully, these recipes will inspire you to enjoy wholesome and delicious turkey more often!