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Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Q & A with a Turkey Farmer

This time of year, people have a lot of questions about our farm.  And who can blame them? People want to know how their food is grown, and few have visited a turkey farm.

I’m happy to talk about my farm, because I think that the best place to get information about the way food is grown is from a farmer.

So today, I’m answering those questions.  From the basic (and slightly stupid) ones to the advanced (and slightly offensive) questions, you’ll find all the answers here.

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Do you butcher all your turkeys for Thanksgiving?

No.  We raise toms (male turkeys) year round for further processing.  This means that they are made into turkey products like lunch meat, hot dogs, and pepperoni.

Most Thanksgiving birds are hens, and many come from Minnesota, the top turkey producing state in the nation.

Why are your turkeys in barns?

We raise our turkeys indoors to protect them from three things: disease, predators, and severe weather.  Turkey comfort and health are top priorities and our barns contribute to both.

Are turkeys raised in cages?

No. Turkeys live in large open barns where they can move freely.  Our barns are about the size of a football field (and we have 5 of them!)

IMG_0244But your turkeys look so crowded in pictures.  Why do you shove so many into the barn?

Our turkeys look crowded because they are social and “flock” together whenever there is any excitement, which includes a photographer in the barn.  Remember, our barns are BIG, but the photos generally show less than 50 feet of the barn clearly.  You can’t see that the back of the barn is nearly empty when those birds are crowded up around us.

How big are your turkeys?

Our turkeys are nearly 45 pounds when they go to market!

Why are your turkeys so big?

Turkeys have been bred to be big to meet consumer demand for lean turkey breast meat.  Breeding, combined with EXCELLENT nutrition, create the big birds we raise. (Think about it – every single meal they eat is designed to give them exactly what they need to grow!)

Can your turkeys walk?

Yes!  There was an article in the New York Times over twenty years ago reporting that turkeys are so heavy they can’t walk.  That’s not true.  As turkeys have been bred to be bigger, they’ve also been bred to have stronger legs! (More about that here.)

What’s the difference between organic turkey and “regular?”

The biggest differences are that organic turkeys eat organic feed, cannot be given antibiotics, and must be allowed access to the outdoors.

Why is organic turkey so much more expensive?

Organic turkey costs up to 5x more than conventionally raised turkeys for many reasons.  Organic feed is more expensive and access to the outdoors puts turkeys at risk of predators and disease.  And because antibiotics can’t be used, if a turkey gets sick, it often dies. A lot of expensive feed going into a bird who died before going to market raises the average costs of the birds who DO make it to the processing plant.

Do you give your turkeys hormones?

No! There are no hormones used in any poultry production in the United States!

What about steroids?

No! There are no steroids used in any poultry production in the United States!

Do all turkeys get antibiotics? Is it safe?

All of our birds get antibiotics to prevent two different diseases when they are young.  Then, they get antibiotics ONLY if a disease outbreak occurs.  We work with a vet and follow strict withdrawal guidelines (the amount of time we need to wait after giving antibiotics to send birds to market) and every flock is tested for antibiotic residue to ensure that meat is antibiotic-free.

Is it safe? Read more about that here.

IMG_0016How old are turkeys when they’re butchered?

About 20 weeks old.

Why are your turkeys white?

We raise broad-breasted white turkeys for two reasons.  First, as the name suggests, this breed has a lot of breast meat, which consumers love.  Second, dark feathers leave marks in the skin of a turkey, which consumers do not love.

What happens when a turkey gets sick?

When one turkey is sick, chances are a lot of them are sick.  Our vet runs a blood test or necropsy (autopsy of a bird which has already died) to determine the best course of action.  When antibiotics are needed to treat an illness, we administer them through the water to the entire flock.

What’s the difference between a wild turkey and domesticated/farm turkey?

Broad-breasted white turkeys, the breed we raise, have white feathers and a lot of breast meat. They grow to be almost twice the size of a wild turkey.  Their diet is different, so the meat sometimes tastes different, too.  Wild turkey often tastes “gamier.”

What’s a heritage turkey?

Heritage breed turkeys are similar to wild turkeys.  They do not have as much breast meat or grow as quickly as broad breasted white.

Is there really a shortage of turkeys this year?

Turkey production is down, but it won’t really affect consumers.  Retailers haven’t raised prices – in fact, your Thanksgiving bird is DOWN 2 cents on average from last year!  (At 91 cents a pound, I’d buy a couple extras and throw them in the freezer if I were you!)

Do you buy a Thanksgiving turkey or use one of your own?

We buy one, just like you do!  However, we eat turkey meat off our own farm quite a bit.  Remember when I said every flock is tested for antibiotic residue?  We send in small fat samples from several birds that have to be “sacrificed” for this purpose, and we put that meat in the freezer.

What other questions do you have? I’ll answer them in the comments below!

coverAnd don’t forget, My Family’s Farm, the non-fiction children’s book I wrote about our turkey farm, is free on my blog!  Read it with your kids this week and have a happy Thanksgiving!

Friday, November 21, 2014

Elsewhere on the Interwebs: 2nd Edition

I’m home from New York and getting back into a routine.  Catching up on laundry is always the best part of taking a trip, right? Right.

10410605_884745528211021_2552591155320247562_nMy friend Julie wrote a bit about our trip on her blog, Farm Eats, City Streets. Head over and check it out, and be sure to follow her blog on facebook or bloglovin’ while you’re there.  Julie is on the far left, then me, then Kristin from Local Farm Mom and Krista from The Farmer’s Wifee.

I’ve been answering a million questions about turkey farming from reporters around the state of Iowa.  Most want to know if turkey will be more expensive this year.  Here’s my official answer. “While wholesale turkey prices have risen a bit, retailers are still using turkey as a loss leader this month.  Your Thanksgiving bird will average 91 cents a pound, down two cents from last year.”

I also wrote a couple more guest posts:

And have some friends giving away copies of my book, My Family’s Farm:

(Some of these giveaways haven’t started yet.  Some may have already ended. But head over and give them some love anyway!)

Don’t forget to check out the Iowa Turkey Federation’s website for free printable turkey related activities for K-5 and a free e-cookbook all about whole turkeys!

whole turkey cookbook

Last but not least, I’m working on a blog post called FAQ with a Turkey Farmer.  What questions do you have about how we raise turkeys?  This is the time to ask!

Have a fabulous weekend! I leave you with this adorable video, because I always love MORE BUTTER!

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Elsewhere on the Interwebs….

One of my favorite things about blogging is meeting other bloggers.  And this month, a few of my blogging buddies asked me to write a guest post about (you guessed it!) TURKEY!

  • Big Bear’s Wife, Angie, is a food blogger with the sweetest accent and best down-home recipes.  She asked me to share some tips for your Thanksgiving turkey and I worked with Gretta from Iowa Turkey to write the post.
  • Fellow Iowa blogger, Kristen, from Make the Best of Everything, is giving away a copy of my children’s book, and to go along with it, I shared 5 of my favorite organization DIYs.
  • Beth Ann, another Iowa blogger, writes at “It’s Just Life” so I shared “It’s Just Life on a Turkey Farm” and a list of 13 things you probably don’t know about living (and loving) a turkey farm.  She is also giving away a copy of my book.
  • Eat Play Love Des Moines is a fun local blog showcasing all there is to do in Des Moines!  My friends and I worked together to list the Top 10 Places to Eat Turkey in Des Moines. (And there’s a book giveaway here, too!)

Go visit those bloggers and say, “Hi” for me!

And if you don’t already do so, you should probably follow me on Facebook and Instagram.  I’m in the Big Apple and having a blast! Here’s one of the highlights:

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Last, I want to thank everyone who shared my response to FoodBabe last week.  I’ll leave you with a reminder – Don’t Fear Your Food.

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(Click the graphics below to be taken to the corresponding guest post!)

turkey tips

kids storage

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Ractopamine and Turkeys: A Response to FoodBabe

 

Vani Hari, or Food Babe, as she calls herself, has a large following online. However, she does not garner a lot of respect from the agriculture and science community. Why? Because she is notorious for fear-mongering and spreading misinformation across the interwebs. Forbes published an article called, “Quackmail: Why You Shouldn’t Fall for the Internet’s Newest Fool, The Food Babe” in June and David Gorski, an oncologist who writes for Science Based Medicine calls her “The Jenny McCarthy of Food.”

Despite the fact that her claims are routinely debunked by scientists and experts, hundreds of thousands of readers have fallen prey to her deceptive tactics and now live in fear of food.

Hari’s latest erroneous article attacked an American tradition: The Thanksgiving Turkey.

 

foodbabe turkey

Foodbabe wrote an article about your Thanksgiving turkey, saying that it is full of dangerous chemicals. Although this article has been shared thousands of times on the internet already and has many people questioning their Thanksgiving food choices, I know for a fact that many of the claims FoodBabe made are not only misleading, but are downright lies.

How do I know this? Because I am a turkey farmer.

As a farmer, we have two top priorities: animal welfare and food safety. Every single decision we make that influences either of those outcomes is thoroughly researched by my husband and I and the network of veterinarians, animal nutritionists, and scientists we work with regularly.

Let’s talk about FoodBabe’s claims and I’ll give you a chance to hear the perspective of someone who truly is an expert on the way turkeys are raised: me.

In her article, Hari first brings up animal antibiotic use, saying

“Most conventionally raised (non-organic) turkeys are pumped full of antibiotics, and this overuse of antibiotics is creating a major human health issue.”

I have written about antibiotic use several times. And the bottom line is this:

· Turkeys are not “pumped full” of antibiotics. We work closely with veterinarians to use antibiotics only when it improves animal health by preventing, controlling, or treating disease.

· Use of antibiotics on farms is NOT creating a human health issue. All peer-reviewed risk assessments articles to date have shown no significant risk to public health from on farm use of antibiotics. (Dr. Scott Hurd, Hurd’s Health)

But this distorted claim about antibiotics was just a supplement to the real focus of her article: ractopamine.

Hari argues that ractopamine is used on turkey farms and is present in your Thanksgiving turkey.

Before I address whether or not it’s in your Thanksgiving bird, let’s go over some basics.

 

What is ractopamine?

Ractopamine is a beta-agonist. Beta-agonists are used in human medication to treat asthma, bradycardia (slow heart rate), chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), heart failure, allergic reactions, and hyperkalemia.

Ractopamine is NOT a hormone, steroid or antibiotic. Ractopamine is not a genetically modified organism and it is not manufactured by using genetically modified organisms.

(By the way, there are no hormones or steroids used in poultry or pork production in the United States.)

 

Why are animals given ractopamine?

Ractopamine is a feed additive that helps animals develop lean muscle mass. Some cattle, hogs and turkeys are given ractopamine.

“In animals, beta-agonists function as what are known as "repartitioning agents." Repartitioning agents signal the muscle tissue to change how it devotes the energy the animal extracts from the feed it eats into muscle vs. fat. Fed for a short term, they can cause animals that have the right genetics to devote more of that nutritional energy to making muscle, which becomes meat, and less to putting down fat. That repartitioning ultimately not only improves the consumer acceptability of the meat cuts, it also improves farmers' profitability by using less feed per pound of animal grown.” (source)

Some bodybuilders use beta-agonists (including ractopamine) to gain lean muscle mass.

 

Why do farmers use feed additives that promote lean muscle mass?

To maximize how turkeys digest and utilize their feed.

Farmers constantly strive to raise turkeys in ways that use fewer natural resources while also providing the absolute best care and nutrition for the birds.  Animals that grow faster with less feed (that is optimized nutritionally for them – the perfect diet, if you will) have a smaller environmental impact.  Plus, less feed can cut down on the cost of raising an animal, which means lower food prices for you.

 

Is ractopamine safe?

Yes.

“Ractopamine has been approved by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration for use in pigs in the United States since 1999, for cattle since 2003 and for turkeys since 2009. It is similarly approved in about two dozen countries around the world.

In addition to the FDA and the United Nations (Codex) food safety body, 28 other regulatory authorities globally have accepted the research that says human food produced using the compound is safe for humans. In more than a decade of use, no adverse human health reports have been associated with people eating meat from animals fed ractopamine.” (source)

 

Why is it banned in other countries?

Dr. Donald Beermann, from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, explains, "Countries that have banned it, the European Union in particular, have come forward and said even though the scientific basis is there to know that the use of these compounds is safe, for other reasons they choose not to approve them.

"The World Health Organization and the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization joint expert commission on food additives has on three separate occasions (2004, 2006 and 2010) concluded that ractopamine is safe. 

"The global food safety agencies, which would include the Codex Alimentarius Commission, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, and the Canadian Human Safety Division, Veterinary Drugs Directorate, Health Canada, have all come forward and stated ractopamine is absolutely safe." (source)

 

Is it widely used in the turkey industry?

Here’s the kicker, I asked around, and I didn’t find any turkey farmers that use ractopamine.

None of the farmers in Iowa that I talked to use the feed additive. And farmers in our neighboring state, Minnesota, which is the #1 turkey state in the US, reported the same thing. They’re not using ractopamine.

turkey farmer

 

So there you have it. FoodBabe has once again proven herself to be a disingenuous promoter of fear-mongering against conventional food. For the truth about what happens on farms, ask a farmer.


coverBy the way, here’s a farmer talking about beta-agonists in cattle and another discussing ractopamine in pigs. For more information about how turkeys are raised, check out some of these posts on my blog:

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

The Day I Killed a Rat with my Own Two Hands

In writing my memoir for #nanowrimo, I decided to include the story of how I killed a rat with a stick after my shih-tzu caught it.

The story was actually my very first blog post.

I was a little fuzzy on the details, so I thought I’d just copy and paste the blog version into my memoir.  But then I decided it would be a fun experiment to rewrite the story and see how accurate my memory was (and whether or not my writing has improved.)

 

So, to read the original version, written soon after the fact, visit the very first blog post I ever published, here.

(Go ahead. I’ll wait…)

And now, the “new” version:

I was outside in the yard with Adam and my mom. I was painting his picnic table (which had actually been my picnic table as a child) and he was playing nearby. Our dog, Sally the Shih-Tzu Mutt, was also playing nearby.

Suddenly, as I brushed barn red paint on the top of the table, Sally began barking and sprinted across the yard. I didn’t think much of it, as she was always barking at squirrels or rabbits. Soon, though, the incessant and frantic bark made me stop what I was doing to see what was going on.

Sallly, the 9lb shih-tzu, had caught a rat. Not a mouse. A rat. There were grain bins about 100 feet north of our house, and the rats thought the corn stored in them was their own personal buffet that we supplied for their pleasure. One rat had ventured out, though, and by some miracle, been caught by Sally.

Sally was wrestling the rat and had it between her teeth. The rat was injured, for sure, but still putting up a good fight. As I ran towards Sally, I began yelling for her to put the rat down. She did as she was told, but then we had a half-dead rat in the yard.

Now, I’m not one who takes pleasure in killing an animal, even if it is one of the most disgusting ones on the planet. But I also don’t like to watch an animal suffer, and this one clearly was. And so, I did what any farm wife (and certainly many before me and probably many after me) would do. I got the nearest weapon (a stick) and I beat that rat to death with my own two bare hands.

When I returned to my mom and Adam, closer to the house, my mom was in awe. “What was it? Did you kill it? You just killed a rat with a stick?”

When I looked down to check on Adam, he sneezed.

He sneezed. And grass came out his nose.

While his mommy was bravely exterminating rodents and his grandma was looking on admiringly, my baby boy was eating grass, which he then sneezed out his nose. The story, I felt, warranted a blog post, and it became the very first thing I ever published on my blog, On the Banks of Squaw Creek.

 

It just goes to show…

palest ink

Monday, November 3, 2014

NaNoWriMo and PO-ADD

I think I have “project oriented attention deficit disorder” with occasional hyperactivity.

Now, before you run off to google that, let me warn you: I made it up.

But it’s an accurate description of the way my creative brain works.

As soon as I finish (or abandon, as is the case of #write31days) one project, I move on to another.

This time, I’ve moved on to a project bigger than I ever thought possible.

NaNoWriMo

National Novel Writing Month happens each November, and it is a chance for writers to focus and create a first draft of their novel, with thousands of others around the world for encouragement.  The challenge is to write 50,000 words in one month, and if you do it, you “win.”

I read about this challenge on Thursday, Oct. 29th.  It was really the first time I’d heard about it.  And within a hour, I’d started writing.

November 1st was the official start of the challenge, and I’d already written 7,000 words.  I’m sort of a cheater like that.  But I know my brain, and I know my attention span, and I know that if I want to finish this challenge, I’m going to have to start strong, which is why I’m following the Reverse NaNoWriMo Word Count Guide.  With this method, you write a kazillion words the first few days of the challenge and by the end, you only have to write 1 word on the last day.

(If it makes you all feel better, I’ll try to finish by November 28th, so that I have 30 days just like the rest of the participants.)

My Novel

is not a novel.  It’s actually a memoir detailing the last few years of my life and how I’ve changed during that time. Becoming a farm wife, becoming a mother, and un-becoming a teacher (which I’d spent most of my life preparing to be) have had a profound impact on me.  Writing about the process and the events that fueled it is proving to be intense and emotional, but freeing and healing at the same time.  I’ve become painfully aware of my personal struggles the past few years (like PO-ADD) and examining the way my life has influenced me is truly amazing.

What’s next?

I don’t know.  I think I will publish parts of my memoir here on my blog, and maybe, someday, the whole thing.  But for now, I’m writing for me…to practice the craft, achieve a goal, and learn more about myself.

writing

It’s not too late to start your own NaNoWriMo project!  It doesn’t have to be a novel or a memoir, and some bloggers are doing NaNoBlogMo and others NaDoWoMo.  The idea is to make November productive, whatever that means to you!

If you haven’t already, check out my first book and keep tabs on my word count and progress with the widget on my side bar.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

My Family’s Farm: Non-fiction Children’s Book about Turkey Farms

Drum roll, please…

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I WROTE A BOOK!

AND IT’S GETTING PRINTED!

 

Okay – I really meant to just write a blog post introducing the non-fiction children’s book I wrote, but I’m just too excited for a dry, boring, “this is what I wrote and this is why I wrote it” post.

So, instead, you get some intense gushing emotion.

I wrote a book.  And it’s done.  And I’m proud of it.

And I found a partner (Iowa Turkey Federation) to sponsor the printing, so I can GIVE IT AWAY to K and 1st grade teachers in Iowa.

(It’s surprising they agreed to work with me, considering how often I start a sentence with “and.”)

So yeah, it’s just a children’s book.

And it’s just non-fiction.

And it’s self-published, not regular-published.

But I don’t care.

The way I see it, I’m well on my way to being my generation’s Laura Ingalls Wilder, sharing my life on the prairie with children around the world. (Right?)My Family Farm - Page 005

 

Now, the nitty gritty details:

Age range: 4+

I included two sections of text on each page.  The first section is in Adam’s voice, and is meant for younger kids.  The other section is more detailed background information appropriate for older students (3rd grade through 6th grade.)

Availability: FREE online version found here

Printed version for K & 1st grade teachers in Iowa FREE here

Printed version available to the rest of the world soon for a nominal fee

Bonus material: Free printable Thanksgiving and farm materials here

 

What’s that? You want to read the online version?  I set up a page on my blog just for that!

 

Please, feel free to share, pin, and give me some feedback (as long as it’s positive and contributes to my gushing emotions, okay?)

 

Sincerely,

Katie Olthoff, Author

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