Winter Arrival Delays Turkey Processing and Brings Challenges

Author Photo
By Lori Havens


Here in the beautiful Driftless Region of southwestern Wisconsin, particularly in our city, Richland Center, there is just a dusting of snow. But three hours to our north and west, a nasty 5 to 8 inches of heavy snow and ice took direct aim at our poultry processor, and hit just a few hours before we were to take off with a trailer-load of future Thanksgiving “Centers of Attraction.”

We’d been watching the weather forecasts all day on Sunday the 9th, our departure scheduled for Monday the 10th, and the turkeys’ demise scheduled for early Tuesday morning, the 11th, when the state inspector would be on site. It is a little over three hours’ drive for us on a good day … but with the snow starting to fall overnight between Sunday and Monday, and continuing all day Monday and Tuesday, we decided to stay put here in “The South” and reschedule for the following week. We are glad we did, as the news reported an accident in Minnesota, where the storm was coming from: A semi traveling on I-94 with a load of live turkeys had skidded off the highway and overturned down the embankment. On the map below, our farm is at point “A” and our processors are at point “B.”

So, our turkeys received a temporary reprieve … and we’ve received a bucketful of challenges! Fortunately, we still had plenty of feed left for them, and there’s lots of grass. The temperatures have plummeted below freezing, and look to stay that way throughout the entire week, so I think their much loved bug population is gone.

Last August, Farmer Bryan ran about 300 feet of hose from the well pump at the barn out to the Turkey Pasture. The hose is connected to an automatic waterer, which senses the water level in the basin and allows water to flow in when it starts getting low. Needless to say, the hoses are frozen, and the water in the little red plastic basin froze, too.

So, every three hours, we filled a bucket with hot water from the farmhouse sink, and carried it out to the Turkey Pasture. The turkeys love the warm treat, and drink it up fast … necessitating another trip up and down the hill from house to pasture. That little watering basin is perfectly adequate when it constantly refills itself … but when it’s hand-filled, the little bit of water that it holds doesn’t last long with 20 thirsty turkeys.

This routine got very old, very quickly, so Farmer Bryan made a trip to the hardware store (our rural hardware stores carry farm supplies, too) for a thick-walled rubber water basin, and then to another store for a package of ping pong balls. Rubber is a far better insulator than plastic, and the three ping pong balls we float in the water move with the slightest breeze, so they help to keep the surface water from skimming over with ice. It seems to be working well, and wasn’t too horribly expensive a fix.

The tarps we had applied to the northwest corners of the mobile Turkey Huts this past October when a cold, wind-driven rain was forecast seem to be holding up well, and provide a wind-break for the birds at night and anytime during the day that they desire to find shelter from Old Man Winter who has come to call far earlier than he is supposed to.

So, we felt like we had our bases covered … until I spotted a wintertime resident who also decided to call earlier than we had expected.

This bald eagle, who typically hung out at our next door neighbor’s place last year, decided that the tree between our barnyard and the Turkey Pasture was the place he wanted to be.

He kept a watchful eye on those turkeys, and it had me worried. I’m betting that the turkeys are too big for him, but I’m not an eagle-turkey expert, so I just watched him as he watched them. Finally, after about 20 minutes of mutual watching, he took off and went to the neighbor’s trees. I’m hoping he finds plenty of corn to glean and rabbits to eat, and forgets about our turkeys.

What a difference a day makes … we should have had 20 turkeys, nicely shrink-wrapped, safe and sound in the big freezers downstairs. Who knew that a typhoon from Hawaii would scoot up to Alaska and then turn east with its low pressure and moisture to derail our oh-so-carefully-laid plans? Such is life on the farm. We yield to the pressure, wherever it is from, and do our best to roll with it. Praying we can keep these Thanksgiving turkeys healthy and alive through these next five frozen days, and then have safe passage to the processors up north. I’ll breathe a sigh of relief when everyone is safely back home at the farm!

Published on Nov 14, 2014