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›› billy turner Turners Farms of Shenandoah

Page County farmer takes turkeys C over vacation D

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hen Billy Turner steps inside one of his 825-foot-long turkey houses, a sea of 13,000 hens flows toward him. “Turkeys are very curious birds,” said the Page County farmer as he slowly made his way through the gobbling throng. Chances are pretty good that one of those birds could grace your holiday table. Turner and his wife, Joanne, and their two daughters, Jennifer and Jessica, have been raising turkeys since 1995. They currently grow for Cargill, which sells Honeysuckle White and Shady Brook Farms brand turkeys, available in many grocery stores in Virginia. Turner’s two turkey houses were built in 1995 on land that he and his father had rented for 20 years prior to buying it. Turner grew up on farms, and “my stepgranddaddy had chickens, so when the opportunity came to raise turkeys, I took it.” Each of the houses at Turners Farms of Shenandoah holds 26,000 birds and are split into two parts—the brooding area and the grow-out side. “There’s plenty of space for them, but when visitors come in they’re so curious that they all move to the front of the building to see who’s there,” Turner said. Day-old baby turkeys, called poults, are delivered to his farm, and he puts them in the side that stays 92 degrees and has a floor covered with pine shavings. Warmed by disc heaters, the poults hang out and eat a half-ton of feed daily. “They’re nice and content in here,” said

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Turner, who checks on his birds at least twice a day. He also checks the automatic waterers, feeders and heating, cooling and ventilation systems to be sure they are working properly. “People might be surprised at the care that goes into raising them,” he said of the turkeys. After five weeks, the turkeys get moved to the other half of the house, where they stay for 11 weeks. On that side temperatures hover between 68 and 72 degrees, and tunnel ventilation keeps the air flowing. Automated feeders deliver a tractortrailer-load of feed to the birds in each house every day, Turner said. “The feed contains corn and soybeans, but I don’t give them anything with hormones.” When the turkeys have grown to an average of 23 pounds, they are picked up and transported to a plant where they are processed within 8 hours. Since Turner began raising the birds, he hasn’t taken a single vacation, but he said he doesn’t mind because he enjoys what he does. “My birds are fed a good diet and kept in a controlled environment so there’s no stress,” he said. Turner added that the birds are virtually disease-free because they are protected from natural predators by the houses and from diseases with bio-security practices. Anyone entering the houses must cover their shoes with plastic and dip them into an antibacterial solution. “People need to realize where their food comes from and that it’s raised in a good way,” Turner said. “We’re not a factory farm—we’re a family farm.”

Turkey fact More than 18 million turkeys are raised in Virginia each year.

kathy dixon

By Kathy Dixon

“They’re nice and content in here,” Page County grower Billy Turner said of his turkeys, whose climate-controlled houses are served by automatic feeding and watering systems.

Cultivate NOVEMBER/DECEMBER 2011

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November 2011 Cultivate  

Introduced in July 2008, Cultivate is published quarterly with a focus on safe, fresh and locally grown foods and the Virginia farms that pr...