Talking turkey in Iowa


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Turkey is synonymous with Thanksgiving, and Iowa farmers rank highly when it comes to turkey production, but chances are the turkey you’ll find on the table this holiday didn’t come from an Iowa farm.

One area farmer, Keith Troyer, has been raising turkeys year-round since 1984.

Troyer Farms, located near Kalona, raises around 580,000 pounds of turkeys each year, most of which goes into making lunch meat, Troyer said.

He said the most rewarding part of turkey farming is pleasing the customers.

“I always take pride in raising good healthy turkeys and a good nutritious product for consumers,” he said.

Iowa is the ninth-largest turkey producer in the United States, and the fifth highest state in turkey processing, according to the Iowa Turkey Federation, but relatively few whole turkeys come from the state of Iowa.

Iowa has around 130 turkey farmers who raise roughy 11 million turkeys annually.

Katie Olthoff, a communications specialist for the Iowa Turkey Federation, said that Minnesota, the No. 1 producer of turkeys in the United States, is where turkeys found at the table on Thanksgiving are generally going to come from.

Olthoff said Iowa is a big dent in the national turkey market.

“For only 130 farms, there’s a pretty big impact for Iowa,” she said.

Most of the turkeys raised in Iowa are probably not headed to the Thanksgiving table but rather to such places as Subway, Costco, and other lunchmeat retailers, Olthoff said.

“In Iowa, we raise toms, which can grow up to 45 pounds,” she said. “Really, historically, this has to do with the market.”

The tom is a male turkey often used for lunchmeat, Olthoff said. Lunchmeat makes up around half of the turkey consumed in the United States.

Traditionally, Thanksgiving turkeys are hens, which are generally lower in weight, Olthoff said.

Local grocer New Pioneer Co-op sells two types of whole turkeys, both from out-of-state farms, said Dan Edwards, a member of the store’s meat department.

“Both of our turkeys come out of Minnesota, one from a natural and one from an organic farm,” he said.

Troyer said that the whole turkey market in Iowa is a relatively niche market, with just a few small farmers offering only a few hundred fresh turkeys each every Thanksgiving.

Troyer Farms raises a breed known as Nicholas turkeys, the same ones found on your Thanksgiving table, but instead of female hens, Troyer’s male toms average around 43 pounds when he takes them to market, he said.

Troyer Farms have around 5,000 turkeys on hand at any time, with three groups of turkeys raised throughout the year.

All of Troyer Farms and a majority of the turkeys in the state will be processed in West Liberty at West Liberty Foods. The other turkey processing plant in the state is located in Storm Lake.

Both combine for more than 15.5 million turkeys processed during the year.

Troyer said that over the years he’s learned, for him, nothing could be better than farming.

“I can’t think of a better occupation for me than being a farmer; the satisfaction is worth it,” he said.

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