Category Archives: News

Bird Flu Myths

Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza seems to have led to an outbreak of misinformation and misunderstandings.  Here are some of the most common myths about the avian influenza outbreak.

Myth: Turkey prices will rise.

Truth: Prices for whole turkeys have risen 3% since mid-April. Boneless, skinless breast meat (used in lunch meat) prices have risen 10% in the same time period. Turkey remains a healthy, economical protein.

Myth: There will be a Thanksgiving turkey shortage.

Truth: While the bird flu outbreak has been devastating to farmers involved, it has only affected 2.5% of annual turkey production in the US. And most of the birds affected have been larger toms instead of the smaller hens that are traditionally marketed at Thanksgiving.

Myth: Poultry is unsafe to eat.

Truth: Every flock is tested for avian influenza before going to market. This practice was put in place long before this outbreak. There is no reason to worry about the safety of poultry in the wake of avian influenza.

Myth: Only big “factory farms” get bird flu.

Truth: As of 5/27/15 there have been 179 cases reported in the US, and 18 of them (10%) have been “backyard” flocks. Some experts believe there may be more backyard cases that have not been reported. Small, backyard flocks are less likely to be tested than larger flocks.

The turkey farms affected have all been family farms, many of which have been raising turkeys for generations. The farmers and industry have done everything possible to prevent an outbreak, and experts are unsure how the virus is spreading. When more research is available, changes may be made in housing or farm management to prevent a similar outbreak in the future.

These are a few of Iowa's turkey farmers - some of whom have been affected by the avian influenza outbreak.
These are a few of Iowa’s turkey farmers – some of whom have been affected by the avian influenza outbreak.

What does highly pathogenic bird flu mean for Iowa’s turkey farmers?

Since the first case of highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) was confirmed in Minnesota in March, poultry farmers in the Midwest have been living in fear.
There has always been a risk that disease would affect our farms, so we do everything we can to prevent it. We raise our turkeys indoors so they can’t comingle with wild birds. We restrict visitors that may unknowingly bring germs inside. And we wear clean clothing and footwear in our barns.
But unfortunately, that’s not always enough to keep an outbreak from occurring.
Turkey farmers have dealt with disease outbreaks before. And sometimes, they have been serious. But none match the devastation caused by HPAI, or bird flu, as it is commonly called.

Ellworth turkeys by Aaron Putze

What’s different about bird flu?

Highly pathogenic avian influenza is concerning for several reasons.

       1. It’s spread by wild birds who show no symptoms. Because of the number of cases in the Mississippi Flyway, the migratory pattern for wild waterfowl in the Midwest, it is safe to assume that at least part of the wild waterfowl population here are infected. But there is no way to know without a blood test.
      2. There is a 21 day incubation period, during which time poultry may be infected, but do not show any signs. This is concerning because a farmer may have an infected flock and may spread it to another flock without knowing.
     3. It is highly pathogenic for poultry. After the incubation period, there are few symptoms before birds begin dying. And once they start dying, it’s a matter of days before the entire flock is affected.

This can be emotionally devastating to a farmer. Farmers put the care and well-being of their livestock at the top of their priority list. Can you imagine walking into a barn and seeing that half your flock had died overnight? It would be heartbreaking, and has been for many farmers involved.

As always, farmers are working hard to prevent the disease in their turkeys. And scientists are working overtime to figure out why the disease has become such a problem this year, when it has not been in the past. For now, the best we can do is continue to care for our turkeys as we always have, and hope for the best.

***There is NO food safety risk associated with avian influenza and only minimal human health risk. This strain of the virus has NOT infected any humans.
Iowa’s Turkey Industry Facts:
• 130 turkey farms
• Raise over 11 million turkeys every year
• Ranks 9th in US turkey production
• Each turkey adds more than $20 to Iowa’s economy.
• Total economic impact of raising and processing turkeys in Iowa is over $1.5 billion.

Turkey Farms Affected:

(turkey numbers are rounded to the nearest 1,000)
4/14/15 Buena Vista County 1 with 27,000 turkeys affected

4/24/15 Sac County 1 with 34,000 turkeys affected

4/29/15 Buena Vista County 2 with 41,000 turkeys affected

4/29/15 Buena Vista County 3 with 41,000 turkeys affected

4/30/15 Pocahontas County 1 with 17,000 turkeys affected

4/30/15 Cherokee County 1 with 45,000 turkeys affected

5/1/15 Buena Vista County 4 with 30,000 turkeys affected

5/1/15 Sac County 2 with 43,000 turkeys affected

5/1/15 Pocahontas County 2 with 33,000 turkeys affected

5/1/15 Buena Vista County 5 with 63,000 turkeys affected

5/1/15 Cherokee County 2 with 54,000 turkeys affected

5/4/15 Buena Vista County 6 with 34,000 turkeys affected


Total Turkeys: 458,506


National Ag Week, 2015: Why are you involved in agriculture?

This week is National Ag Week, with a big celebration today for National Ag Day.  Our Iowa Turkey Federation board members are devoted to agriculture, whether they are active on the farm, or part of an allied company that works with farmers.

We asked a few of them why they’re involved in agriculture and their answers speak for themselves.  From a family heritage of farming, to a love of problem solving, agriculture offers opportunities for people to do what they love and focus on their values every single day.

IMG_9451Russ Yoder, Vice President of the Iowa Turkey Federation and farmer

It leads back to family heritage.  My Grandpa started raising turkeys back in ‘36 and, it’s just so fun to look back over history to see how far we’ve come and where we’re going. I just really enjoy being part of the family farm and look forward to passing it down to my children.”


Ross Thoreson, President of the Iowa Turkey Federation, Midwest Sales Representative for Best Veterinary Solutions

I grew up on a turkey farm, but never really thought I’d stay in agriculture. When I was on the turkey farm growing up, I paid about as little attention to that as I possibly could.  I went to college, into something completely different, but decided to come back and get involved with the family business, and it’s been the best move I’ve ever made and have enjoyed it ever since. I extremely enjoy the people I get to be with on a daily basis.  It’s a great industry to be in.”

Gerald & Sandy Lessard 2010 NTF

Gerald Lessard, Vice President and COO of West Liberty Foods

I’m involved in agriculture because I enjoy advancing solutions against challenges. And agriculture as a whole is very challenging.  It doesn’t matter if you’re working with livestock every day or you’re a row crop farmer or a journalist or a banker, every day’s a different challenge.  And I appreciate the fact that solutions can be advanced towards agriculture.  There’s a lot of attention to detail in agriculture that I don’t think the normal public understands, whether it’s in manufacturing or providing food foreverybody’s table.  It’s the challenges – that’s why I stay in agriculture.

IMG_9474Sheila Larson, ITF Membership Services, Turkey Farmer

I had no plans to return to the farm. I was bound and determined I would NOT marry a farmer, but – I married a farmer. I would say the greatest part of agriculture, even though I’m not in the turkey barns every day or seeing with animals every day, is that you can be involved in agriculture in so many different ways.  It’s not set in stone you have to do this, that or the other, there are a lot of opportunities.


Lynn and Animal Ag Alliance President & CEO Kay Johnson Smith
Lynn and Animal Ag Alliance President & CEO Kay Johnson Smith

Lynn Schable, Tyson Foods

I’ve been with Hillshire (now Tyson) for 20 years, and what I enjoy looking at is the whole gamut.  From the time those turkeys are placed in the barn and all the things that have to happen to make that work, all the way to getting the food into the consumer’s plate.  It’s a very interesting, complex and dynamic process.  And there’s so much that happens from Day 1 to get the meat to the consumer…I just think it’s a fascinating industry.


tim kasingerTim Kasinger, Valley of the Moon Commercial Poults

I started on a farm, a dairy farm, and did that for a few years when I got out of high school.  After college, an agricultural company was hiring and my dad said, “Go work for them, you’ll move up fast.”  (I didn’t.)  But, of all the jobs I know, agriculture is the only one where you’re rewarded for hard work.  It’s the only one. Everything else, politics come in to play and to a certain extent, that’s probably true in our industry as well.  But if you work hard and do your job in agriculture, you’ll be rewarded.  It’s the greatest job there is.


iowa turkey farm trees

Concerned to Confident: A Turkey Farmer’s Story

Concerned to Confident: A Turkey Farmer’s Story 

Henry County, located in rural southeast Iowa, has an economy largely powered by agriculture. Just over twenty percent of the jobs in the county are related to agriculture, and over half of those are in the livestock industry.

The area is well-known for its turkey production. Ben Leichty is one of the area’s turkey farmers. In 2008, Leichty joined his uncle Kevin on the 3rd generation family farm and put up two of his own turkey barns.

The site is located on the top of a small ridge and had nothing blocking the wind. When he learned about the Green Farmstead Partner program at an Iowa Turkey Federation area meeting, his interest in planting trees was piqued. 

While the idea of planting trees to improve the aesthetics of the farm and serve as a windbreak and natural snow fence interested him, Leichty had concerns. Namely, he didn’t want to attract birds that could potentially carry diseases to the site, nor he did want trees that would require a lot of long-term maintenance. Other concerns included making sure trucks could get in and out of the site easily and avoiding impacts on surrounding farm ground.Leichty for Fresh Pickings

After researching and reading studies about poultry farms in other states that have successfully planted trees and learning about the suggested separation distances from the barns, he decided if a tree planting was done properly, his worries could be laid to rest. At that point, he decided to move forward.

In the spring of 2011, over 120 Techny Arborvitae and Black Hills Spruce wereplanted on the north and west sides of the turkey barns to serve as a windbreak. The site is located on a county highway, so Leichty decided to include ornamental trees by the driveway for extra visual appeal. Egli Landscapes, headquartered out of Waylandand located only a few miles from Leichty’s farm, designed the plan and planted the trees. The trees were purchased from Kelly Tree Farm of Clarence. Both Egli Landscapes and Kelly Tree Farm are involved in the Green Farmstead Partner program and have extensive experience in windbreaks and landscaping.Ben Leichty with turkey barns, trees (2)

“I’m glad I put them (the trees) in when I did and didn’t wait,” Leichty said, reflecting on the last four growing seasons. He added that if he were to start over from scratch, he would do many things exactly the same – he is especially happy with the decision to mulch the entire row (instead of just around each tree) because it made mowing simple.

The only thing he says he might do differently is to add an irrigation system. The first two summers after the trees were planted were exceptionally dry, so Leichty watered the trees by hand on a weekly basis. By the third growing season, he felt comfortable lessening the frequency of watering.

The attention to detail – from quality trees, to exceptional installation, to maintenance – has paid off. Of the 120 trees planted, only one has died. Another tree had bagworms briefly, but after removing them from the tree and a cold winter that killed the bagworms, they have not caused any more issues.Leichty turkey barn with trees (1)

After only four years, the trees are starting to accomplish what Leichty set out to do. “Several people have said the trees and farm look nice,” he said, adding that the trees are starting to drop snow and serve as an effective windbreak. He added that despite his initial concerns, he hasn’t seen an increasein rodents or birds due to the presence of the trees.

He says the advantage of using the GFP program was “being able to get information on trees, make sure they would work with a livestock building, and ensure they would be a wise investment. (The program) connected me with other people who knew about trees.”

Leichty encourages other farmers considering a tree planting on a livestock or poultry farm to “make sure you follow the recommended set-back distances and work with someone knowledgeable about trees so you do it right the first time and don’t take away from your investment in the future.”

To learn more about the Green Farmstead Partner program, or to get started on a tree planting for your farm, visit or call 800-932-2436.Leichty - NW corner, looking at trees on north side (2)

(Thanks to the Coalition to Support Iowa’s Farmers for the article and photos.)

Meat Processing Plant: Cleaner than your kitchen

The last thing anyone in the food industry wants is for people to get sick from their products.  That’s why turkey farmers work so hard to keep their birds healthy.  Healthy animals lead to safe meat.

But what about after the turkeys leave the farm?  What practices are in place at the processing plants to ensure that the meat is safe?

Extensive cleaning is one of those practices.  To see this cleaning process in action, take a look at this short video from Land O’ Frost.


Everything You Never Wanted to Know about Turkey Manure

Obviously, we raise turkeys for their meat.  But did you know that their manure is valuable, too?Ellsworth turkey Aaron Putze   



What is turkey manure?

Turkey manure is not a waste product, but a highly valuable natural fertilizer.  The “manure” is actually a mixture of the turkey droppings and bedding (oat hulls and wood shavings) and contains nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium necessary for optimal plant growth. Removed litter from the turkey barn

How is it stored?

The manure, which is a dry product, is kept in storage until fall, when it is spread on the fields.  Iowa Department of Natural Resources regulates where and how manure can be stored.  Animal confinements built after January 1, 2006 are required to keep manure in a covered area.

How is turkey manure used on fields?

Before applying manure to fields, farmers test the soil to determine its nutrient needs and also test the manure.  Soil testing is done every 3-5 years, and the rate of manure application depends on the conditions of the soil and crop to be grown.  For example, some farmers only spread the manure on fields that will be planted with corn, because corn requires more nitrogen to grow well.

Most Iowa turkey farmers attend annual classes to become certified to apply manure.  Some sell the valuable manure, which is then applied by a commercial manure applicator.  Records are kept of the manure applications.Manure, Tractor spreading(1)

What are the benefits of using turkey manure as a fertilizer?

  • It’s natural.
  • It’s cost effective.
  • It is a valuable soil amendment, adding organic matter to the soil, which helps hold water and nutrients.
  • It turns a waste product into a valuable resource.
  • It reduces the use of chemical fertilizers.
  • It is a sustainable practice.


How is turkey manure regulated?

Most turkey farmers are required to complete a Manure Management Plan, which is reviewed and approved by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources.

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources inspects farmers’ records and Manure Management Plans randomly.

There are also two other laws in place governing turkey manure:

  1. In 1998 House File 2494 passed, requiring more manure management plans; adding separation distances between land application of manure and certain buildings, public use areas and protected waters such as wellheads; and requiring manure applicators to be certified to land apply manure.
  2. In April 2002, Senate File 2293 was enacted. This 69-page bill added some additional separation distances between land application of manure and protected areas, and increased some separation distances.

Farmers who violate the laws face up to $10,000 per incident in fines and costs to replace wildlife and repair any damage caused by their practices.

strip tilling
Strip Tilling: Picture courtesy Life on an Iowa Farm

How do turkey farmers keep manure from entering waterways?

Farmers follow many guidelines designed to keep our waterways clean. 

  • No-till, low-till and strip-till practices reduce erosion and keep soil (and nutrients) from running into waterways. (Strip tilling shown above.)
  • Some farmers plant cover crops to reduce erosion.
  • Buffer strips are grassy areas surrounding fields, which help filter water near waterways. 
  • “Separation distances” are the minimum distances between manure application and certain buildings, public use areas and protected waters.


Have another question about turkey manure or how it’s used? Let us know, we’ll try out best to answer it!

Food Photography Day

Here at the Iowa Turkey Federation, we have more turkey recipes than we know what to do with.

But, we know that our visual world wants PHOTOS of those recipes!  A photo can easily be pinned on Pinterest and shared on Facebook.

And so, we’re working hard to get those photos.  Which is more complicated than it turkey recipes

First, there is recipe testing, usually done in our homes, with our families as the taste testers.  Once the recipe is perfected, we have to make it one more time, style it, and hire a photographer to get a very professional looking, appetizing photograph.

 Food photography

We are working with the talented Becca, from Photography by Becca.  She usually does weddings, children and family photos, but we’ve convinced her to branch out into food photography, and she’s doing a wonderful job, don’t you think?

With 5 chefs (Gretta, Sheila, Katie, Karen Davis: Taste of Home Chef, and an Iowa State University student) we were able to cook and photograph 38 turkey recipes in one whirlwind day!  It was so much fun, so much work, and so delicious.

Karen Davis cooks turkey

We’ll be adding these recipes to the website over the next few weeks, but in the meantime, here’s a sneak peek of what you have to look forward to!

turkey recipes


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Caring for Turkeys in Winter Cold

Turkeys require care in all kinds of weather, even during Winter Storm Ion.  And Iowa’s turkey farmers are dedicated to animal welfare.

In this short video, the Iowa Turkey Federation’s president, Noel Thompson, explains how Iowa’s turkey farmers keep birds comfortable in the cold.




(Thanks to our friends at the Iowa Food and Family Project for providing the video.)

roasted turkey breast

Thanksgiving Turkey Tips from our Home Economist

Gretta Irwin, the Iowa Turkey Federation’s Executive Director and Home Economist, knows a thing or two about cooking turkey.


Check out this segment on WHO-TV 13 in Des Moines for all of Gretta’s best Thanksgiving Tips.



Want more info? Download our FREE guide to roasting turkey or try the Blue Cheese Sauce Gretta mentioned in the video.

Iowa State University Leaders Tour Turkey Farm

This summer Iowa State University President Steven Leath and Wendy Wintersteen, Dean of the College of Agriculture toured Circle Hill Farms.  We had a great time discussing the Iowa turkey industry and the relationships turkey farmers and allied members have with ISU.

ISU leaders tour turkey barn
Paul Hill, Nathan Hill, Iowa State University President Leath, Noel Thompson, and Dean Wendy Wintersteen


“It is reassuring to know that we have a President at Iowa State that is sincerely interested in animal agriculture & understands how important it is to the economics of our State.”    ~ Nathan Hill

“Gretta arranged a great tour and conversation and the Hill family provided great hospitality. President Leath and I were impressed by Circle Hill Farm’s facilities and the high level of management demonstrated by Paul, Noel and Nathan. The story of West Liberty Foods is inspirational. It demonstrates the importance of processing in Iowa and how agriculture can strengthen our rural communities.”

~ Wendy Wintersteen

“My visit to the Circle Hill Farm turkey operation was fantastic,” said Iowa State University President Steven Leath.  “The Hills let me see first-hand the outstanding job Iowa’s turkey producers are doing and also told me about Iowa’s turkey processing industry.  This is a very important part of Iowa’s economy, and I really appreciate all that Gretta Irwin and the Hill family did to make this visit possible.”

turkey barn tour
Farmer Paul Hill and Iowa State University President Steven Leath inside one of Hill’s turkey barns.