By Bethany Baratta
When Don and Pat Daufeldt started farming part-time in the ‘70s, turkeys were not a part of the plan. At that time, turkeys were just a part of their Thanksgiving dinner.
But a representative from Louis Rich contacted the Daufeldts and noted their location in relation to their nearby processing plant, which is now West Liberty Foods, just a mile from their farm.
“They picked here because it was close to the plant where they were going to use the birds versus hauling them,” Pat said.
Having no background in the industry, Don, who had worked at Eastern Iowa Light and Power for 16 years, said the opportunity was appealing because it would give him an opportunity to be home more with his family.
The first poults arrived at the family’s farm on Jan. 30, 1988.
Now, the turkey farm has allowed their three sons and their families the opportunity to grow turkeys. Sons Brent and Bryan started a turkey farm of their own and raise approximately 60,000 turkeys per year. Brad works with his parents on the family’s farm, where they raise 110,000 turkeys per year.
The sons had their first experiences on the turkey farm doing chores and helping load the turkeys when it was time for the birds to make their way to the processing plant.
The family also had the unique experience of raising turkeys to be presented to President George H.W. Bush to be pardoned before Thanksgiving in 1991.
“We separated 25 of them into an old lean-to,” Brad recalls. “We were hand feeding them and trying to get them tame.”
The routine included frequent baths in soap and water and walks around the farm with a twine leash.
Eventually, two toms were picked for the flight to Washington, D.C., to be pardoned by the president. After pardoning, the turkeys were sent to a nearby farm to live.
The next generation
The experiences raising turkeys on the farm stuck with Brad.
While other students in his classes at the University of Iowa were deciding what to do after college, he had a plan.
“They (Don and Pat) encouraged us to at least come back even though it has its challenges and growing pains,” Brad said.
The family said they enjoy the challenges associated with turkey farming and learning something new with each new flock, including the 19,500 poults that arrived to the farm recently from a hatchery in Ohio. Each poult arrives to the farm weighing a mere 4 grams.
“I think it’s the challenge (that keeps us going),” Pat said. “Every flock is different. So you always try to have this flock do better than the last.”
While automatic feed and watering systems have increased the farm’s efficiency, there’s one thing, they say, that technology can’t replace. “I think the one thing you cannot upgrade is walking through the barns every day and doing chores,” Don said.
This includes ensuring that feed and watering systems are in proper working order, adjusting the temperature inside the barns and checking for mortalities.
Loading the 40 to 43 pound birds onto semis for processing is still a process, the family says. Loading the birds is done in the span of two days now. When the family first started, it took 18 semis and a week to get every bird to the plant.
The farm has increased its energy efficiency by replacing its high pressure sodium light bulbs in their barns with fluorescents. “We cut our electricity almost in half by just going to the different lights,” Don said.
And though the family has been in the business for more than 25 years, they haven’t stopped learning, they said.
After the family lost half of its flock to Newcastle disease about two and a half years ago, the family is on constant alert. With the processing plant nearby, they know their flock is at higher risk of catching a disease with every truck and trailer that drives by their farm and with every bird that flies onto the farm.
Brad has learned more about diseases through industry-sponsored educational sessions. He’s able to learn more about turkey nutrition as well.
Indeed, the family has witnessed challenges in the industry: the fluctuation of grain and turkey prices, government regulations and labor shortages.
In 2012, the family was recognized as recipients of the Gary Wergin Good Farm Neighbor award. The award, sponsored by the Coalition to Support Iowa’s Farmers, recognizes Iowa livestock farmers who take pride in caring for the environment, their livestock and being good neighbors.
And while consumers won’t find turkeys from the Daufeldts’ farm on their dinner table at Thanksgiving this year, Don says the family is proud of its work in the industry.
“When I first started this back in 1987, the last thing we ever thought about was that we would be part owners of a company like West Liberty Foods and supplying the nation with turkey.”
*Reprinted with permission for the Iowa Farm Bureau Spokesman.