Guest Post: Turkeys and Water Quality in Iowa

By Sheila Larson, Turkey Farmer, Iowa Turkey Federation Director of Membership Services

I’m a farmer’s wife. 

I grew up in the country. It took thirty minutes for me to get to school or to see my friends. It drove me crazy. I always said I wouldn’t marry a farmer and I certainly wasn’t going to live in the country. I liked the city. I liked the action and I loved the convenience. 

The funny thing is – I loved growing up in the country. My grandma who farmed lived just down the road, so did my cousins Billie and Lindsey (they really are more like sisters though). We played in the pasture, we got to feed the baby calves, and we jumped hay bales. It was awesome. We had so much fun and I have more wonderful memories than I can count. 

Then I went to Iowa State University. I loved everything about it. I started out as a psychology major but after a year I realized that wasn’t for me. I switched to Communication Studies and Political Science. I was hooked. I decided I was moving to Washington D.C. and was going to be someone… 

Then I met Chad -- a turkey farmer. My response was, “There are turkey farms in Iowa?!” Wow – I’ve learned so much since then! Long story short, I didn’t go to Washington D.C. – I married the turkey farmer and live in the country. One of my favorite quotes is “I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I have ended up where I intended to be” – it describes my situation perfectly. Little did I know that being a farmer was being someone – someone who helps feed the world. So now that you know how I became a farmer’s wife let’s talk turkeys! 

My husband is a third generation turkey farmer – he farms with his parents and his grandfather raised turkeys. Turkey farming has been part of Iowa and our family for a long time. A lot has changed since my husband’s grandfather raised turkeys. They were raised outside where weather, disease and predators were always a risk. 

Today we raise our turkeys in large, open buildings that are climate controlled. When it is cold and snowy out the birds are warm and dry. When it is 100 degrees outside – we put fans and sprinklers on them that helps keep them cool. We want our birds to be as comfortable as possible and the barns help us do that. 

Another advantage of raising the turkeys inside – the manure is in one spot and mixed in with bedding (oat hulls and wood waste from wood companies). The combo makes a great organic fertilizer. 

So how does turkey manure help with water quality? Turkey manure contains humus – great for building up organic matter in the soil and increasing infiltration of water holding capacity. It also benefits the soil by adding live microbes and bacteria good for soil health. The manure also contains nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium necessary for optimal plant growth. We, as turkey farmers, manage the turkey manure as a sustainable, renewable resource. 

Besides the manure many farmers are using other renewable resources to help protect our environment.  They are partnering with the Coalition to Support Iowa Farmers and planting trees to provide a windbreak, control snow and improve aesthetics and neighbor relations. They are implementing energy conservation practices by putting up wind turbines and solar energy panels. Iowa farmers are always trying new technology to make their farms more energy efficient. 

Farmers want to make sure the land is the best it can be. They want to do things right. My husband didn’t continue the family farm for money or because it’s easy. He farms because it’s his passion, he loves the land, he loves taking a day old poult (baby turkey) and raising it for 19 weeks to provide a healthy and safe protein for other families plates. Our 8 year old son already loves farming, he chooses going to the field over going to football games and he is more than willing to wake up at 5 am to help unload the day old poults. 

Our family is just like your family. We want our kids to have the best future possible. We want them to have clean water and we want our son to be able to farm when he is an adult. We care about our family and we care about the earth. We and other farmers spend a lot of our time and effort sustainably managing our farm to protect our natural resources. We use turkey manure, planting of trees, wind turbines and solar panels (and are always adopting new technologies) to help us achieve our goals.