With consumers wanting an array of options to choose from as they walk down the grocery store aisle, choices on types of turkey are no exception to that rule.
Sharlene Wittenburg, a third generation turkey producer, offers a variety of birds on her family’s operation.
“In our production we do organic, we also do antibiotic free and then we have some birds that are conventional, which means we can treat them,” Wittenburg said. “So we do a variety of different birds on the farm.”
Wittenburg and his family live in Alexandria, Minn., but they raise their turkeys in Wyndmere, N.D.
While there is a slight demand for organic birds, Wittenburg said that there is still a good market for their conventional grown turkeys.
“We see a little bit more of a trend for antibiotic free and organic, but it hasn’t spiked greatly. But there is demand for it. People have to realize that for a conventional bird, we only treat if we have to. We don't do it just to do it,” Wittenburg said.
On the day Agweek visited, the Wittenburgs received a fresh batch of baby turkeys, also known as poults. Due to the poults hatching, the barn's temperature was set at a warm 99 F so that the poults could be comfortable. There was an overwhelming amount of chirps coming from the poults, something Sharlene Wittenburg said would subside as they got used to their new surroundings. Though there was much room for the poults to be separated, many would form together and choose to stay close. The Wittenburgs received about 15,000 poults that day.
The Wittenburgs keep the birds on their farm for about 13-16 weeks, before the birds head to the processing plant.
“There has been a great demand, especially for whole body birds, especially with this COVID. They want a smaller sized bird and more people are cooking at home,” Wittenburg said.
For the smaller birds, they are sent to the plant at 13 weeks, whereas the larger birds are held back on the farm until they reach 16 weeks. However, despite the COVID-19 pandemic, the Wittenburgs were able to place all their birds, and have even seen steady sales.
“At the production here we have been able to place all our birds. The processing plant last year opted to take all of our heavy hens earlier so they didn’t get as heavy in case we had a COVID outbreak at the plant. That way we weren't stuck with birds out in the field that were getting too heavy or too big. They were very active in making sure that we had the birds taken in early,” Wittenburg said. “As far as I know, we are about 90-95% sold out for the year.”
“It’s great for biosecurity reasons,” Wittenburg said.