This is my first experience with raising the broad breasted turkeys -- I've been raising the heritage turkeys for the past few years -- and they're a bit like the cornish-cross meat birds. You have to watch to make sure that they don't overeat, and they're generally not as oriented as the heritage breeds.
We feed the turkeys a higher-protein feed, usually called a "game bird starter" or "turkey starter", from a local mill, and in July we were about done with that.
So far so good: We're in July, birds are due end of November; only 4 more months.
We had a predator issue in August, four turkeys committed suicide in September -- and now I'm getting worried about having enough turkeys to fill the order. I started watching them carefully.
Feed prices spiked in the summer; what we used to pay $300 a ton for was now $450 a ton. The problem with contract growing is that this risk is pretty much on my end; I didn't think to negotiate an escalator on feed prices, which I'll do next time.
We're into October now, and things are looking good for the delivery. But I'm noticing that the broad breasted, as they get larger, are starting to sit on the ground most of the day. This is wearing the feathers off their breasts, which doesn't look good, but doesn't harm the birds, but it's different than the heritage breeds.
Finally we get to November; and I staff a turkey processing line, and get the equipment in order, and schedule it. Unfortunately the pickup date for the buying club is the same as for my other customers, which complicates things for delivery. Hmmm... have to work out the calendar together next time.
We started processing this batch of turkeys and found that the tub plucker we used wasn't doing a very good job of removing the feathers, and it ripped the skin on a couple of birds -- which is not what you want. You want to deliver a perfect bird, so we had to pluck these birds by hand. Every one.
Hand plucking a turkey takes about 3 times as long, and the problem with the broad-breasted birds is that where they'd worn off the feathers on their breasts we had to, one by one, individually pluck out each feather with tweezers.
Oh yea. One of my guys called in and said his car was dead, couldn't make it.
Three days of tediously detailed hand-plucking and processing turkeys.
Oh. And during this time we're getting 4 inches of rain. And we're outside during most of this. And it's truly miserable. I mean really bad. Sean and Dan get full credit for showing up for work; heck, I own the farm and I didn't want to get out of bed.
So we get a call, and I explain that I'm running late, and I actually am about 2 hours late for the pickup, but to make things better I dispatch a truck of turkeys to the buying clubs other pickup point (30 miles southeast) and drive the turkeys myself to the main pickup point.
So I'm soaking wet. I've been up to my elbows in turkey blood and guts and feathers. This little turkey flock has been more work than any other turkeys I've ever done, and they're mad that I'm late. I apologize, and they ask me if I can do anything to make it better.
And I look at the woman, and I think about it, and I realize that I'm not going to make a dime off this whole 7 month experiment; between the extra labor costs for plucking, the slower gain, higher feed costs and so on... and I say "yea, I can take $5 per turkey off".
Here's my take-home lesson:
* $3 a pound for a delivered turkey is too little. I should have charged $3 a pound for the turkey and then another $100 for delivery for each location. Or maybe just say $4/lb. At $4/lb I would have had another $600 margin to play with, which would have covered my feed and unexpected labor costs.
* 8 months of work isn't really appreciated if you're a couple of hours late. Next time I'll slaughter earlier and keep the birds chilled. No missing deadlines. Being on time is important.
* Heritage birds are easier in all respects for my farm and staff to deal with. And the margins are better.
19 hours ago