By Carlienne A. Frisch B2B Freelance writer
It was during the dark days of World War II that artist Norman Rockwell painted “Freedom From Want,” a portrayal of one of four freedoms meant to raise the spirits of the American people. Although it was in March 1943 that The Saturday Evening Post displayed Rockwell’s work on the cover, the image of a succulent turkey being brought to the table evoked the feeling of a Thanksgiving celebration. And just as turkey is synonymous with Thanksgiving, the birds are synonymous with the Willmar area.
Willmar is home to the world’s largest turkey hatchery company, the Willmar Poultry Company. The Jennie-O Turkey Store, which is the second largest turkey processing company in the nation, employs around 1,800 people in Kandiyohi County, with approximately 75 percent of the company’s 6,600 employees located in Minnesota, which currently ranks No. 1 for turkey production nationally.
Kandiyohi County is the top turkey-producing county in Minnesota, followed by Stearns and Morrison counties, according to Minnesota Turkey Growers 2010 statistics.
Minnesota has about 250 turkey farmers, who raise around 27 million birds annually on 600 turkey farms. Every turkey generates $17.46 of direct economic activity to the state, according to a 2011 University of Minnesota study.
Eden Valley grower Mike Langmo considers himself to be on the small end of the turkey industry, producing 2½ to 3 million pounds annually. Like many turkey producers, he grew up in a family enterprise with his father, uncle and cousins. Langmo gets 40,000 day-old poults five times a year and raises them for the light hen/consumer hen market.
“We keep the poults in barns at 90 degrees the first week,” Langmo said. “Our attrition rate is 4 to 7 percent, but every flock is different. After four or five weeks, we move them to a finish barn. They reach 12 to 13 pounds in 13 weeks. My turkeys go to Turkey Valley Farms in Marshall through a contract with Willmar Poultry Company. They weigh 10 pounds on a whole bird basis and are bagged for supermarket sale.”
Other producers specialize in growing heavy hens (21 to 22 pounds) or consumer toms (24 to 28 pounds). Toms that reach 40 to 45 pounds provide specialty parts, such as breasts and thighs. The remainder of these large birds is used for products such as turkey tenderloins and turkey burgers.
Egg production, too, is a specialty. Robert Orsten, a Minnesota Turkey Growers Association board member in the Willmar area, took over the operation from his father, who began egg production in 1968. Orsten’s hens, which he purchases from the Willmar Poultry Company, produce about 330,000 eggs per month for Willmar Poultry. Each hen produces about 100 eggs during her life cycle, which will hatch into poults.