Animal Wellbeing & Arkansas

Greetings from Central Illinois, where it continues to be warm and dry. Turkeys are four weeks old today and doing well as the dry warm weather makes for easy ventilation. The bedding is dry and the birds love dusting themselves. Later this week, we will transfer them from the brooder house to the growout buildings, where they will have considerably more room to spread their wings.

Last Thursday I attended the “Advances and Current Issues in Animal Wellbeing” symposium sponsored by Dr. Yvonne Thaxton (Professor and Director, Center for Food Animal Wellbeing) at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville. It was an excellent program with a wide range of speakers and topics. Dr. Thaxton expected around 50 people, but was surprised that nearly 120 attended (including her 93-year-old father – a Uof AR graduate himself). One of the main discussion points that resonated loudly to me (and a primary foundation for the existence of Lacuna Technologies) was the underlying quest by the meat producers, processors and retailers to provide consumers with objective, understandable information about how their meat is being produced, i.e., is it accomplished ethically?

A few colleagues in the audience knew of my father, Dan Sinn.  They faintly remembered years ago when he was involved with the National Turkey Federation board, on which he served for many years as a representative for Illinois.  My father is now nearly 87 years of age, stills lives in the farm house where he was born, never left the farm… (the longest time away was for his two-week honeymoon). His health is challenged… his body has endured enormous hard work as a player in the early years of the fledgling turkey industry. (Below is a brief overview of his turkey venture that is still being written yet today.)

As I sat last Thursday in the palatial confines of the John W. Tyson Poultry Science Building, I recalled my father waking me up early one morning when I was maybe five years old.  I had six siblings… Mom and Dad’s time with us individually was limited as they were constantly working to take care of our needs and those of the farm. Dad told me he required help to wash waters in the brooder house. I later discovered his knees were bothering him from arthritis and he couldn’t bend down. But I felt special as Dad picked me to help him… I felt I was a player, and it gave me a sense of value at a very early age. The symposium brought to mind this early childhood memory of being introduced to live-poultry production. Funny how this event stayed with me…. maybe the moral of the story is, if you wake a young child, you may shape his inner “well-being” forever.

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Dan Sinn

In 1938, Johann Sinn bought one of his sons, 13-year-old Dan, his first set of 25 bronze turkey poults. The teenager proceeded to turn a hefty profit for that time.  He took those profits and built a small brooder house with screened porch for the 200 poults he grew out in 1939.  And Dan Sinn and his family have grown turkeys (and an occasional flock of chickens) on that and nearby farms every one of the past 73 years, more than 3.5 million turkeys in all.

For the first 12 years, Dan had a range operation… grinding the feed and, for predator control, sometimes even sleeping in the feed hut out on the range with the turkeys.

In 1951, he built a two-story, 40- by 150-foot brooder house, which is still in use today…at least two flocks up to seven flocks a year have been brooded in this same brooder house every year since 1951.   In 1957, he built the first of two 50- by 400-foot pole sheds on the farm – initially to serve as a conditioning barn for the birds during the period between brooder house and range, and later used for the total grow-out period.  That same year Dan switched to white turkeys in response to consumer preference for skin color.

For 11 years, starting in 1955, market conditions were such that Dan built and operated his own federally inspected turkey-processing plant at the farm, marketing fresh-dressed and frozen Sinn Turkey at retail throughout the region and at wholesale to various local-school, federal-governmental, and European entities.  Pushing 2 million pounds of final product annually, which was a sizable plant in the early 1960’s.

Getting enough help was a constant challenge in rural Illinois.  But a bigger problem turned out to be overzealous federal food-safety inspection in the early 1960s.  APHIS inspectors—over-reacting to a single salmonella outbreak in chicken eggs—intensified inspection guidelines across the nation.  For a few years, the poultry meat industry endured enormous hardships before a rational balance could be re-established among food safety, business sustainability, and governmental regulatory enforcement.  Dan Sinn’s turkey plant was one of the many casualties during that period.

As an aside, there have been recent glimpses of the specter of a repeat of that scenario – but this time on the animal-welfare-regulation front.  In 1967, Dan started contract growing of turkeys for a distant processing plant, Bil Mar Foods (later acquired by Sara Lee Foods).  I was five-years old, and vivid memories of the family turkey enterprise start in this year.

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