Baby, It’s Hot Outside

The heat continues to blister here in the Midwest.  I am hearing horror stories of losses to all live meat animals.  Would guess many livestock producers will be upgrading their cooling systems to survive these types of heat spells… We have experienced these grueling conditions a few times over our 70 years in the livestock business; it may be another decade before we feel this heat and humidity again.

A few days ago we received 13,000 male turkeys (toms).  Spent the previous week preparing our 60-year-old brooder house.  This brooder house hasn’t missed a year without at least two flocks of turkeys being started in it (the first flock in 1951 was of bronze turkeys; white turkeys had yet to be widely commercialized).

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The Mother of Invention…

 …Is Serendipity.

In 1995, I happened to observe a unique machine in operation: it was being used to fill dump-trailers with shelled corn stored in silica-sand mines. The machine was designed to fill the trailers in a place with serious space constraints. It featured a 16-ft extensible and retractable belt frame that conveyed the corn from the floor of the mine into a dump-trailer, which subsequently carried the grain to a barge on the Mississippi River.

I observed this machine through the prism of a turkey grower and loader. And started thinking about how a similar machine might be constructed to move turkeys into transport coops on a trailer.

Eventually, this observation drove the design of a machine that now carries a turkey on a variable-pitch, main-line conveyor belt from the barn floor to a horizontal, head-section conveyor belt which continues to operate when the head-section conveyor belt is extended into the coop, already on the trailer outside the barn.  Once fully extended into the coop, which is the full width of the trailer, the head section belt is retracted. During retraction, the birds drop off onto the coop floor –all with no sign of stress: no struggling, no vocalizing, just hunkering. 

In one trial run, early on, the machine operation reversed.  Eureka! A similar machine could be built to unload the birds at the processing plant after their journey from the farm.

No more manhandling turkeys—at either loading or unloading. 

Since that original serendipitous moment, we’ve continued to work to refine and extend the system.

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What do you get when you combine high temperatures, heavy turkeys, lots of moving parts (mechanical and animal), family members and friends unaccustomed to working together, lack of sleep and a case of 5-Hour Energy?  Must be a summertime loadout.

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Things that Endure

Had an enjoyable trip to Washington, D.C. last week. The meetings were engaging and motivating.  All good.  I returned late last week to deal with the high heat.  We were fortunate to keep the animals fit. 

We are heavily focused on preparing to ship our turkeys.  As for the processor requirements, we take blood samples and body fat samples which are sent to a lab for testing.  Yesterday, an accredited veterinarian came to the farm and walked through the turkeys to assess their health.  He signed a document along with his accreditation number, and I then faxed the document to our processor.  Goal is to ensure high-quality, wholesome turkeys with the support of data and inspection.

I spent the past few days working on our third-generation automated turkey loader.  With the warm weather, our belts expanded because of the heat… essentially they have excessive slack.   I’m tightening the belt tension mechanism., greasing bearings, monitoring all of the  fluids in the engine and hydraulic system.  Check, recheck and check again.  

Designing and building this machine from the ground up, with two prototypes in the experience column, I well understand how this machine operates.  I designed it to withstand high tolerances… plenty of over-capacity.  Experiences on the farm and with machinery have taught me to the value of exceeding engineering recommended requirements… In particular, large power supply and double the cooling capacity.   Plus bearings and large shafts that could withstand heavy stress.  Many more features designed under this mindset… aiming for durable, yet simple equipment.  If engineering reflects what this designer is made of, then so be it.   Yes, there is also a financial consideration in all of this, but sometimes one still must spend an extra dollar knowing the investment will likely eliminate an ill-timed machine failure.  So I envision the equipment operating at peak performance, in all environments, with minimum repairs needed.  A machine for the long-haul.  

Mother Nature is promising us temperatures in the 90’s during our load out this weekend.  We will start loading at 6 a.m., if not a few minutes earlier, while the weather is cool.   We’ll have a thousand gallon water tank on hand to douse the birds a few minutes before they depart the farm.  They will cool off instantly as the trailer is driving down the highway at 60 m.p.h.  This flock is healthy and I believe they can withstand the stress of the trip.  For our part, we have family and friends to help… Even with the trials and tribulations, it is always a good feeling selling a flock of turkeys… after 136 days of the animals being a part of my day, they are gone and to be consumed by the public.  There is satisfaction in providing wholesome animals and earning an honest living in the process.  


For the 4th of July, I brought my elderly parents to my aunt’s condo to watch some fireworks.  We drove home late at night.  As I was helping my father out of the car, I knew he was frustrated by his mobility issues, so I reminded him that at least he didn’t have to climb to the roof of an old barn to watch the fireworks.  He chuckled… as a little boy he and his brothers and sister would scale the peak of the barn, roughly 30 feet in the air, to watch a fireworks display from a nearby town.  This was back in the 1930’s… times have changed, and progress marches on.  But the thrill of watching of fireworks will endure for many generations.

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Over the Range and Into D.C.

The turkeys continue to mature and become quite aggressive.   They average 40 pounds and we have nearly two weeks to go before shipping date.  

Start of the week was cool and wet… the forecast calls for a few days of heat the end of this week that will keep me on my toes.  For as long as I can remember, at fourth of July celebrations we had turkeys and kept close eye on them.  One story comes to mind. About 25 years ago, we ranged our turkeys outside… had outdoor shelter, feeders and waterers.   On this July 4th, fighter jets were in the area for a show they decided to fly low and maneuver over our range turkeys.  The noise was loud as it could be.  The jets came and went… maybe a minute at the most.   I was impressed for a split second until I remembered the range turkeys wouldn’t react favorably.  Immediately, I went to the ranges – the turkeys had scattered everywhere and I spent the rest of the day finding them and herding them back to the range.   It was a mess.  So whenever I see the “flying angels” I hearken back to the havoc they did to our range turkeys many years ago…

I am on the road this week in Washington, D.C., introducing our technology. I hope I can find a place to park my truck….

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