Growers: Good Handling Equals Good Turkeys

11/17/2012 7:00 AM
By Charlene M. Shupp Espenshade Special Sections Editor

Clabaugh Family Raises Antibiotic-Free Turkeys

NEW OXFORD, Pa. — Growing turkeys, especially antibiotic-free turkeys takes talent and good husbandry skills.

Plainville Farms growers Duane and Brad Clabaugh of Gettysburg say they made a successful transition to this system several years ago and are growing small hens for the Oxford, Pa.-based company.

They say they believe successful turkey management is based on the old adage that you get out of something what you put into it. So the more effort and time spent on turkey management, the better the birds will be.

It starts from the day the poults arrive at their farm. If the birds do not start out healthy, the Clabaughs will be in for a long growing season.

“The big thing is you have to be with them every day. Once you’re around them long enough, you can tell if they are not feeling well,” Duane Clabaugh said.

“Bottom line, if we get good poults in the door, that is key right there. Good air, good feed, good water, that’s what we need,” Brad Clabaugh said.

Duane Clabaugh said that every time someone walks through the birds, the turkeys will get up and eat and drink — two key elements to good turkey production.

Plainville began moving its growers over to an antibiotic-free system several years ago, and today all of its growers raise turkeys this way. The challenge for the farmers is that they do not have the option to treat sick birds with antibiotics.

Probiotics have been included in the diets as a preventative measure, and bird populations in the house have been reduced by about 30 percent. The feed ration is a 100 percent vegetarian diet, according to the Plainville Farms website.

This past year was a hard one for raising turkeys because of the cold spring and oppressive heat in the summer.

“This was definitely the hardest year,” Duane Clabaugh said. “The past couple of flocks we struggled with” because of the weather.

Mortality was slightly higher this year for their flock because of the stress.

John Myers, Plainville Farms live production manager, said the Clabaughs’ average loss is well below the industry average. Their average is about 98 to 99 percent livability, or a loss of about 1 percent.

Pennsylvania was in better shape than some of its Midwest counterparts that struggled with heat stress. Myers said people may notice that turkey prices are higher because of the decreased turkey population.

The farm can raise 6,000 turkeys at a time. And in a year, it will raise five light-weight hen flocks in its barns. The brothers operate the farm in conjunction with their parents, John and Barb. They started raising turkeys for Plainville (formally Round Hill) in 1991 after a local broiler company closed.

The Clabaughs raise light hens because of their house design. The houses are older, two-story buildings and originally built for broilers. The birds are started on the top floor until they are 5 to 6 weeks old and then moved downstairs to finish out.

Nine weeks later, the next flock of poults will arrive to start out on the top floor, beginning the cycle again.

The turkeys can be sent to the whole turkey market or further processed into turkey products.

Myers said the industry prefers a single-story building design, but he has growers who can produce good turkeys in these older two-story systems.

The key to good birds is not fancy buildings, but management. Duane and Brad Clabaugh say if there is a problem, they need to address it quickly.

This year, the Clabaughs started raising turkeys at the neighboring barn. Brad said one difference in the day-to-day management is the extra biosecurity steps they take when traveling between the two farms.

“If I have a problem in one barn, I don’t want to take it back to the other,” he said.

The turkey industry has good agricultural practices, or GAP, standards it follows.

Myers said the program boils down to documenting what turkey growers were already doing, checking for any health issues with birds, rodent controls, pest controls, and water and air quality.

Besides raising turkeys, the Clabaughs have a small beef herd and raise corn, wheat, hay and soybeans on 120 acres.

If there is one thing that has the Clabaughs worried, it’s the future of farming. Both brothers have children, but none of them has expressed an interest in turkeys or farming.

Both brothers agree there is still time, but they say for farming in general, it is a worry that nobody is coming along.

For more information about Plainville Farms, visit

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