LEBANON, Pa. — For Pennsylvania’s 4-H members, there’s no pot of gold at the end of their show ring rainbows at January’s Pennsylvania Farm Show. But there can be a champion steer, hog, sheep or goat.
Dana Lape would like to see turkeys on that list. Lape is the leader of the Lebanon County 4-H Poultry Club. His club members have always raised chickens, ducks and guineas for show. This year, for the first time, his members raised turkeys both for show and for sale. Kind of like the sheep club, only with feathers.
We visited Lape at the Lebanon Area Fair to talk about his turkey vision and the reasons for it. Lape is a busy volunteer during the fair, which ran this year from July 20 to 27. Poultry 4-H’ers are focused mostly on raising show birds, Lape said as he paused for a few minutes in the farm show tent reserved for turkeys and ducks. Unlike livestock 4-H’ers, poultry club members haven’t had the opportunity to raise animals that they can lead into a showring to be sold to the highest bidder.
That changed Wednesday night of the fair when Justine Geyer led her grand champion broadbreasted white turkey into the ring and sold the 20-pounder for $200 to Dave’s Country Store in Fredericksburg. Her sister, Danielle, didn’t get the grand champion ribbon, but she did get a $70 check from Dave’s. The sisters’ friend, Emma Rexrode, got $170 for her bird from Tyler Wagner, Mount Joy.
The Geyer girls’ parents are Matt and Tina Geyer, Myerstown, and Emma’s parents are Shannon and Valerie Rexrode of Annville.
It was Matt Geyer who alerted Lancaster Farming to the competition, and his hopes for a Harrisburg turkey showdown sometime in the future. He was an early and enthusiastic backer of Dana Lape’s gobbler initiative.
With the first sale behind the club, Lape said he hopes to encourage other clubs around the state to start their own turkey projects. And if enough clubs do get involved, he would like to pitch the idea of a turkey sale at the Pennsylvania Farm Show.
It would be an incentive for members to learn about the production side of the poultry industry, Lape said. “It’s been an excellent educational experience for our members.”
That experience began 12 weeks prior to the fair when 16 of the club’s members purchased two-day-old turkey poults from Hanover Hatchery in Gratz. Each member got three poults at a cost of about $4 each. “They were all the same age, from the same batch, and the same breed,” Lape said. “Everybody started on an equal footing.”
They didn’t end up that way. Justine and her sister, Danielle, raised their six turkeys in a fenced pasture at the Myerstown home. The turkeys shared the pasture with their chicken and duck projects. Two things amazed the Geyer girls about their turkeys.
Their appetites were one thing. The turkeys ate two or three times as much as their feathered cousins.
The other amazing thing was the way the birds took to the inflatable pool that served as a duck pond. They discovered that the turkeys loved to frolic in the water. The Geyers also found out that turkeys love June bugs, harvesting them from the grass and even snatching them from the air.
Justine’s grand champion was her shadow whenever she went into the pasture with the green bucket she used to carry feed. The turkey’s name was Bryce Harper, after the Philadelphia Phillies outfielder who snagged a $330 million, 13-year contract for his ability to hit a ball with a bat. While the Myerstown Bryce couldn’t break out of the three-figure range, $200 was still a pretty good price for a turkey.
Danielle was pretty cool with $70 for her turkey, which she named “Cold.”
We think the Geyers must have some interesting dinner table conversations.
Emma Rexrode didn’t give her turkey a name, because “... I didn’t want to get too attached.”
Weights ranged from the Geyer girls’ 20-pounders to one smallish bird that weighed in at 5 pounds.
The difference was all in how the birds were fed and cared for, Lape said. He gave the members some hints on how to go about raising a market-ready turkey, but the work of actually figuring out what kind of feed and how much to buy was left up to the club members. Matt Geyer said his daughters put in a lot of online time researching feeding and growing strategies.
As competition day approached, each member decided which one of his or her three birds stood the best chance of winning in the show ring.
Dana Lape said he was very pleased with the club’s first-ever production project, but that he might make a few changes for next year. For 2019, members used a project book that could apply to any 4-H effort. For 2020, he’d like to use a dedicated turkey project book.
This year’s poults were a mix of toms and hens. For next year, he’ll look into getting sexed poults because, in theory at least, toms should outgain hens.
That theory didn’t hold for this year, though, because grand champion Bryce Harper was actually a hen.
But we’re not going to spread that around.