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Customer Spotlight: Raising Turkeys with the Esbenshade Family

We recently interviewed Clair, Todd and Kyle Esbenshade who operate a diversified farm in Beaver Springs, PA. During this Thanksgiving season, we are grateful for farmers who grow and raise the food for our tables. In the interview we learned from the Esbenshades about the turkeys they raise. Listen to the full podcast episode with the Esbenshades here.

First, could you tell our listeners about your farm? 
We raise pigs and turkeys and beef cattle and crop farm. Our family started in this area in December 1998. We moved up from Lancaster County and took off from there.

About 10-11 years ago, Todd wanted to stay on the farm. In order to do that, we had to find another source of income, so he decided to put up a nursery barn for the pigs. 

Then Kyle decided that he would stay here too, and when Clair semi-retired, Kyle started taking over the turkeys. 

When we moved to this farm, the turkey barns were already here. We added more crop ground as we were offered ground to farm. Then we added more beef cattle, the pig barn and some grain facilities over the years. It's three families who are making a living off this farm, or at least we're trying to. 

We farm a couple hundred acres of cash corn, beans and small grains. We have roughly 45 beef cows right now, that’s grown from the 10 or 15 that we started with. For the turkeys, we raise roughly 30,000 turkeys a year.

With Thanksgiving around the corner and turkeys on our mind, share with us about your turkey operation.
I don't think you have an oven big enough to do our turkeys. Our turkeys averaged 36 pounds this spring; one flock was as high as 49.9 pounds. The turkeys we raise are used for sandwiches, sausages, bacon, breast meat and various products they make with them. We raise what are called heavy toms for Hain's Pure Protein.

We start the turkeys about every 15 weeks and then they stay on our farm for 18 to 22 weeks until they go for processing. We have a little overlap of young and old, it’s a two-stage system. 

About 10-15 years ago I raised two flocks of heavy hens, which are the fresh market product for roasting turkeys. I enjoyed raising them. They were much nicer to work with than they heavy toms.  

Could you give our listeners an idea of every day what you have to do with the turkeys, how you work and care for the turkeys on your farm?
When we start turkeys, I usually go through the barn three to four times a day. They are pretty small so I have to go out in the middle of the night and make sure they're not piling up somewhere. But then once they get to be over a week old, it's not as much work. You walk through them twice a day, generally, morning and evening. Basically I check the feed and the water and make sure everything is working and the fans are running.

There have been a lot of recent news reports about consumers wanting smaller turkeys this year because of having smaller family gatherings due to the pandemic. Did this impact your operation this year, and if so in what way?
We really have no control over when the birds leave. We own the building, but the company we grow for provides the birds and they control them. So if they need our birds at a certain time, they can come and take them, but we usually keep them for 18 to 20 weeks and they get to be mid-30s to mid-40 pounds.

With Thanksgiving just a few days away, share with our listeners what you are thankful for this season, along with anything else you’d like to cover.
Kyle: I'd be thankful that we're able to work together every day with my dad and brother. The farm provides a steady income that lets us do that. It's a lot of work, but it's usually worth it.

Clair: I'm thankful that we can celebrate together as a family, and I'm thankful that we have a God that cares about us in a very intimate way. He's provided a way for us to have a life, not only here, but after, too. To me, when you're out in the farm, you just see God all around you, and that's one thing I'm really thankful for where we're at.

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