Turkeys Make Together-Time
It's always a proud moment when a child decides to follow in their father’s footsteps. Joining a parent in a family business seems like it is a little more rare these days but on the Hale Turkey Farm in northern Carroll County near Oak Grove, Ark., father and son work together every day to make growing light hens for Powell Farms a success. “A.J. is a full-time turkey man over here,” grinned father Andy Hale as he talked about his eldest son. “I’m hoping he’ll take this farm over one of these days.”
The farm Andy describes was once his grandfather’s farm. It still includes the house and acreage his grandparents called home. Andy’s been running around with some sort of poultry on this Hale-held ground for quite awhile now. His father, a retired cattleman, had laying hens when he was small and before that his father and grandfather free-ranged turkeys on the same home place. Andy’s followed in those footsteps not only with his turkeys, but also by running 150 head of black Angus commercial momma cows on his 310 total owned and rented acres. Two large hay barns are neatly stacked full of the 3000 square bales and 700-800 round bales he and his two boys work hard to put up in the summers. To cap off the diversity of the Hale farm, they own five mules, one buggy horse (but sold the buggy), dogs, probably a barn cat or two, and three, four-wheelers — one for each of the hard-working Hale men whose big smiles are their most renowned feature.
“I built these turkey houses in 1992,” said Andy, “When I was in high school I worked with turkeys. So, when Powell wanted some new growers, I jumped in.” On this generational farm, Andy built one brooder house and two 18,000 square foot range houses and connected them by alleyways. This makes it easier to move the 22,000 five-week-old birds from the brooder house to the range houses.
A little more than a year ago, when the adjoining farm went up for sale, Andy and A.J. decided to buy the place and increase their turkey operation so that it would support them both. It was a great opportunity to work together. “I had to build a new brooder house, and turn the chicken houses into turkey houses,” said Andy. Now Andy lives in the house on this new adjoining farm, down the road from his son and across the county road from his new brooder house and three range houses. “It feels pretty good to have my sons working with me,” he added.
Hale’s younger son Nathan, a senior at Green Forest High School who plans to head to college in the fall of 2008, also helps out on the farm. “He works in the baby birds all the time,” said Andy. “He does the baby bird's feed and the pens and everything.” The Hales center-brood, building a cardboard pen 18 inches tall to keep the baby birds near the stove — their momma now — until they are a week old. The baby turkeys are hand fed two times a day using feeder pans and rest on rice hulls for liter.
With light hens, turkey farmers can’t spread the brooder house litter; they must shuffle the litter when the five-week-old birds enter the range houses. “Right now we are taking all the litter out of the brooder house and we cap the range house with it. That helps get a little more mileage out of it,” added Andy. “We are not wasting it.” Andy rebuilt the manure spreader that A.J. drives. “I changed it all up so it just drops out the back,” said Andy. Which is a big help with the young birds in the range house at the time.
“The turkey business is pretty good right now,” said Andy. “So far, we’ve been real lucky and haven’t had problems with disease.” The Hales raise six flocks a year, keeping them for 14 weeks until they reach 14 to 15 lbs. each. Now there is not much time for fishing, riding his mules or taking a much-needed vacation. “There’s never been a time without a turkey on the farm.”