Turkey business no longer linked to Thanksgiving for Melrose farmer

In the past 40 years, product diversification has expanded market

Turkey farmer Glen Klaphake said he loves the flexibility of working with turkeys. Glen hopes his son, Jon, who currently works full-time at the farm, will take over all farm operations when he reaches retirement. Pictured are (from left): Ashley Klaphake, Jon Klaphake and Glen Klaphake.

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Turkey isn’t just for Thanksgiving anymore.

“Years ago, the business was basically whole birds at Thanksgiving, Christmas, maybe Easter and Fourth of July — that was it,” said Melrose turkey farmer Glen Klaphake, who sells his finished turkeys to Jennie-O. “Now it is turkey all year round.”

Jennie-O, based in Willmar, now makes more than 1,500 different turkey-products, making farmers like Klaphake busy all year.

Glen’s farm, Meadowlark Turkeys, located just south of Melrose, runs at full capacity throughout the year with the help of his son, Jon. Family-run facilities like Glen’s farm continue to support the market for now popular products like turkey burgers, sausages or hot dogs, which tend to be much leaner than their beef counterparts.

“Jennie-O is doing a lot of cool things with turkey burgers, tenderloins and links,” Jon’s wife, Ashley, said. “It is really price effective, actually, considering what you get for a beef burger versus a turkey burger. … It is really affordable.”

Along with Glen’s wife, Debra, who works as a special education teacher in Melrose, Ashley helps with chores and errands around the farm while juggling her career in insurance.

“Turkey has a really promising future, considering all the diversified meats people have come up with,” she said. “Turkey has gotten a lot easier to access and profits will continue to get better as time goes on.”

Turkeys at Meadowlark stay at the farm for 13 to 18 weeks, depending on how large they want the bird to get. All poults are purchased from Jennie-O and raised to be between 13 and 22 pounds. With nearly 1000 acres of corn and soybeans, Glen said the turkeys are fed primarily corn and soybean meal.

Glen Klaphake holds one of the turkeys that is ready to go to Jennie-O to be slaughtered. Turkeys range from 13 to 22 pounds when they are brought to market.

Just before selling the finished turkeys back to Jennie-O, Glen said he and Jon take great pains to ensure the birds are clean and healthy, with no sign of any diseases.

“A processor’s biggest scare is a salmonella recall, or e. coli,” Glen said. “That just about breaks a company. … The happy, healthy birds are the ones that make you money.”

After nearly 40 years in the turkey business, Glen can process six cycles (from poult to finish) of 40,000 turkeys each year, which means  sending nearly 250,000 turkeys to Jennie-O each year.  Turkeys are sold in batches of about 10,000 multiple times a month. Coupled with his 1,000 acres of crop farming, Glen said he keeps busy — and happy.

“It is a nice way of life,” he said. “Any kind of farming, there are a lot of long, hard days, but you are still your own boss. You are on your own time, and you can work with your family. You are rewarded that way.”

Turkeys are easier to handle and keep clean, Glen said, and chores on a turkey farm are much more forgiving than on other types of farms.

“I grew up on a dairy farm where you had to milk cows at a certain time every morning and night,” he said. “Sure, turkeys are a seven-day-a-week job, but there is flexibility with when you have to do the chores.”

Ashley, who also grew up on a dairy farm in St. Martin, said she would choose to work a turkey farm any day for a little extra sleep.

“You don’t have to get up at 4:30 every morning,” she said. “If you want, you could, but the next morning you can wake up at 7 a.m.”

Every day is different for a turkey farmer, Glen said, and to keep on top of business, he and Jon have to work hard to keep their turkeys in top condition, while at the same time satisfy the demands of the customer.

“It is like everything else,” Glen said. “It is really a competitive business. You have to be better than the next guy — more efficient and cut costs so you are able to be profitable.”

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