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W.Va. farmers turn to turkeys despite profit dilemma

CHARLESTON, W.Va. - Larry Gardner's wife often jokes with him about life on their Wood County farm.

"I thought we were supposed to be retired," she tells him.

He acknowledges it's a lot of work. And getting the formula right for what to raise or grow is tricky.

When Gardner lived in Kentucky, he raised 100 acres of pumpkins. But he said he made sure he had them sold - that he had commitments from markets - before he planted the first seed. It was the only way he could make money.

"You can't put all this money into something that you can't sell," he said.

Turkeys pose a different dilemma. Gardner started raising them last year for the first time and had no problem selling them.

"We sold out in half a day - people were calling here from all over the state," he said.

He is raising them year-round but said Thanksgiving is his biggest season. He said the problem is they aren't the most profitable animals.

"Depending on how big you take your birds, it takes about 3 pounds of feed for a pound of bird," he said. "The feed cost is out of sight now, and turkeys have to have a higher protein feed than chickens do."

Gardner also raises chickens, letting them wander his property as he does the turkeys, unless it's really cold. They are more profitable and easier to produce in larger quantities.

"The way we make money is we sell a lot of different animals," Gardner said. "When we first started, we just sold lamb and we found out real quick that the cost of gas was so prohibitive that we had to sell other things."

Gardner Farm products are sold at Johnnie's Meats at Capitol Market, and Gardner makes regular deliveries to other areas, too. For information, call 304-679-3769.

For Spencer farmers Ben and Andrea Hayes, turkeys were an add-on to their primary animals, beef cattle that are grass fed.

And it's still a learning experience for the couple, who are schoolteachers by day.

"Last year, I ordered 50," Ben Hayes said. And because he got them fairly early and they thrived, they were big by slaughter day - the largest was 39 pounds fully dressed out and had to be cut in half to fit the customer's oven.

This year, disaster struck.

"I ordered 40 and they didn't fare well," Hayes said. "A raccoon or family of raccoons killed 31 of them all in one night."

He expected to sell the remaining few by word of mouth. While he hasn't given up on the idea, Hayes understands why many poultry farmers prefer to raise chickens.

"You can turn them over in six or seven weeks," he said.

Contact writer Monica Orosz at monica@dailymail.com or 304-348-4830.


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