Katie and Bart run their turkey farm as an all-in/all-out farm. This means that once a flock of birds goes into a barn, no new birds go into that barn until the current flock leaves. This helps to reduce the risk of introducing a disease into a flock of turkeys. (We saw another kind of all-in/all-out farm on Heather’s pig farm.)
Once the poults are 5 weeks old, they are moved out of the brooder house into the finisher barns. Bart uses this time to completely clean and disinfect the brooder house to get ready for the next flock of poults.
Photo courtesy of Katie Olthoff, On the Banks of Squaw Creek.
While they are in the brooder house, the poults live on a soft bedding of wood shavings and oat hulls. This bedding is called litter. When the flock is moved to the finisher houses, the litter is scooped up and moved with the them. Once the brooder house is empty (turkeys and litter all moved to the finisher barns), the entire building is pressure washed twice – first with water and then with a disinfectant. All the feed and water lines are completely flushed out and cleaned. Each and every feed and water containers are hand washed with a disinfectant soap. (That’s about 1000 dishes that get hand washed – and you thought you had a lot of dishes!) The whole cleaning process takes about 2 weeks to finish. Then the brooder house is left empty for 1 week so it has time to completely dry out before a new flock of birds is brought in.
When the brooder house is ready for a new flock of poults, Bart brings in new litter and sets up the feed and water systems, brooder stoves, and temporary cardboard enclosures for the new birds. It takes about 5 days to get the barn ready for a new flock of poults.
The finisher barns are cleaned in a little different way. Once the birds go to market, the walls and the feed and water lines and containers are cleaned the same way as the brooder house. But the litter is recycled a little differently.
While the birds live in the barn, the litter forms into two layers – the top layer is called the manure cake. The turkeys scratch around in the top layer to mix in their manure and urine. The manure cake gets removed with equipment called a skimmer. Good-quality, absorbent litter along with good ventilation in the barn keeps the turkey manure from smelling bad. The bottom layer of litter stays soft and fresh. It acts as a cushion under the top layer. The skimmer separates the manure cake from the fresh litter underneath.
This is the skimmer. It is pulled behind a tractor to separate the two layers of litter.
The front of the skimmer works like a shovel to scoop up all the litter. With a conveyer belt type of system, the litter is pulled onto the yellow grate.
The fresh litter falls through the grate and back out onto the floor of the barn.
The manure cake gets stuck on the grate, and is dropped into the container on the back of the skimmer. The manure cake is taken out of the barn, and composted to use as fertilizer for crops later.
The litter that is left in the barn is treated for insects. Bugs can get into the barn that can carry diseases that can make turkeys sick. Some bugs can also cause damage to the barn.
The litter the poults started with in the brooder house is added on top of the litter left after the skimmer is finished. The skimmer does such a good job of separating the manure cake from the fresh litter that the finisher barns only need to be completely stripped of all the litter once every 3-5 years.
How long does it take to clean your house? Would you still wash dishes if it took you two weeks to get them all clean?
Have you been celebrating National Turkey Lover’s Month? Check out the National Turkey Federation for more information about turkeys and plenty of turkey recipes. Also be sure to check out Katie’s blog, On the Banks of Squaw Creek, to see how her whole family gets involved with their turkey farm.
For more turkey information, check out these articles: