Q: As a turkey farmer, what type of turkey do you recommend people buy for their holiday dinner and what are your cooking recommendations?
There are many turkey choices to consider - from conventional to organic, free-range to heritage, even fresh versus frozen. I always purchase a conventionally-raised turkey for Thanksgiving dinner as I am confident the turkey has been raised with care. The most affordable option is a frozen whole turkey which is typically sold for less than $1 a pound this time of year. If you prefer not to thaw your turkey, then you may want to purchase a fresh turkey that will go from the refrigerator to the oven without days of defrosting.
Organic and free-range options, which typically cost more because of higher feed costs, are available in Minnesota. Most turkeys in Minnesota are not free-range because of higher risk of disease, plus predators have easier access to the birds. Heritage birds tend to be more expensive as they take much longer to grow to market weight, and the meat can be more gamey.
All turkeys - regardless of production method - have an excellent nutritional profile. Cook the turkey to 165 degrees in the breast, remove it from the oven and let it rest 15-20 minutes before carving. A meat thermometer takes all the guesswork out of roasting a turkey!
Q: How do you explain the choices people have in buying turkey?
Minnesota is home to three turkey processing plants: Jennie-O Turkey Store, Turkey Valley Farms and Northern Pride. These companies collectively have created 2,000 turkey products for consumers and the food service market. So chances are, if you are from the upper Midwest, the turkey you purchase was raised locally. And, of course, a whole bird is always a good choice!
Q: There is a myth that farmers use hormones in turkey production. Can you share with us why that's not true and how you care for your turkeys?
Added hormones and steroids are banned by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for use in all poultry production; they are illegal to use and not needed anyway. Birds raised by Halvorson Farms are humanely treated and cared for daily. We pay attention to the temperature in the barn, check water and feed and make sure any veterinarian-needed issues are addressed immediately. Our goal is to produce and market a healthy product. Some companies do market their birds as hormone-free, but you never have to pay more for a label like this because all poultry is free from added hormones and steroids.
Q: Aside from raising turkeys since 1989, you also have two other small businesses, Bio Wood Processing and Halvorson Applications. How do they add value to your farming operation?
Bio Wood Processing recycles and reuses discarded wood product. Bio Wood works with manufacturing companies to pick up their waste wood and bring it back to one of our sites. Then we turn it into either a bedding product to be used in turkey barns, dairy, beef or horse barns, or we will make a mulch product that is marketed in five colors for landscaping. Both are organic, environmentally sound uses of an otherwise waste product.
HF Applications brokers, sells and agronomically applies turkey litter (made up of bedding product combined with manure) to area farm fields as a rich source of nitrogen, phosphorous and potash, as well as micro nutrients that ultimately build and enrich soils. Bio Wood provides bedding to Halvorson Farms, and Halvorson Farms sells manure to HF Applications, creating a well-rounded business model.
Q: You're the president of the Minnesota Turkey Research & Promotion Council. What is your greatest challenge in this role and what are the rewards?
As president of MTRPC, the greatest reward and challenge is very much the same: to continuously keeping the consumer aware of the safety and security of the American food system. Also, the work MTRPC does with the University of Minnesota is second to none in the U.S. We are always working in research and analysis to make an already fantastic industry even better.
Kim Halvorson operates Halvorson Farms with her son, Bernt and also has three daughters, Breann, Benita and Greta. She has been a turkey farmer for 26 years and raises approximately 100,000 heavy toms per year, or about 3.2 million pounds per year, in Rice County, Minn.