Indiana Turkey Farmers are Committed to Care

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Indiana turkey farmers

Turkey farmer Shawna Humphrey taps into her motherly instincts to care for the 90,000 turkeys her farm raises each year.

“I kind of look at the turkeys as young children,” says Shawna, a southern Indiana farmer and mother of four. “You can tell when they are sick. You can tell when they don’t feel well. And it’s important to me to have healthy birds that feel good, just like it’s important to me to have healthy children.”

Bird welfare ranks of utmost importance to Shawna and her husband, Steven. They are among the family farmers who have made Indiana the nation’s third-largest state in terms of pounds of turkey produced, according to 2014 data from the Indiana Agricultural Statistics Service.

In 2014, Indiana farmers raised 19 million turkeys, a 43 percent increase in 10 years, according to NASS. Paul Brennan, executive vice president of the Indiana State Poultry Association, credits the state’s growing industry to expansion in the state’s turkey processing, a balanced regulatory environment, availability of Indiana-grown grain and the quality work of Indiana farmers themselves.

Indiana turkey farmers

“Family is the story of the Indiana poultry industry,” he says. “The majority of all my members are family-owned operations.”

Ten percent of U.S.-raised turkey meat originates in Indiana, and it’s commonly consumed as turkey products rather than whole turkeys. That’s because Indiana farmers specialize in birds too large for the oven, weighing around 40 pounds. Consumers enjoy Indiana-grown turkey in deli meats, burger, sausage and similar products, says Ryan Downes, sales manager for Farbest Foods Inc.

The Humphrey family raises male turkeys on contract for Farbest, the nation’s fourth-largest turkey company. Perdue Farms Inc., another top turkey company, also operates in Indiana.

Family owned since 1982, Farbest supplies fresh and frozen turkey products to brand-name processors throughout the U.S. and 23 countries. The third-generation family company processes around 15 million turkeys annually at its plants in Huntingburg and Vincennes in southern Indiana, Downes says. More than 200 farmers contract to raise turkeys for Farbest, all within 100 miles of its plants.

At the Humphrey farm near Salem, turkeys roam freely in their barns, eat a nutritionist-guided diet and interact with humans daily.

The family’s four sophisticated barns use computer systems to regulate ventilation, light and temperatures. For the babies, known as poults, temperature requirements peak at 96.5 degrees, Shawna says. For birds 8 weeks and older, ideal temperatures fall within 60 to 68 degrees. Fans and foggers help cool the barns in Indiana’s summer heat.

Indiana turkey farmers

“It’s very important to make sure the bird is comfortable throughout its entire life,” Downes says. “Farmers are in the barns every day. They are going through to make sure the birds are walking around, have proper space, proper ventilation, proper access to feed and water, and make sure they are not ill.”

Happy turkeys make Farbest Foods happy, too. Well-treated birds produce higher quality meats, Downes says.

Turkeys roam throughout the 50-by-500-foot barns on the Humphrey farm and access fresh food and water 24/7. An automated feeding system provides food the length of the barn. Nutritionists recommend proteins, probiotics (a feed supplement containing live cultures of “good” bacteria that benefits the animals) and important vitamins and minerals based on a bird’s age and size. That diet includes a lot of corn and soybeans, plentiful in Indiana. Turkeys at the Humphrey farm grow to an average 43 pounds at 20 weeks of age. In that time, a flock of 24,000 birds eats about 2.2 million pounds of feed, Shawna says.

“There are 14 types of feed that the birds will go through in their life,” she says. “About every week and a half they are changed to something different to fit their needs.”

Beyond food and comfort, biosecurity is important in turkey care, too. Farbest implements shower-in, shower-out rules at its nine company-owned brooder farms that house baby poults. This means that before entering the barns, all personnel have to shower first and wear farm-approved clothing, and then shower again before they leave. Birds arrive to most contract growers at 5 to 6 weeks old, Downes says. Farbest even cleans trucks and equipment that travel between farms.

Indiana turkey farmers

“Biosecurity is important not for human protection; it’s important simply for our turkeys,” Downes says. “We do everything to protect our birds from outside disease.”

Likewise, the Humphreys power wash and sterilize the facilities from ceiling to floor in between flocks. It’s a lot of work, but turkey farming inspires Shawna, a California farm girl whose husband brought her to Indiana.

“I tell my children you need to find your motivation in life,” she says. “This just motivates me. I love what I’m doing. I love the birds.”


  1. thar

    November 26, 2015 at 9:15 am

    The Perdue turkey farms are, sadly, horrifying. I am not a member of PETA, nor am I full vegetarian. But I know suffering when I see it, and thousands of birds confined to a limited space without the ability to move more than an inch (literally) without bumping into another bird is NOT humane. The farm wreaks of the stench of bird waste, and most of the time, tarps are lowered over the venting screens so that we cannot see the despicable conditions behind them. Add to that the transport methods of live birds (open air trucks, where they huddle in the inner cage against often harsh weather conditions), and it makes me think about my part in their suffering.

    • Ava

      February 23, 2020 at 8:15 am

      They get diseases if not confined. We are doing better for the birds than just letting them be free. And the birds aren’t suffering. You don’t own a turkey farm so you have no clue what you are talking about.

  2. Kathy Foster

    November 29, 2015 at 3:40 am

    Turkeys are like her children? Does she sell her children for slaughter then? Absolutely ridiculous.

    • Allie

      September 2, 2016 at 5:30 pm

      The word like and as are used in similes, she is not saying they are children. Don’t take this out of context. Not ridiculous at all, but good writing to bring across an idea that turkeys experience something similar to humans and that is they get sick and for any living thing wellness is ideal.

  3. Jan Glover

    November 29, 2015 at 7:05 am

    I hope she doesn’t have children if se rears them like these poor birds, sends them off to be murdered and then eats them. Jeez – ridiculous woman. GO VEGAN.

    • Ava

      February 23, 2020 at 8:10 am

      My mother is so great! She is one of the smartest people I know. Of course she doesn’t send my siblings and I to be murdered and eaten. She cares for us. She cares for us more than her own self. You people make me sick.

  4. Alicia

    January 25, 2016 at 1:02 pm

    This is awesome and Amazing

  5. Alicia

    January 25, 2016 at 1:04 pm

    I hope the turkey’s have good meat to eat !!!!

  6. Alicia

    January 25, 2016 at 1:05 pm

    I hope she doesn’t have children if se rears them like these poor birds, sends them off to be murdered and then eats them. Jeez – ridiculous woman. GO VEGAN.

  7. Thar

    February 23, 2020 at 7:20 pm

    The birds ARE suffering. I call BS on your response. Anyone with eyes can see it (well, when the tarps aren’t hiding the truth). No turkey farm ownership needed to see these poor birs’ deplorable conditions. So, it’s humane to confine these poor creatures in those conditions until they are killed? Please! THE COMMERCIAL FOOD FARMERS HAVE GOT TO DO A MORE HUMANE JOB. This (the revelation in my original comment) is NOT it.
    Keep posting. I will, too. Because those poor birds deserve better.
    P.S. Bird flu, 60000 turkeys southern Indiana 2016. Google it, people.
    Feathers along the roads for MILES and MILES.

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