Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Heritage Turkey Workshops Travel the Country

Throughout the later half of 2008 and the early party of 2009, ALBC has been conducting heritage turkey workshops throughout the country. The first of these workshops we held in July of 2008 at Peregrine Farm in Pittsboro, NC. The workshop was full with 40 participants coming from all different locations including, North Carolina, Maryland, Virginia, South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida. Frank Reese was the instructor for the North Carolina workshops. Frank operates Good Shepherd Turkey Ranch and he is the link for most of us to an era when what we now call “heritage turkeys” were highly productive and always raised outdoors.

Three more workshops are being held during the first quarter of 2009 – one a month. Danny Williamson is the clinician for these spring workshops. Danny has been raising turkeys for 13 years, learning under the tutelage and careful eye of Frank Reese. Over these 13 years, Danny has become a master breeder, General Manager, and CFO for Good Shepherd Turkey Ranch, the marketing arm for the 10,000 plus turkeys that Frank, Danny, and several growers raise for the holiday market.

The first of the 2009 workshops was held in January in Live Oak, Florida, a small town about half way between Tallahassee and Jacksonville. Elena Toro, an extension agent in Suwannee County, jumped on the opportunity to host the workshop, providing significant logistical support and fabulous publicity. The workshop was a success and provided a valuable learning experience for those who attended.

February’s event was held in Adams Run, South Carolina, about 25 miles west of Charleston. ALBC member Sam Ormont was the host. Sam raises Narragansett turkeys on his farm. In Adams Run we actually held two clinics – one for breeder selection and the second on husbandry. The breeders group was small but attentive. Several people had attended husbandry workshops in other states and were ready to begin managing their own breeding stock. In the morning we covered history, ideal conformation, and faults. In the afternoon we donned white biosecurity suits and booties and applied what we’d learned to the real thing. The goal was to develop an understanding of the ideal, an eye for ideal conformation, and a feel for the same. This was a good group of students.

The husbandry workshop began the following day, using the same pattern that had been established in Florida. While there were fewer attendees, there appeared to be a core group who are beginning to explore working cooperatively from breeding and hatching to purchasing feed and marketing.

In March, ALBC will be in Wheatland, Missouri, which lies midway between Springfield and Kansas City. Bill McBrayer will be the host.

These workshops have all been a great success for ALBC, but more importantly for the turkeys, the breeders, and the producers. There is a clear desire for more breeder selection and husbandry clinics on more breeds and species is clear. People are hungry for the information and the first hand knowledge that comes with years of experience and dirt under the nails. ALBC will pursue additional funding to make such offerings available.

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