A dream turns into reality for city dweller turned turkey producer
By BROOKS TAYLOR
Mt. Pleasant News
WAYLAND — A smile comes to Lowell Unruh’s face when he reflects on those wheat harvests of yesteryear in the panhandle of Texas.
“I loved to go to my grandfather’s farm in Texas,” he began. “I loved the wheat harvest, that was fun stuff, and that is how farming got into my blood.”
Growing up around Denver, Colo., the farm might have been the last place you would expect Unruh to have settled.
But it is a good life, he said, and a life he sincerely enjoys. “My father grew up on a farm and my uncles farmed. It was ingrained into me at an early age that farming was a good life. Growing up, I dreamed of farming.”
The dream, and a lot of help from his father-in-law (Milburn Gerig) brought Unruh and his wife, Pam, to where she grew up — just east of Wayland.
Here, the Unruh family has survived some misfortune, the most devastating being last May’s tornado which destroyed his large turkey building and damaged others.
Buildings, however, can be replaced and he is looking forward to the completion of the new 400x60-square-foot building for his turkey-growing operation. “Hopefully, it will be done by the end of the year, but turkeys won’t go into it until Feb. 1 (2013),” he said.
His venture into farming and turkey production, in particular, “has been very good for us,” he said. “Turkeys are a great product to produce. They are a commodity people like and they are healthy to eat.”
Unruh markets 44,000 turkeys per year at six different intervals, raising the birds both on his place and another site nearby. He said they are marketed at 19 weeks old, weighing between 40-42 pounds. He raises the turkeys for West Liberty Foods.
Some 439 turkeys perished in the May tornado and the heat and humidity the past summer provided a double whammy. He said he lost about 1,200 turkeys during the summer’s heat and humidity.
“It only takes one day of heat and humidity. It was a tough summer and there really isn’t much you can do about it. I have lost turkeys other summers because of the heat and humidity but may have lost the most this summer,” he reflected. None of the loss was covered by insurance. “You can’t insure for heat loss,” Unruh explained.
He has been raising turkeys ever since moving to the farm in 1983. Initially he raised them on the range until his first building was built in 1988.
In addition to raising turkeys, Unruh (who was a carpenter in Colorado before moving to Iowa) has a hog contractual feeding operation and farms about 175 acres of corn and soybeans.
As kids growing up, Unruh and his brother dreamed of raising hogs on some land owned in Oklahoma owned by their father. He met his future wife at Heston College and worked a year on a hog operation in Ohio before moving back to Colorado. He said he opted for the hog operation work to whet his appetite for farming.
“Growing up in the city, I didn’t think it (farming) would happen, that is why I worked at the hog farm to gain (farming) experience,” Unruh stated.
His father-in-law raised turkeys and talked the couple into coming to Iowa and diving into turkey production. “In his opinion, turkeys made his living. I didn’t know anything about turkeys but was game to try it.”
Although turkey production is more risky than hogs, you get the impression that he enjoys turkeys more. “I just have to keep feed and water in front of the hogs and shelter them. It is much more financially risky to raise turkeys than contracting feeding hogs for someone else. However, I take pride in both,” he said.
He’s grateful he took his father-in-law’s advice. “There is kind of a select group of guys around here who do it (raise turkeys). It is very expensive to get into and you have to have a place to process the birds,” he remarked. “But demand goes up each year and I see a good future in turkey production.”