“If I had to reflect back on our history as turkey farmers;” says Garry, “its surprising to realize that my family has been around turkeys for over 50 years. Both of my parents came from farming families, but they did not start with a farm. After marrying my mom, my Dad bought a small country store in central Alberta. My mother looked after the store and Dad did general trucking; hauling cattle, hogs, grain and coal for neighbors.”
“An opportunity came up in the late 1950’s when our neighbors, Malmo Turkey Farms had excess turkey poults with nowhere to put them. Dad and several other neighbors got together to build new barns and the baby turkeys were placed in their new home shortly after.”
“Those early years were challenging. Dad had to learn quickly about the turkeys and their unique needs; on top of that he continued to keep the commercial trucking business and the country store going.” Garry says. To make matters more complicated the turkey market was tumultuous and unpredictable. Even if a farmer producer top quality birds, the market did not guarantee a positive return.
A change came in 1966 when Alberta adopted a new marketing plan; now known as supply management. The market place stabilized and farms were able to cover costs and pay their bills which meant that the future looked much brighter for Alberta turkey farming.
Garry’s chance to raise his own turkeys came when he returned from Australia is 1973. Lilydale was looking for someone to raise a flock of breeders, so Garry and his friend and neighbor Ray took on this new challenge. Ray’s father had developed a large turkey breeding business after returning home from WWII so Garry and Ray were lucky to have two experienced mentors (their fathers) help them out in their new venture.
The 35 years that Garry worked at producing hatching turkey eggs were not without challenges. Their goal was to produce a healthy strong poult because they were paid on a chick basis – not an egg basis. It was an incredibly intensive process and required the participation from the whole family as well as outside help. “And sometimes, if the birds needed you it didn’t matter if you were in the middle of a holiday dinner. You needed to get out to the barns to ensure the turkeys were looked after.” says Garry.
Today Garry’s oldest son Scott is taking over the turkey farm. After high school Scott worked in the oil patch as well as on the family farm. Now that Scott is married and had a young family of his own he has chosen to leave the lucrative oil work and take over the farm; which allows his to spend quality time at home. Scott points out “Not many careers allow me to have that special home life. Without the stability and predictability of supply management I would have had to be away from home a lot more working in the oil patch.”
When asked if he has anything to add, Garry says “Turkeys are not stupid. They have survived for centuries in forests of the America’s without man’s help. And remember, they come from the family of PHASIANDAE, which includes pheasants, partridges and grouse. They are all game birds so the more they are comfortable and feel at home in our barns the better the results we get. “And,” explains Garry “nothing is better that watching young turkeys running and playing on fresh straw with warm sunlight beaming down on them.”