By Admin | October 31, 2008
Kent Strock comes from a long-time farming family and is the owner of Strock’s Farm Fresh Meats in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania. In addition to his thriving catering business, he raises turkeys. He gives us his thoughts on being a turkey farmer.
Where are you from?
I was raised on this farm in PA, actually born in Mechanicsburg, at Seidle Hospital in 1952 and have a brother and two sisters, all of whom are younger.
Where did you go to college and what was your academic major?
I was a little undecided upon graduation from MHS on a college major so I started one term late at PSU in the winter of 1971 as an Ag Education major.
What has been your career path from college to your current position?
Four years later I accepted a job as an Ag teacher at West Perry but did not return for a second year.
I was a 4-H Exchange Youth to Jamaica in 1975 for four months and then returned to Mechanicsburg and applied for Grad School at several Midwestern schools. I decided upon Iowa State and spent two years as an Animal Science major in Ames, Iowa.
I took a teaching position in Austin, Minnesota just prior to graduating and spent four years at Austin Community College as the Ag Coordinator, from 1978-1981.
It was while in Minnesota that I learned how to cook pigs and that became a very important part of our business after we moved back to PA in 1981.
I worked for my father on the home farm for 4 years and then took over the hog operation from him in 1985 and we continued to roast pigs on the weekend.
My wife bought a small market stand at Broad Street Market in Harrisburg in the 80s and we moved to the home farm in 1994 and opened a retail meat market selling our own fresh meats and making several deli items for sale, also. We continued the market until 2003 and decided to focus on the catering aspect.
I took over the turkey business in 1997, and shortly after that sold my sows and got out of the hog business.
The turkey business had been started as an FFA project by my uncle in the 1920s and was continued by my father when he separated from his business partnership with his brothers about 1950.
We have been raising and processing turkeys ever since and have maintained a small retail store on the farm selling at Thanksgiving and Christmas.
How many turkeys a year do you sell?
We will process about 1300 for Thanksgiving this year and 400 for Christmas.
Do you breed your turkeys to produce each year’s crop?
The turkeys that we raise are secured from two hatcheries, one in Canada and one in Michigan. I buy the polts (baby turkey) as a hatchling and grow them from 24 hours of age to market.
Why do you buy polts from two different hatcheries?
The reason we use two different hatcheries is to have a variety of sizes for our customers. The Canadian turkeys are a smaller breed and the Michigan birds mature at a larger size so that we can have turkeys from 13-30 pounds at the holidays.
Our demand is for generally for 13-23# turkeys a few larger ones. The nice thing about purchasing polts is that I can order quantities by sex. The hens are smaller and the toms give me the large birds a few of my customers desire.
Is there any difference in taste between a tom and hen turkey?
No real difference between the taste of a hen and tom. Remember they are the same age at slaughter.
What is the hardest part about raising turkeys?
The hardest part of raising turkeys is the first four weeks. They require a draft free and very warm environment – 95 degrees – during that time and need to be checked often.
What do turkeys eat?
We feed a corn and soybean based diet using our own corn. I am not an “organic” farmer as we will use corn that has been sprayed for weeds with herbicides. We do withdraw antibiotics from the feed the last two weeks to assure that our birds are free of antibiotics.
How do you actually prepare a turkey for market?
The turkeys are grown for about 16 weeks and then slaughtered here and packaged for sale. We kill using funnels to restrain the turkeys, then scald the birds and use an automatic picking machine to remove the feathers.
The scalding process places the birds in 135-140 degree water for one minute and fifteen seconds. This loosens the feathers so that the picker can remove the feathers quite easily.
We open every turkey by hand and clean them for packaging the next day. The dressed turkey is chilled overnight in ice water and sealed in a Cryovac plastic bag and boxed for ease of handling the following day.
We stack them in refrigerated trailer, by size, and offer a drive thru service for customers that have paid in advance.
Is it true that turkeys are stupid?
Domestic turkeys are quite stupid. They are easily scared and will pile on top of one another in a corner if sufficiently scared.
I usually lose one or two every year because of something very stupid that they do. While they share a resemblance to their wild relatives, I doubt that a domestic turkey would last in the woods.
What does your family eat for Thanksgiving dinner?
Our family dinner at Thanksgiving always includes turkey. We all enjoy a fresh turkey for the holidays.
Does your family eat other types of meat?
Pork is another favorite around here. My sons refer to bacon as “meat candy” and our charcoal roasted pork is unbeatable.
Do you make a living off of your turkey farming?
The catering business now provides the bulk of our income. The turkey business has greater longevity but provides only about 20% of our net income. We would be considered a small entity in the poultry industry.
Locally, I am sure we sell a substantial number of turkeys but we are just that, a very local business.
Are any of your kids interested in taking over the business?
At this time none of our children have shown an interest in the business. All are grown and have pursued other careers. They are all located close by and can be called upon at times to help in a pinch.
Do you consider McCain or Obama to be more farmer friendly?
In regard to the election, I am not thrilled with either candidate. I wish McCain was more conservative and Obama is much too liberal for my taste. Palin is more my style candidate.
From an agricultural perspective I see McCain as the better alternative. Quite frankly Obama scares me. I do not think he has been honest and his policies are dead wrong on many issues.
Editors Note: The interviewer has eaten many Strock Farm turkeys for Thanksgiving dinner.
Copyright 2008 DailyInterview.com
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