By DOUG GRAVES
NEW CARLISLE, Ohio — It’s not easy raising turkeys where coyotes roam. It’s even more difficult running a turkey business with two separate families at the helm.
For the past 64 years Bowman & Landes has persevered through predators, dual-ownership and the test of time to become one of Ohio’s largest free-range turkey farms. “This was first my grandfather’s farm and, like everyone else living in the 1920s in this area, he had cows, chickens and a few pigs,” said Carl Bowman. “About that time, my uncle (Dennis Landes) started raising turkeys, but soon wanted to sell out to my dad (Kenneth Bowman) and move to California. But Dad didn’t have the money.”
Since Kenneth, who was working in a clothing store in Dayton at the time, had sales experience and Dennis had experience with turkeys, the two pooled their resources and purchased the farm together.
“Not only have we existed 64 years but our two families are still working together, appreciate each other and bring different skills to the table, which is great for the business,” Carl Bowman said.
To this day Bowman and his sister, Anita, tend to the sales and marketing aspect of the business. Stan Landes is the company bookkeeper while his brother, Steve, takes care of the plant and packing.
They take in 70,000 day-old poults annually on this 140-acre farm in Miami County. When full grown, the white-feathered birds roam the grassy fields and feed on cracked corn.
The Bowman and Landes families also sell pastrami, turkey broth, ground turkey, turkey sausage and turkey parts from its onsite retail store, but that accounts for just 20 percent of the families’ business. Still, fresh turkeys are the heart and soul of this business.
“We sell directly to the consumer but we also serve grocery stores, colleges, hospitals and delicatessens,” Carl said. “We serve Indiana, Kentucky, Ohio and the East Coast. Our goal was not to be too big, but try many facets of this business.”
Most turkeys in the 1940s and ‘50s were raised outdoors, when they were consumed primarily at Thanksgiving. The young turkeys could be raised in the warm-weather months and be ready for slaughter by November, before cold weather moved in.
Indoor-raised turkeys are generally larger, have more breast meat and sell for about half the price of free-range birds, which consume more food, take more labor to raise and can suffer a higher mortality rate because of predators.
As turkey meat began to be consumed year-round, farmers chose to raise the birds all year as well, and shield them from winter weather in barns and other enclosures. Even Bowman keeps his turkeys inside for the first six weeks of their lives, in part so the youngsters don’t get carried away by predators.
In addition, the farm uses 234 solar panels on the roof of the turkey barn to heat the barn and offset electric usage at the processing plant nearby.
But free-range is the preferred bird at Bowman & Landes. “They’re just a healthier, happier turkey when they’re running around,” Bowman said. “We think it’s a more tender, juicy taste.”
Mike Lilburn, an animal sciences professor at Ohio State University, said more than 90 percent of U.S. turkeys are currently raised indoors.