By Dean Wright
Thanksgiving is a time to bring family together, reconnect with loved ones and indulge in a little bit of turkey.
The Lewis’ Turkey Farms and its owners, Beverly Lewis and Margie Kiefer, make a practice of this year round. The sisters have spent their lives growing up around the farm, learning the business and navigating what it means to be a family operated business.
Keifer’s husband, Gregg, also assists with the operation. Lewis said he retired a few years ago from his job and keeps the farm “mechanically out of trouble.”
The Lewis family has run the turkey farm on Thurman Road near Oak Hill in Jackson County, Ohio, since 1954. Lewis said her parents were the original founders and they started processing turkeys on the property in 1962.
Lewis said all of her family members were reared on the property. Lewis said the family was fortunate because a niece, her husband and their three children intend to take over farm operations. Their children would make the fourth family generation to live and work on the farm.
When the farm first started, it had around 1,500 in its first flock. The farm now raises around 45,000 to 50,000 birds a year.
“We start three winter flocks in January, February and March,” Lewis said. “Our winter flocks go strictly out of here alive to other (facilities for sale and preparation). We do dress a few here, but not the majority.”
Lewis said the family will sell around 300 birds a year to individual families who place orders with the farm.
Lewis’ Turkey Farms birds are also considered free-ranging as they have pens outside of their normal barns where they are free to roam on nicer days.
The farm sells turkeys locally, as well as into northeast Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia. Lewis said some of their turkeys even make it to the East Coast, Tennessee and as far west as Missouri. Some of the birds even make it as far as Whole Foods franchise stores. Turkeys are sold at one location in Gallia County, as well as in Jackson County.
Lewis turkeys are free of antibiotic and hormone use and are raised and slaughtered humanely in accordance with accrediting agencies. Their farm is a United States Department of Agriculture inspected location.
Lewis said her parents were both raised on farms, but she was not certain as to why they chose to get into the turkey raising business. She said the farm was small in comparison to some other turkey farms in the business. At one point in time, her parents had raised around 150,000 birds on the property which wandered the hills. Lewis said the farm operates roughly 300 acres currently and is also GAP (good agricultural practices) certified.
In addition to the turkeys, Lewis and her sister have crops including corn, soybeans and wheat, 100 acres of hay and 15 acres of labor-intensive tobacco.
“It’s a challenge sometimes,” Lewis said. “No year is ever the same. We’ve had years where we had to bail turkeys out of flooded barns, and we had tough feed years because crops jumped in price.”
Lewis said that birds generally need to be between 10 to 24 pounds before they are ready to cull. It takes approximately a year-and-a-half for birds to mature to that weight. A lot of a bird’s health is determined by feed and environment, and farmers can account for that by closely observing flocks.
“(Turkey farming) is like any other agriculture,” Lewis said. “You have to have a passion for it. You have to have empathy for the animals you’re working with. Yes, we’re going to kill these turkeys and we’re going to eat them, but as Dad always taught us, ‘There is dignity in life and there is dignity in death.’ You will take care of these animals to the best of your ability because if you take care of them, they will take care of you.”
LEWIS’ TURKEY FARMS TURKEY
This roasting recipe is what the sisters’ mother used growing up on the farm.
Lewis’ Turkey Farms turkey
Preheat oven to 350 F.
Remove turkey from bag, remove giblets from cavity and rinse thoroughly with cold water.
Place turkey in roasting pan that will allow at least 1 inch of space around turkey.
Brush entire bird with melted butter, including cavity.
Rub entire bird with kosher salt and freshly ground pepper, including cavity.
Place foil tent loosely over pan and turkey.
Place in oven and roast 10-12 minutes per pound.
Place oven-safe, instant-read thermometer in thickest part of breast. Roast until thermometer reads 180 F.
Remove bird from oven and carefully remove foil, it will be very hot.
Pour broth from pan and allow bird to stand for 15 minutes.
Remove bird to carving board. Carve and enjoy.
LEWIS’ TURKEY FARMS
961 Thurman Road, Oak Hill, OH 45656