Walk with Phil Osendorf around Tidy Farm Turkeys northwest of New Munich and you can hear the passion for the turkey industry in his voice. He stops in a brooder barn to check out four-week-old poults that will soon be moved to grow out barns; picking up a poult and describing how ensuring the health of the turkeys is crucial, from their footpads to their beaks.  

“I have always been interested in growing things and farming, and I think it will always be in my blood,” he said Nov. 9. “My father-in-law, Joe Schulzetenberg, was instrumental in me buying into the turkey farm.” 

Osendorf is an independent grower, like many area turkey farms. He loves the turkey industry and has a fondness for eating turkey products. On Thanksgiving you can bet turkey will be the main entrée as his and wife Gail’s family share a meal together. The same can be said for Christmas and other days throughout the year in this rural Freeport household. 

“We carve it up, slice the meat and serve it with gravy and all the traditional sides, including homemade dressing,” Osendorf said. “My mom (94-year-old Rosie) says that she likes my dressing better than the one she makes. I think she says that because then she doesn’t have to make it anymore.”

Tidy Farm Turkeys began in 1964 on 160 acres of Koenig farmland.

“The name came from the first owners who wanted to live up to their name, Tidy Farm Turkeys, which we still do today, keeping everything neat, clean and tidy,” Osendorf said. 

Osendorf, who grew up on a dairy/beef farm near Greenwald, has been working in the family business 43 years, the last 22 years managing two brooder barns and six grow out barns. When all the barns are full, there are close to 120,000 birds on the farm.

He said it is a long process, with a lot of work, that goes into raising turkeys. 

“From breeder farms, eggs go to a hatchery for 28 days and after they are hatched, they get shipped here,” he said. “Two flocks of 40,000 and 47,000 birds come 100 per box. We set up rings in 95-degree barns and care for them for four weeks and then they are moved to grow out barns.”

Full grown turkeys are shipped from the farm in trucks to processing plants.

“They are put into bags, frozen, shipped by a trucker to a grocery store and a turkey finally gets to your house and dinner table for Thanksgiving,” Osendorf explained. 

At 17-weeks-old, turkeys from Tidy Farm Turkeys are shipped to Turkey Valley Farms in Marshall, a co-op owned by the growers. 

A few weeks later, after the barns are cleaned and readied, the raising cycle begins again when new flocks of day-old poults, each weighing just a few ounces, arrive from a hatchery in South Dakota or Iowa. 

They raise heavy hens (female).

“The birds will be 20-22 pounds live weight, with a dressed weight of 18-20 pounds,” Osendorf said. 

That compares to toms (males) which are raised to around 40 pounds and used mainly for further processed products.  

They receive new poults every seven weeks. Osendorf estimates throughout the year they raise 348,000 poults, producing about six million pounds of finished turkeys each year. 

Osendorf, a hands-on manager, has three full-time employees.

“I help in the brooder barn when the new flock arrives and also help move them to the grow out barn,” he said. “Plus, there are all the things behind the scene to keep everything running smoothly.”

Weekly meetings ensure employer and employees are on the same schedule, with dates marked on a calendar. 

Because of genetics and nutrition, they are able to raise healthier, larger birds in a shorter period of time.

“The Minnesota Turkey Growers Association does a great job keeping the growers informed, and we also attend meetings and seminars, and networking is important,” Osendorf said. 

At Tidy Farm Turkeys, they use a probiotic strategy, including vitamins, electrolytes and natural additives, to keep the birds healthy,” 

“We do use antibiotics if they become ill or need care, similar to what a medical doctor would prescribe if you went to see them,” Osendorf said.  

Turkeys are fed nutrient-based corn and soybeans. 

“The rations change depending on what age they are at,” Osendorf said.  

A blood draw is done and fat samples taken on 10 randomly chosen birds in a flock before they are sent to market.

“These samples are sent to the poultry testing facility to ensure a good, safe, nutritious, healthy product,” he said.

Biosecurity measures and procedures are implemented and records kept. 

“I just completed a biosecurity audit for the farm which passed with flying colors,” he said. 

Increased biosecurity around the farm occurred spring of 2015 when turkey growers dealt with the Avian influenza. On Palm Sunday in March of 2015 Osendorf received a phone call from the United States Department of Agriculture saying Tidy Farm Turkeys was being placed in a surveillance/quarantine zone after there were outbreaks in the area. 

During the height of the avian flu, they limited traffic into the farm. Shutting down all repairs, with no electricians or carpenters, etc., onsite meant Osendorf picked up all parts and equipment needed at the farm. 

“I washed my truck so often that I think it became a different color red,” he said smiling. 

Osendorf built a specific wash station for cleaning the feeders and waterers, and he constructed Danish entryway systems, with foot baths, for all eight barns. Employees wear different boots and clothes at each barn with no crossover into other barns. 

A faith-filled family, they blessed the barns with holy water from the Poor Clares, and Gail wrote a prayer.

Osendorf credits all these things with getting them through a challenging time, untouched.

“I’m really proud to say we never got the Avian flu on the farm, even though we were literally surrounded by it,” Osendorf said. “We truly lived up to our name, Tidy Farm Turkeys, everything neat and clean.” 

His pride is evident when saying Minnesota is the No. 1 producer of turkeys in the nation, according to the MTGA, and Stearns County is the largest turkey-producing county in the state. 

“It’s gratifying that you are able to raise a good, healthy protein to help feed Americans and the world,” Osendorf said.  

A flock of Tidy Farm Turkeys birds was marketed the week of Nov. 8 and will be sold as fresh birds, also called holiday birds, in time for Thanksgiving and Christmas. 

That makes him smile, knowing people will enjoy a product he is passionate about raising. 

And on Thanksgiving so will the Osendorf family.