How this Morley turkey farm raises over 30,000 turkeys at a time

MORLEY — Walking into a barn of 8,500 five-week-old turkeys can overwhelm the senses, with bright lighting, heat rising up and the sound of a lifetimes worth of food squawking all at once, yet for Sietsma farm manager Daryn Faber, this his his lifestyle.

Faber manages the Sietsma Turkey Farm outside of Morley, a few miles away from Brower Park on Old State Road. This farm raises upward of 52,000 male tom turkeys at a single time, with the farm receiving six flocks of turkeys a year and 34,000 turkeys being onsite within the past week.

Faber is originally from California where he worked in the low voltage electricity area. He then worked as a car salesman after moving to Michigan with his wife.

Moving into the farm industry, Faber originally worked with cattle before managing the farms in 2016. He currently manages both the farms in Morley and in Coral.

"What was really intriguing with Sietsma was these new farms. I enjoy the the building aspect and stuff," Faber said. "The guy who had hired me, I hit it off well with him, hardworking guy, and Sietsma was very well organized. While I really enjoyed the building aspect of it, like I said, there was also the managing a lot of the aspects of it too."

One of the barns hosts 8,500 five-week-old turkeys with an average weight 20 to 25 pounds, while fully grown males sit around 45 to 50 pounds. These turkeys, however, are not the turkeys that are served on Thanksgiving, instead these bird are used for turkey roasts, sliced meat and other various meats that are sold at Meijer and Subway.

The entire barn system is automated, with turkeys having automated feeding systems, drinking systems, a lighting system that simulated a sun-rise and a sunset, temperature control set at 74 degrees and ventilation.

"Based on the temperature, I then use that feedback in the system to regulate the ventilation," Faber said. "So the warmer it gets, more fans kick on. The colder it gets, the more heaters that kick on. It also helps us regulate the lights. We can put that on a schedule all of these lights dim. Like at night or in the morning, we can do a true sunset and sunrise. So it's a lower light in the morning, it takes 20 minutes, and it'll just slowly get up to that maximum intensity for the day."

According to Faber, one of the biggest risks to the flock is disease. The farm took several measures to mitigate outside contact with possible diseases, including double checking that outsiders didn't own or were around other birds, and wearing coveralls and boot covers. The Avian flu has been at its worst in years, yet Faber stated that because the farm was taking risk mitigation measures already, the effect on the farm was minimal.

"Health is the biggest challenge," Faber said. "We're in these barns twice a day monitoring them. We have log sheets that we use to track a lot of things. We have automated systems that help give us reports and allow us to track the feed intake, water intake, temperatures, just all kinds of things to help keep the birds comfortable keeping healthy as possible. Nice thing is we do have in house veterinarian. There's a great support staff as well to be able to keep these guys healthy."

The farm also contains two composters, as even with a healthy flock, 10% of the birds usually die before being sent away. These birds can be turned into soil and fertilizer onsite, allowing for another stream of revenue by selling the fertilizer to farmers in the area.

The farm boasts three full time employees with a few others helping operations part-time. Faber also shares some of the work with his two sons, who are 13 and 15, and are home schooled on the property.

"They (these birds) evolve over time," Faber said. "The birds get characteristics that are different today than they were five years ago. My kids are learning that along alongside me, plus they're learning skills that I picked up over the years. It's fun for them to learn that and will help them out."