Farm Progress

More than just a turkey

The Yordy family produces 10,000 natural turkeys just in time for the holiday season. Here’s a look at how they’ve delivered exactly what their customers want, for 80 years and counting.

Jill Loehr, Associate Editor, Prairie Farmer

October 17, 2017

4 Min Read
SELLING TRADITION: Picking up a preordered Yordy turkey becomes a family tradition passed down to the next generation, Brent Yordy explains. The retail store has a wood-burning fireplace, space to visit with the Yordys about cooking advice and plenty of coolers for turkeys.

Brent Yordy doesn’t know if feeding his turkey flock non-GMO grain makes them, or his customers, healthier, but that’s not the point. “I have to listen to my customers, and if that’s something they are concerned about, then I’ll try and change my operation for what they’re looking for,” he explains.

It’s a business model farmers are considering more frequently as grain prices remain low. Farmers like the Yordys diversify their operation with specialty meat products as a way to earn premium prices. And the Yordys have it down to a science.

“There’s an element of that happening in the countryside,” says Nic Anderson, Illinois Livestock Development Group. “The risk is in the marketing side — keeping customers supplied with the right amount at the right time.”

The holiday season is the right time for Yordy’s turkey business, a tradition started by his grandfather, Robert Yordy, more than 80 years ago. “We concentrate on the fresh specialty market,” Brent Yordy explains. That hasn’t changed, but their production practices have evolved. Yordy believes the key to a successful specialty business is listening and delivering what consumers want.

“The consumer is the one buying; that’s the one we need to listen to,” he adds. That’s why they began feeding their turkeys non-GMO grain five years ago.

Behind the scenes
Robert, Yordy Turkey Farm’s founder, transitioned the 2,500-head turkey operation to Brent 35 years ago. Today, Brent Yordy and his sons, Avery and Travis, raise 10,000 all in-all out turkeys annually on their Morton, Ill., farm, and harvest them just in time for Thanksgiving and Christmas.

In early July, day-old poults travel eight hours in a temperature-controlled trailer from Ag Forte Hatchery in Missouri. The poults are greeted with fresh water that’s changed every three hours and non-GMO feed mixed on the Yordys’ farm with their own non-GMO grain, soybean meal and vitamins recommended by their nutritionist. Yordy doesn’t use antibiotics or growth hormones, but the vitamin blend contains probiotics to promote optimum gut health.

The family uses proper washing precautions entering and exiting the buildings, and they disinfect the buildings prior to the arrival of each new batch of poults and after the flock is harvested. The buildings are empty seven months out of the year, Yordy adds, making it harder for disease and bacteria to linger.

The turkeys reach optimum weight at 18 weeks and travel 2 miles down the road to the Yordys’ dedicated processing facility.

The sales team, led by Yordy’s wife, Sally, begins taking turkey orders about one week before the big day: Thanksgiving.

One-on-one customer time
Thanksgiving accounts for 80% of the Yordys’ annual sales, and Christmas rounds out the majority of the remainder. Customers pick up their preordered turkeys at the Yordys’ retail location in Morton.

Order pickup is an important part of their success, Yordy notes, adding the personal connection between the customer and the farmer really makes the difference.

“From day one on, we know everything the turkey is fed, we know the water it’s drinking, and we know how it’s processed. We know everything about it,” he says. “When you buy from us, or any local produce or meat you buy, you’re talking to the person who grew it and who knows everything there is to know about it. That’s what consumers want.”

LET’S TALK TURKEY: Today’s consumers want to know more about the food they eat and how it was produced, Brent Yordy explains. “There’s nothing magical to what we do as far as answering questions,” he adds. “We just talk about facts.”

What else do they want? Simplicity. Yordy credits his wife for taking the order pickup experience to the next level, with a sales staff ready to answer questions about everything from how the turkey was harvested to how to cook it. A pop-up thermometer and special Yordy spice packet take away the cooking guesswork.

It’s the little things, like a free seasoning packet and direct contact with the farmer, that bring 80% to 90% of their customers back every year, Yordy explains.

The personal connection with the farmer is especially important to the next generation — the young families stepping up to serve their first Thanksgiving dinner. “That has really changed over the years,” he adds. “And we want to educate them. We want them to know what we do; it’s no secret.”

A priceless experience
Delivering what consumers want, like non-GMO-fed turkey, comes with a higher price tag. “It costs a little more to produce the grain and to separate the soybean meal,” Yordy explains. “We have to extend that out to the customer.”

Yordy’s fresh 19- to 21-pound turkey costs $2.69 per pound.

But it’s more than just a turkey, Yordy says. He says their customers value the personal connection with the family who raised the turkey and the pickup experience at the retail store. “It’s a ritual for some people. They’ve been coming for years. We want it to be special. Sometimes we have four generations coming in and buying,” he explains. “Most people want a quality product, especially for this one meal out of the year.”

About the Author(s)

Jill Loehr

Associate Editor, Prairie Farmer, Loehr

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