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11-25-02: New Knoxville turkey farm gearing up for Thanksgiving
The Daily Standard

    NEW KNOXVILLE - Kuck's Turkey Farm is a busy place these days as preparations continue ensuring plump birds for Thanksgiving dinner tables.
     Some 10,000 turkeys have been raised and slaughtered for the holiday season in keeping with a tradition Vernon and Ruth Kuck started in 1954. The Kucks still help in the family business now owned by their sons, Ted and Jay.
    "We had been raising broilers for years before someone suggested switching to turkeys," Vernon Kuck says with a smile. "There was supposed to be more money involved in the production of big birds."
    The farm produced 500 turkeys the first year and 1,000 to 1,500 in the following years. The operation grew in size in the mid-1970s after Ted Kuck graduated from Ohio State University with a degree in poultry science.
    "Ted had a chance to go with some big companies in the East but he ended up coming home to Auglaize County," Vernon Kuck says proudly. "I think he wanted to be his own boss."
    Turkeys are purchased from Ohio suppliers as 1-day-old poults and moved to large barns near New Knoxville. They require sweltering heat without any drafts, clean water and specialized feed purchased from Cooper Farms in Fort Recovery.
    "Turkeys are more temperamental and fragile than chicks," Ted Kuck says. "The temperature is kept right around 98 degrees and adequate lighting is vital to their survival. Poults initially have poor eyesight. They have to be able to see the feed in order to eat."
    The first shipment of poults arrived July 13, with more coming during the ensuing weeks to ensure a range of sizes for holiday meals. The Kucks raise hens as opposed to male or tom turkeys.
    "Hens are easier to raise," Vernon Kuck contends. "They're much better for the table."
    Toms typically weigh between 30 and 40 pounds on foot, while hens average 25 pounds or so. According to the Kucks, a 25-pound bird dresses out to approximately 20 or 21 pounds.
    Although raised as part of the family business, turkeys are taken elsewhere for slaughter. They come back the following day in refrigerated trucks for packaging. Each heads to market in its own box bearing a distinctive orange logo.
    "We used to do our own slaughtering but the boom in the housing market made good workers hard to find," Ted Kuck says. "We employ anywhere from eight to 12 people, including an Amish crew, on a part-time basis."
    Kuck's Turkey Farm specializes in fresh birds that go to market "au natural." They are not injected with broth, water, phosphates or flavorings.
    "Many commercial operations inject 5 to 7 percent water or broth," Ted Kuck says. "That equates to 1.4 pounds in a 20-pound bird. Ours are naturally moist and tender. What you see is what you get."
    The telephone literally rings off the hook these days as area residents call to reserve their main course. The calls typically begin in mid-November and increase in frequency as Thanksgiving approaches. Each year at least one frantic hostess calls the night before or even the morning of the holiday seeking a turkey that does not require defrosting.  However, the majority of turkeys raised and processed locally are bound for high-end meat shops in Cincinnati and other metropolitan cities. They are marketed under the name of Kuck's Turkey Farm and Bernard's, a Cincinnati turkey operation the family purchased some years ago.
    "People in the cities want to purchase something from the farm and price is not a factor," Ted Kuck says. "People around here are more concerned about the price than where the Thanksgiving bird comes from."
    The going price for a fresh turkey at Kuck's is $1.59 per pound. The specialty hickory-smoked variety costs $2.29 a pound. Frozen birds sell between 44 cents and 99 cents per pound, according to area grocery store advertisements.
    "I won't eat a frozen bird," Ted Kuck adds with conviction. "It doesn't compare in the least to the flavor of a fresh one.  We have built a reputation for quality and we rely on repeat customers."
    Knowing what a customer wants involves educated guesses as well as sales statistics from previous years. Shipments include birds ranging in size from 10 to 30 pounds, with 16 to 18 pounds being the most requested weight.
    "Everybody has a certain size in mind," Ted Kuck says. "Some women want the biggest bird they can find and others want the smallest. The majority want something in between."
    Occasionally, the Kucks receive a request that is difficult to satisfy. Take for instance the elderly woman who planned to make turkey soup with a specific part. She didn't want breasts, thighs, drumsticks or wings. She wanted only the feet.
    The Kucks aim to have 100 to 200 turkeys left following the holidays. These are smoked, canned or made into such deli treats as turkey ham and turkey summer sausage.
    "There wasn't a year-round market for whole birds until folks began deep frying turkeys," he adds. "Now there is a small but growing market."
    The business purchases turkeys from other suppliers the remainder of the year for the production of specialty items. There are no plans at the present time to raise turkeys year-round.
    Kuck's Turkey Farm is located at  12139 Ohio 29 between St. Marys and New Knoxville. The telephone number is 419-753-2620.


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The Standard Printing Company
P.O. Box 140, Celina, OH 45822