Talking Turkey: Church Poultry Farm Is Feeding Thousands in Need

Contributed By Jason Swensen, Church News associate editor

  • 21 November 2018

Young turkeys spend three months or more growing to maturity at the Church-owned turkey farm near Moroni, Utah. Photo by Jason Swensen.

Article Highlights

  • About 220,000 turkeys are raised annually at the Church’s turkey farm in Moroni, Utah.

MORONI, UTAH

Looking to baste your Thanksgiving Day dinner conversation with some thickly-carved slices of “turkey talk” that holiday guests are sure to gobble up?

Then keep reading for a brief turkey primer (and apologies for that last sentence):

  • A male turkey is a tom, while a female is a hen. Young male and female turkeys are called jakes and jennies. And a baby turkey is not a chick—it’s a poult.
  • According to legend, one of the U.S. Founding Fathers, Benjamin Franklin, wanted the national bird to be the turkey. But that’s likely a myth.
  • Every Thanksgiving before the big meal, many Latter-day Saints of varied degrees of physical fitness gather at schoolyards and parks for the traditional neighborhood game of touch football aptly dubbed the “Turkey Bowl.”
  • A group of domesticated turkeys is not a flock; it’s a rafter.
  • And while the Spanish word for turkey is pavo, the word for peacock is a pavo real, which, translated, means “royal turkey.”

Tad Steadman manages the Church’s sprawling turkey farm in Moroni, Utah. He’s a good-natured guy who enjoys a good turkey joke. But he also understands that the work happening here on the farm serves a serious, sacred purpose.

The Moroni turkey farm is part of the Church’s global welfare program established to offer relief to people in need even while promoting self-sufficiency and provident living. A portion of the meat raised here will find its way to the Church’s bishops’ storehouses and, ultimately, to the dinner tables of families facing hard times.

“When you think of what we do here in those terms, it’s pretty humbling,” said Steadman, who began working at the turkey farm when his father, Marlin Steadman, managed it.

The Moroni facility includes three brooder houses for the poults and 13 growout barns for the more mature birds. Approximately 220,000 turkeys are raised here annually, yielding about four million pounds of meat.

Once fully mature, the birds are sold to a local turkey cooperative. The Welfare Department then buys back a portion of the product, depending upon the needs of the bishops’ storehouses across the United States.

Turkey meat has long been a storehouse staple. Canned turkey chunks are available year-round, while fresh frozen birds are distributed to families during the holidays.

Tad Steadman inspects the health of a baby turkey, or poult, at the Church-owned turkey farm near Moroni, Utah. Photo by Jason Swensen.

Each year, the Church-owned turkey farm near Moroni, Utah, produces four million pounds of meat. A portion of that yield will be used to feed people in need through the Church welfare program. Photo by Jason Swensen.

“Turkey is a good, high-protein meat that is efficient to produce—and people really like it,” said Church agricultural specialist Wade Sperry.

Temperatures in rural central Utah can be extreme. The summers are hot and dry and the winters can be bitter cold. But the turkey houses and barns are climate controlled to keep the birds healthy and comfortable. The farm also adheres to poultry industry ethical standards, allowing the older birds access to open space, sunlight, and fresh air.

And unlike many Church-operated welfare sites, there are no volunteer workers at the turkey farm. Maintaining a small staff means the turkeys encounter limited exposure to humans.

You won’t find workers here in suits and ties, but they all agree that the turkey farm is dedicated, sacred ground. Steadman appreciates that the offerings of Latter-day Saints around the world are what make this farm possible.

Meanwhile, when Sperry inspects the thousands of birds being raised here, his thoughts are often with families in need gathering around a holiday turkey and building priceless memories.

Steadman’s days are spent in the company of turkeys—thousands and thousands of turkeys. But, yes, he still looks forward to sitting down with one for a traditional holiday meal.

“My family still eats turkey every Thanksgiving,” he said with a laugh, “and more than a few times during the year.”

Located near Moroni, Utah, the sprawling Church-owned turkey farm raises approximately 220,000 birds each year. Photo by Jason Swensen.

A rafter of poults flock together inside a brooder house at the Church-owned turkey farm near Moroni, Utah. Photo by Jason Swensen.

Hundreds of thousands of newly hatched turkeys—called poults—are raised each year at the Church-owned turkey farm in Moroni, Utah. Photo by Jason Swensen.

Church agricultural specialist Wade Sperry inspects a brooder house filled with young birds at the Church-owned turkey farm near Moroni, Utah. Photo by Jason Swensen.

Farm manager Tad Steadman stands at the entrance of the Church-owned turkey farm near Moroni, Utah. Steadman is a second-generation manager at the facility. Photo by Jason Swensen.

Thousands of maturing birds fill a growout barn located on the Church-owned turkey farm near Moroni, Utah. Photo by Jason Swensen.