Turkey Talk

“My customers want a Thanksgiving turkey, fresh-dressed never frozen, that dresses out 17 to 21 pounds and you can’t find that anywhere else,” says Dennis Uebelhack, who has owned the Uebelhack Turkey Farm in Mount Vernon, Indiana, since 1979. “Most of the big processors are going to have 10 to 13 pounds for a hen … you’ve got to fill a niche.”

Uebelhack Turkey Farm provides its customers with a Thanksgiving turkey they can’t find elsewhere. The farm was started in 1940 by Dennis’ parents and he purchased it 39 years later. He and his wife Diana process about 1,600 turkeys that roam on a 3-acre patch on their 50 acres and sell out each year well ahead of Thanksgiving dinners.

The Uebelhacks meet a truck in Illinois in mid-July, which ships from Zeeland, Michigan, full of 1, 600 Nicholas turkeys, a white feathered breed of turkey, about six hours old. The turkeys, all hens, will stay inside for about four weeks under heat lamps. At six weeks, they are moved to the range. Dennis is helped by Katheryn Carr, plant manager, who has worked for the Uebelhacks for 15 years.

Each morning Dennis checks on the turkeys first thing. Dennis works as a process operator at SABIC Innovative Plastic full time and plans his vacation time around the busy November season of processing the birds.

As the turkeys age, the work decreases, and the equipment changes.

“There are four different sizes of feeders and three different sizes of water feeders,” says Dennis. “The 12 water fountains get dumped every day of the week, then two days a week, they get disinfected. These eight feeders hold 4,000 pounds and they have to be filled every seven days. I have to come out here and dig any wet feed out of the trough. Wet feed molds and mold kills turkeys.”

Dennis also makes his own feed from corn grown on the farm and made of all vegetable protein with no animal byproducts. While the turkeys are shipped at 19 weeks to be processed in Harrison, Ohio, the Uebelhacks receive the turkeys back and grade them, where they evaluate their quality. From there, the turkeys either go to the bagging line or deboning line. The unblemished turkeys will be bagged, while the others will go to be deboned. The Uebelhacks also sell ready-to-eat deli products year-round at Rivertown Butcher Shop in Newburgh, Indiana, Old Fashioned Butcher Shoppe on Stringtown Road, J.L. Hirsch Supermarket in Poseyville, Indiana, McKim’s IGA in Mount Vernon, and at the farm, located at 3200 Nation Road in Mount Vernon.

The majority of turkeys are spoken for while they are still walking around at the Mount Vernon farm. Dennis encourages customers to place orders well before Thanksgiving by calling the farm or the store they wish to pick it up from.

For more information on Uebelhack Turkey Farm, call 812-838-5215 or visit its Facebook page.

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