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Published: Friday, 5/14/2004

After 60 years, area turkey farmers give thanks for career, customers

BY JULIE M. McKINNON
BLADE BUSINESS WRITER
Dick and Betty Britten, of Perrysburg, walk along an empty pole barn where they had kept 5,000 turkeys. Dick and Betty Britten, of Perrysburg, walk along an empty pole barn where they had kept 5,000 turkeys.
KING / BLADE Enlarge

For the first time since 1941, Richard Britten won't be bringing young turkeys back to Britten Turkey Farm to roost, feed, process, and sell for local Thanksgiving dinner tables.

Mr. Britten, 83, said the decision was made about a month ago to shutter the family's turkey business in Perrysburg Township.

Normally, the farm would buy day-old turkey chicks next month to have fresh birds ready for customers during the fall holidays.

A diabetic, Mr. Britten said he isn't in good health, and his son who has worked with him for many years has a good job as head of maintenance for Perrysburg Township.

"We're not going to raise them anymore," said Mr. Britten, a former Perrysburg Township trustee. "After 62 years, it's time to quit."

Mr. Britten got his start in the business with 200 turkeys, and the farm raised 5,800 birds last year. At its peak, the farm raised 8,000 turkeys, he said.

Britten Turkey Farm, which would process 4,000 to 5,000 turkeys for Thanksgiving alone, has helped Ohio rank 10th nationwide in turkey production.

About 4.7 million turkeys are raised in Ohio annually, according to the Ohio Poultry Association.

Small turkey farms like the Brittens', though, are going the way of the dodo bird.

John Zachel of Zachel Turkey Farm north of Morenci, Mich., said there were 30 to 35 turkey farms around Lenawee and Fulton counties when he started 54 years ago. The 84-year-old said he plans to raise 3,000 turkeys this year, down from a peak of 10,000 to 12,000 birds.

"I'm about the last one in the area that I can think of," Mr. Zachel said. "The small people are going away, and it's a sad thing."

He said of Mr. Britten: "We're good friends, and I know he would like to [be able to] continue."

Years ago, both turkey farms sold dressed birds to small markets. When those mom-and-pop retailers disappeared, the farms started selling processed turkeys directly to customers who came to their doors.

Many of Britten Turkey Farm's customers were businesses that gave the birds as holiday gifts to employees and clients, and they will be notified of the its closure, Mr. Britten said.

He said his son, Gary, still will farm the 130 acres on the Roachton Road property even though turkey production will cease.

"It's a family job," Mr. Britten said of turkey farming. "It's one of those things it's too much."

Contact Julie M. McKinnon at:

jmckinnon@theblade.com

or 419-724-6087.



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