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Producing Excellence

Russ Winterhof

Aurelia, IA

Winterhof Generations

Products: Turkeys, hogs, corn, soybeans

Size of Operation: 300,000 turkeys, 11,000 hogs, 600 acres

In Business Since: 1975

Farm Credit Partner: Farm Credit Services of America

Working with Farm Credit Since: 2003

Raising turkeys and other livestock takes a special kind of commitment. The animals need daily care and their caretakers need a lot of patience. Russ Winterof, who raises 300,000 turkeys and 11,000 hogs every year knows this first hand. “It’s a different mentality than working with crops or machines. It’s a little like taking care of kids,” he says. “Hard work and showing up every day is a big part of things, too.”

Russ raises his turkeys under contract with a major processor which uses the meat in packaged and processed foods. The company actually retains ownership of the birds Russ cares for, also providing inputs like quality feed and reimbursement for expenses. Russ is paid based on how many birds he raises and how much they weigh, an approach he says rewards producers for good management.

Russ receives delivery of month-old poults which weigh 2 -3 pounds; 16 weeks later, they’ve grown to 40 – 45 pounds. His operation has 10 turkey barns, each of which holds 10,000 birds meaning Russ has 100,000 birds under his care at any time. The birds range freely in the barns, where temperature and other environmental conditions are carefully monitored. Attention to all these details plays a critical role in his success, along with what his wife, Beth, calls his innate aptitude for animal husbandry. “There’s a sensitivity to livestock that he has, and it’s a quality that can’t be learned.”

Russ couples that quality with sharp business savvy. Raising turkeys at all was a business-driven decision. “We didn’t have enough ground to make a living in just farming crops,” he says. “It’s nice to have a stable business, something you can bank on.” He financed his entry into the poultry business ten years ago with financing from Farm Credit Services of America. “It was the best banking experience we’ve ever had, and we liked it so much, we’ve moved all our business to Farm Credit over the years,” he says.

A side benefit of Russ’ turkey business is the byproduct: turkey manure. His operation produces enough fertilizer in a year for 1,000 acres of corn, which he sells to local farmers. “That’s worth a lot,” he says. “It’s been a much bigger benefit than I even thought.”

To make his business even more profitable, two years ago he had two wind turbines built, each of which deliver 100 kilowatts of power. “We were spending $100,000 a year on electricity,” Russ says. “Now our wind turbines provide more than 90% of that power.” Their pioneering efforts – they were the first in Iowa to use wind turbines to support a poultry facility – earned them a Governor’s Iowa Environmental Excellence Award in 2010, the only individuals to earn such recognition.

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