The sound of three thousand turkeys gobbling in a field sounds like a cash register to Bill Bates. The owner of Bates Turkey Farm is carrying on a family tradition started by his mother. He and his son John have fine tuned the growing process over the years but one thing has not changed. "We feed them the same thing we have for the past 25 years: oats, corn and soy bean meal," says Bates. No chemicals or additives for a Bates turkey.
The turkeys are newly hatched when they arrive at the farm. Before you know it, they're a foot tall…at just 22 days old. They grow exceptionally fast. "They are the fasting growing things on earth," says Bates. "They even grow faster than elephants!"
So what's the secret to their fast growth? "Genetics," says Bates. "Breeders just continue to produce only the fastest growing birds."
Every Thanksgiving, Bates takes a live turkey to the Governor's office in Montgomery where the governor grants the bird a symbolic stay of execution. He remembers taking a huge bird to former governor George Wallace. "This bird weighed 72 pounds – a real monster," Bates says with a laugh. "George Wallace looked at me and said 'this things just about as big as me!'"
Bates says his mother taught him to let the turkeys live in a "stress free" environment. That's why Bates raises them in shady pecan groves. He says they're fed well, cared for and have what he calls a really good life – at least for about 18 weeks before they go to Bates' processing plant.
During our visit to the farm, we learned that turkeys are not shy. In fact, they seem to enjoy visitors. Bates says when the turkeys are hatched, the first things they see and hear are people working in the hatchery….so they attach themselves to human beings. "They just love people," says Bates. The birds found our news car parked in the field and immediately moved in to investigate…curiously pecking at the hubcaps and bumpers.