By Doug Graves
The National Turkey Federation estimates that more than 46 million turkeys will be consumed this Thanksgiving. At least 3,000 of those will be purchased from Tewes Poultry Farm in Erlanger, Ky.
With roots dating back to 1911, the farm in northern Kentucky has been a fixture for generations. Owned by Dan Tewes, grandson of the farm’s founders (John and Mary Tewes), the farm sells roughly 3,000 turkeys annually, the vast majority around the Thanksgiving holiday. The operation is the envy of poultry producers in the tri-state region as they never advertise their birds. It’s all done by work-of-mouth. Those in Ohio, Indiana, Kentucky and even Tennessee know of the farm’s existence and flock to it each Thanksgiving season.
“We’re best known for our turkeys,” says Stephanie Tewes, Dan’s daughter. “There are 80 grandchildren in the family and about 180 great grandkids, and most of them come around and help during the holidays. Everybody knows their jobs. Some of them are in their 70s now and they still come. So everybody that comes in here gets a fresh turkey. It gets pretty hectic around here.”
Dan Tewes’ grandfather, John Tewes Sr., started the turkey farm in 1924 in Edgewood, Ky., focusing on hatching and raising chickens. Tewes’ father, John Tewes Jr., bought a farm between Crescent Springs and Erlanger in 1945 and later expanded his poultry business to include turkeys. John Jr. had 17 children, and Dan Tewes is the 13th of them.
“Once you eat fresh turkey, you never go back to frozen,” Dan said. “The turkey is the centerpiece of your holiday meal, so you want to make sure it’s as juicy and tender as possible.”
Newly hatched turkeys arrive on the Tewes farm from an Ohio supplier the first week in July. “All the birds are fully grown in six months,” Dan said. “They mature right at six months and don’t get any bigger.”
The birds are fed a diet of corn meal mash. Tewes turkeys have no added hormones, additives or preservatives and contain mostly white meat. Holiday pricing for whole turkeys is $3.25 per pound and $6.50 per pound for turkey breasts. The turkey breasts range in size from eight to 20 pounds.
“They get to eat all they want to eat,” Dan said. “They go through six tons of feed each week.”
By the second week of November, Dan’s industrial-sized refrigerator begins to fill with turkeys weighing 35 to 40 pounds.
While most of the turkeys are sold over the Thanksgiving and Christmas season, the Tewes keep some turkeys available year-round. In addition, the farm sells fresh poultry and eggs throughout the year. And to satisfy your inner child, Dan and his wife, Darlene, sell live baby chicks, ducks and bunnies during the spring.
“My grandpa got this whole thing started more than 100 years ago,” Dan said. “He used to sell eggs before there were egg cartons and sold eggs for a penny apiece and chicks for five cents each. Then he came up with the novel idea of color-dying the chicks in colors of red, blue, pink or purple. People in the area loved the idea and it didn’t bring any harm to the chicks at all. His method of color-dying the chicks was outlawed in the 1960s, as some thought this was animal abuse, which it wasn’t. Through grandpa’s innovation of dying the chicks and selling eggs he was able to pay off his farm in just three years.”
The free-range birds have ample food and space on this 35-acre farm. “We’re the only farm in Kentucky that I know of that still raises, dresses and sells poultry in the same place,” Dan said.
Tewes Farm is located at 2801 Crescent Springs Road in Erlanger.