Bird Business: Behind the scenes of Turkey Farming in N.C.

by | Nov 6, 2020

2019 National Thanksgiving Turkey Presentation

Every Friday on social media, we post a Farm Feature Friday showcasing one of our dedicated North Carolina farmers. Wellie Jackson, of Illusion Farms, is one of those farmers. The #FarmFeatureFriday campaign will run through December 2021 on our Facebook, Twitter and Instagram pages. Be sure to tune in each Friday afternoon on social and help show your support for our local farmers!

Wellie Jackson, owner of Illusion Farms in Clinton, is a fourth-generation turkey farmer and his experience in the industry has been an adventure since the very beginning. “I grew up farming with my father and grandfather and I always knew I wanted to farm,” Wellie said, “but at that time my grandparents didn’t want me farming so they sent me off to the beach.” It was in 2004 at Topsail Beach that the idea of turkey farming was first brought to his attention. “I was sitting with a good friend who asked me if I wanted to run her turkey houses,” Jackson said, “and honestly, I had never thought about turkey farming but figured I would give it a shot.” Wellie surrounded himself with many people in the industry to teach him the ropes on raising and farming turkey, including his integrator company Butterball, formerly known as Carlos Foods.

Currently the largest producer of turkey products in the U.S., Butterball is committed to providing the public with the best turkey around, including those raised at Illusion Farms. Turkeys are brought onto the farm at one day old and kept there until they reach five weeks and are moved to a larger facility.

A typical day on the farm consists of watering and feeding the turkeys, caring for the babies, or poults, and checking for proper safety and ventilation of the buildings. Turkeys are market ready when they reach 21 weeks of age. “One of the most interesting things about turkeys is also our biggest challenge,” Wellie said, “that being, they like to be kept warm when they are young but as they grow older than can’t stand the heat.” Thanks to modern technology, such as tunnel ventilation, the turkey houses are regulated to keep temperatures down and animals happy.

All the turkeys at Illusion Farms are American Humane Certified, meaning they are audited to the strictest standard of animal humane conditions. “We are the babysitter for Butterball turkeys,” said Wellie, “and Butterball only accepts the best, so we do everything we can to keep our birds happy, healthy and comfortable.” His turkeys are also never given any antibiotics or byproducts. In fact, Jackson reminds the public that every farmer is eating the food they produce and sell to consumers. “My kids eat all kinds of Butterball turkey,” he said, “and I will not feed your kids anything that I won’t feed my own kids.” His products can be found in retail stores, either packaged or from the deli, under the Butterball label.

This past Thanksgiving, Wellie and his family received a high honor and were asked to raise turkeys for the annual White House turkey pardon. Starting with 30 turkeys total, Wellie, his wife and his children worked hard with the turkeys everyday to ensure they were happy, healthy and media trained. “If anyone would have drove by here during that time frame they would have thought I had lost my mind,” Wellie laughed, “because I would go out there every afternoon and read to them, sing them a song, walk them, or sit them on and off a table to get them used to noises and human touch.” Two of the final twelve birds were sent to the Governor, two were sent to the White House and the other eight were sent to agritourism sites across the state.

In the future, Wellie hopes to continue growing in the turkey industry and find more opportunities to showcase his products and the family farm. For anyone interested in turkey farming Wellie suggests talking to other people within the industry and getting involved with a good integrator company like Butterball. “Turkey farming is a lot of hard work and sacrifice,” he said, “but it feels good to provide something to the population that they need to feed their families.” When he is not reading or singing to turkeys, Wellie enjoys watching movies, especially the old classics like Smokey and the Bandit.

The Jackson Family with N.C. Ag Commissioner Steve Troxler