Smart Farmer: Ron Turk

Ron Turk's poultry farm in New Zealand is firing on all cylinders. Not only are costs plummeting and productivity rising, but operations are sustainable and ethical too. “The welfare of our chickens, and our people, is non-negotiable,” says Turk.

Ron Turk (center of photo with colleagues) inherited Turk's Poultry from his father in 1966. Back then, the focus was on eggs, now it's meat. “Currently our meat is 60% free range, but our goal is 100% and that will mean doubling the size of our business.” Looking at Turk's track record, that shouldn't be too much of a problem.

Organic chicken feed

Turk's farms now produce around 114,000 family-raised, corn-fed chickens a week for both domestic and overseas markets. They produce 5.7 million chickens a year, about 8% of New Zealand’s chicken meat needs. “All our fresh products are hormone-free and we recently switched to organic minerals in the chicken feed. It costs a few more dollars, but when the manure goes onto the land it hasn’t got anything nasty in it. It’s better for the land and our birds actually do better too,” he says.

Turk, now 62, remembers a time when many hours were wasted in the family business arguing about how things should be done. “So I invested in training to help me understand different personalities. My managers follow it too.” Now, people queue up to work for his ‘friendly farm’. “It’s about letting the people who do the work make their own decisions.”

“Organic manure is better for the land - our birds do better too”

- Ron Turk, Turks Poultry

Local contractors

Today, Turk has 220 people working for Turks Poultry, with another 50 or 60 working in other business ventures that have evolved through projects planned by Ron to help him control more aspects of the farm. Employing his own mechanics for example has mushroomed into a separate business that takes on outside work. He also employs his own truck drivers and salespeople, and selects local contractors to grow the maize for his feed. Turk's newest project is putting in a well to supply their own water.

Turks Poultry has a strong commitment to ethical and sustainable business practices. “People care about what they’re eating, and so do we. We strive to raise top-quality, happy chickens and we wholeheartedly believe that what we put in is what we’ll get out.” But don't get the idea that Turks Poultry is a ‘cosy’ farm, hesitant to embrace the 21st century. Far from it. Turk is committed to ongoing investment in new technology and even runs his own in-house technology development at the farm itself.

New technology

“We recently invested some NZ$ 700,000 (EUR 408,000) in a state-of-the-art machine that automatically selects the weights of birds to be left whole, and ones to cut up. Another big slicing machine uses photography to work out meat size, and still another, for slicing breast meat off the birds, while costing a million dollars, has increased yield over manual slicing by 6%. “That's massive in terms of turnover,” says Turk.

“Our farm has to stay a place where people want to be”

- Ron Turk, Turks Poultry

The wants and needs of consumers have changed over the years, and Turk's business has had to adapt. It supplies businesses like Wishbone, which provides 'fresh food to busy people' in outlets across the country, as well as supermarkets, and these tailor-made products have won Turks Poultry several awards. “Now, we hardly freeze any product, we cut it up and wrap it the way customers want it. It’s very exciting.”

The guy with the scones

Future plans include building a hatchery this year and three new farms in the next 12 to 24 months. “I don’t know how big we’re going to get, but it has to be a place where people want to be and want to contribute. And hopefully, I’ll be the guy who brings them scones for morning tea.”