When the Britains were married nearly 50 years ago, Joy asked something of her new husband.
“I made him promise he wouldn’t be a dairy farmer,” she laughs.
The remark reveals the easy banter and good humor of the couple, but Joy was mostly serious about her request. She grew up on such a farm and saw firsthand how much the work demanded of her parents. The first time they ever took a day off was to celebrate their silver wedding anniversary. Joy was sure she wanted a different kind of life with Norm.
So, when he began as hired help on a turkey farm in Clear Lake, Wis., she breathed a sigh of relief. “Turkeys give you more freedom,” Joy says. Plus, their vocation allowed her to be a stay-at-home wife and mother while she acted as a “gopher” on the farm. All told, it has afforded Norm and Joy a life they agree has been blessed.
As a Jennie-O contractor, the Britains raise 65,000 tom (male) turkeys annually on the Pine Hill Farm they’ve owned since the early ‘80s. (For the uninitiated, that’s considered a small farm.) They are responsible for supplying the equipment, housing and labor. The company pays for the poults (baby turkeys), feed and bedding. Medication is also taken care of by Hormel Foods, though little is used. Hormones don’t come into play ever; federal law prohibits them.
The turkeys spend 20 weeks on the Britains’ farm, with two or three flocks on the premises at any given time. Every 60 days, 9,900 newly hatched poults arrive at Pine Hill. They live in the starter barn and move to a space for larger birds after five or six weeks.
The turkeys average 48 pounds when they’re ready to go to market. The meat is used for turkey breasts, turkey ham, hot dogs and other Jennie-O products.
Their farm is currently in what Norm calls a “niche program” with Jennie-O. “We’re raising the turkeys without antibiotics and using different feed. We’re also making sure they have more walking-around room,” he says.
The Britains haven’t always worked as contract farmers, which makes them appreciate all the more the benefits of doing so. When they were starting out, they sold their turkeys on the open market.
“We had to finance the turkeys then, and we had to buy everything,” Norm says. By the time the birds matured, the market had collapsed. “We lost a lot of money.”
The next year was only slightly better, but the third year was good, he says. “We wouldn’t have made it otherwise.”
After nearly 50 years of raising turkeys, Norm and Joy look back on their life with gratitude.
“We aren’t rich monetarily, but we’re rich in other ways,” Joy says.
For instance, they were able to raise their two children in the country and send them to college. Their son and daughter chose city life for their families and careers, but even in their 40s, they look forward to coming back to the place where they grew up.
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Norm is the point person for the farm. Joy lends a hand, especially when it comes to moving the turkeys from one housing unit to another. The Britains are active in their church and like to travel. Trusted backup helpers allow them to get away from time to time for a few days or even longer. They’ve been to Ireland, for example.
Norm dismisses the idea of stopping his life’s work. He can’t imagine what he would do with his time. “He doesn’t have any hobbies,” Joy interjects. It helps that he’s able to keep up with the physical demands of raising turkeys. And better yet, that he likes it.
“I enjoy doing a quality job. It’s just how I’m made,” he says.