LOGAN, Ala. (AP) — Most of the gobblers are gone or preparing to depart Bates Turkey Farm, where the toughest bird of all has chalked up another successful season.
With Thanksgiving fast approaching, Bill Bates and his family can sit back and relax for the first time since the birds arrived from Ohio when they were a day old.
Bates turns 89 this year, and the wear and tear is evident on the body of the World War II flight instructor.
In recent years, he's waged a successful battle against leukemia and other ailments. His pronounced limp is a result of two knees that are pretty much shot, but he hasn't had transplant surgery and relies on a cane to help get around.
"At my age, my doctors recommend that I keep what I've got," he said of his knees. "Too risky, they say, and I'm not going to argue with them."
Thanksgiving is a time to say thanks for all the good things we have, and Bates has reason to appreciate a life filled with successes, including five children dedicated to the family business.
It's been that way since he came home from the war and took over the turkey farm hatched in 1923 when his aunt gave his father nine turkey eggs as a wedding present.
Since the start, five generations have passed through the farm to continue a family operation that would appear to have enough direction for many years to come.
What sets Bates' turkeys apart from some of the other brands, he said, is whole grain feed and grass, lots of grass to graze on down at the farm in this wide spot in the road five miles east of Fort Deposit in Lowndes County.
"Our birds are free range, and we don't fill ‘em with what some of the other companies use," he said. "Grass is filled with protein, and it's good for ‘em."
Corn is also a staple for Bates' birds and that can be a real problem when supply can't meet the demand without big price increases.
That's what has happened this year.
"The USDA predicted this would be a record year for corn, but I guess they didn't figure on the kind of drought we've had, especially in the Midwest where so much corn is produced," he said.
Because of the federal bumper corn crop projection, Bates didn't book any amount in advance since he figured there would be plenty to go around at a good price.
That didn't happen, and Bates had to bite the bullet when it came to the cost factor. As in most business operations, increased costs are passed along to customers.
Because of the dry weather and withered crop, corn producers jacked up the price per bushel, causing turkey producers such as Bates to scramble to meet the financial challenge.
"I think our birds ate about 70 pounds of corn each this year," he said, as he surveyed his huge flock gobbling away on the farm not far from the house where he was born.
That might not seem like a lot to those unfamiliar with turkey production, but when it's multiplied by thousands of birds it can create a dent in the bottom line without appropriate action.
That means Bates' turkeys might cost a bit more this year than last, but he's not worried "because we have some of the most loyal customers in the world."
Weather variables can create havoc on turkey production and not just droughts, either. A few years ago, a hurricane roared through the state and claimed hundreds of Bates' birds.
"It wasn't just the wind and rain," he said. "It also was the drop in temperature. We lost a bunch due to hypothermia."
Loss of product occasionally happens to businesses that rely on the weather and have their assets gobbling and pecking each other on a farm, but the Bates family hasn't surrendered to higher costs.
As a result, it's the last ongoing turkey farm in Alabama, and it hasn't remained in business on hope. Too much depends on the family's future not to meet whatever obstacles might arise.
MONTGOMERY (AP) — Clyde the Turkey will live to see another day.
Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley will continue a decades-old Alabama tradition today when he pardons Clyde the turkey.
First Lady Dianne Bentley will join the governor at noon for the pardoning ceremony at the Governor's Mansion in Montgomery. The governor and first lady will reflect on the meaning of Thanksgiving during the ceremony,
It's an annual tradition dating back to 1949.
The turkey comes from the Bates Family Farm, which provides turkeys for the Bates House of Turkey restaurant in Greenville. Bill Bates will be there.
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