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Producing the Holiday Meal Centerpiece for Four Generations

Plump hens and toms are living on borrowed time these days at Bowman and Landes Turkeys near New Carlisle in Miami County.

The family operation dates to 1948, when Kenneth Bowman and Dennis Landes set out to produce the highest-quality free-range turkeys around while being good stewards of the land. The third generation is now actively upholding the tradition, with the fourth generation ready to pick up the mantle.

Baby turkeys, known as poults, arrive at the farm the day they hatch, each weighing one-fourth to one-third of a pound. The poults initially spend time in climate-controlled barns but quickly move, at 6 to 8 weeks of age, to outdoor ranges equipped with feeders, water, and shade shelters. Fencing keeps them in and predators out.

Third-generation co-owner Drew Bowman said birds flourish outdoors with a prescribed diet that includes grain raised and ground at the 2,800-acre farm and grass provided by nature. The end result is a more tender and flavorful Thanksgiving (and, let’s face it, year-round) meal centerpiece.

Piqua-based Pioneer Electric Cooperative serves a portion of the operation, which raises roughly 75,000 turkeys each year. Individual flocks arrive at the farm steadily between late June and mid-August, and it takes roughly 14 to 20 weeks to produce the iconic broad-breasted birds for Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner tables (which is several weeks less than the company founders needed to accomplish the same goal).

Turkeys live a stress-free life on the farm, and that continues right up to processing day. Instead of loading the birds onto semi-trucks for transport, workers carrying poles equipped with feed bags walk the naturally inquisitive turkeys across the range to the nearby ultra-modern, USDA-inspected harvesting plant.

The normal 30-member workforce swells to 100 with the arrival of November. “It’s all hands on deck to make sure everything is ready for our customers,” Bowman says.

Dressed hens range in size from 10 to 21 pounds, while the heavier toms tip the scales at anywhere from 22 to 30 pounds or more. They come fresh, frozen, or smoked, depending on customer requests. ”

We have people coming here and telling us they initially came with their parents more than 50 years ago,” Bowman says.

‘There was no store in those days. Customers drove in and rang a bell, and Grandma Bowman would come out of the house to wait on them.”

While the company made its name selling whole birds, customers can shop for nearly everything but feathers and gobbles in the large 26,000-square-foot meat market and deli. Smaller families tend to favor more manageable turkey roasts, which combine white and dark meat, or succulent turkey breasts. Newer offerings include spiral-sliced turkey breast finished with a honey-sugar glaze, homestyle gourmet turkey gravy, and sliced turkey bacon. Canned meat and broth help with quick at-home meals.

Shoppers will also find a range of turkey parts available — not only drumsticks, thighs, and wings, but also necks, ribs, giblets, and tails. Other more exotic options include turkey breast mignon, cubed turkey breast steak, ground turkey burgers, turkey bratwurst, and flavored sausage. The company also produces its own deli meats, such as pastrami, ham, and turkey breast in a variety of flavors.

Owners have seen a marked increase in the sale of individual sandwiches and box lunches available during store hours. Favorites include stuffed sandwiches with names like the Gobbler, the Gobbledilla, and the Big Tom.

“We’re proud of our high-quality turkeys and we are always looking for new ways to promote our product,” Bowman says. “Yes, we are a holiday tradition for many families, but we give them a lot of tasty reasons to come back.”

Deeply committed to producing the best product possible, the family operation also adheres to the founders’ philosophy of being good stewards of the land. Cover crops help control erosion, and the farm promotes no-till and minimum-till practices. Turkey manure enriches the soil, while the recycling of cardboard and plastic keeps those materials out of landfills. Solar arrays now provide half the energy needed to operate the farm.

Bowman and Landes, 6490 Ross Road, New Carlisle, OH 45344.; 937-845-9466. The meat market and deli is open 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Monday—Friday and 9 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Saturday. It is closed on Sunday.


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