It’s about a month before Thanksgiving and at Fulton’s Sho Nuf Turkey Farm, Chris Bohrer and company are getting ready to roll.
After a rocky continuation of tradition last Thanksgiving while negotiating with his wife to buy the family farm equipment from long-time owners Gene Iager (his father-in-law) and Gene’s brother, Charlie Iager – the brothers could not agree as to how to continue operations – Bohrer is still bringing area residents the popular turkeys Sho Nuf’s predecessor, Maple Lawn Farm, was known for.
For Bohrer, what sounds like a new name really represents a return to basics from 80 years ago as seen through the eyes of the farm’s founder.
“My wife’s grandfather, Ellsworth Iager, used to brand the turkeys as ’Sho Nuf Broad Breasted,’ ” Bohrer said. “So the change is to honor him. If it wasn’t for him, we wouldn’t be doing what we do.”
With Bohrer and wife Tanya (Gene’s daughter and granddaughter of Ellsworth and Mary Elizabeth), the name is a key difference from the farm’s new era.
Still, “The same people are doing the same jobs with the same turkeys,” said Bohrer of the operation, which grosses about $550,000 annually. “The main difference is that Gene answers to me and not the other way around. And all Sho Nuf is doing is turkeys. We’ve nothing to do with Maple Lawn Farms. That’s run by the other part of the family.”
Today, Bohrer and the farmhands are checking “more than 30,000 turkeys daily and they’re eating about three trucks worth of food per week,” he said. “That’s 70 tons per week. When we get near Thanksgiving, it gets to 90 tons per week. My feed bill for three trucks a week is about $20,000, depending on amount and the price of feed. For five trucks, the price reaches $30,000.”
The farm has four full-time employees and 50-60 workers (contractors) during the peak weeks of processing about two weeks before Thanksgiving is when the operation kicks into high gear. “Preparations start between the 12th up until the 26th of November, then people come to the farm to start buying the weekend before Thanksgiving until about the day before.”
Bohrer said the retail price is $2.45 per pound, with the average weight about 18 pounds per turkey, but the wholesale price “is somewhat cheaper for the stores, since selling them one-at-a-time takes considerable manpower.”
Distribution of turkeys on the retail side has changed. “One thing we’ve done is cut out some markets in order to satisfy the demand for our customers,” he said, which has meant “cutting out supplying larger stores, like Whole Foods and Harris Teeter because those places are not where we built our business.”
So, Sho Nuf still supplies local operations like David’s Natural Market and Boarman’s Meat Market as well as supplying limited inventory to My Organic Market (or MOM’s), “which are relationships we’re looking to extend in the future,” Bohrer said.
David London, owner of David’s, which has area locations in Columbia and Gambrills, has worked with the Iager family for more than 25 years. Since the turkey farm is no longer doing business with the larger stores, David’s will have “about 20 percent more turkeys to sell at our neighborhood stores,” he said.
“That [means] more customers and it’s all about keeping the customers happy,” said London. “The costs range from $25 for 10 pounds up to $100 for 40 pounds,” which are sold in two-pound increments.
“They have great turkeys and are great people, and I really appreciate that,” he said.
“Picking up a bird there a few days before Thanksgiving is crazy, given the crowd, but it’s tradition and people enjoy that. Still, many others buy the turkeys at the store and it helps the bottom line, because we can make up for being closed on the holiday.”
Boarman’s Meat Market, of Highland, is one of the farm’s oldest customers. “We’ve been here since 1955,” said General Manager Georgie Boarman, “and I’m pretty sure we’ve been buying from them since they’ve been selling to stores.”
Boarman’s sells “about 1,000 turkeys every Thanksgiving and a few hundred for Christmas, too. It always brings lots of people in who also buy other products,” said Boarman, “and it’s a lot easier to pick up the turkeys here than it is at the farm.”
While Sho Nuf isn’t “the cheapest farm to buy from, they’re the best,” he said. “Sho Nuf isn’t just the farm name, it’s an actual strain (or breed) of turkey. The best thing to stuff it with is our country sausage.”
Back at the farm, after the annual late fall whirl, it’s time to prepare for the next year. “We clean the barns of the manure in the winter and they’re dormant for six months,” said Bohrer. “Then the baby turkeys come in June.”
Given that the community of Maple Lawn arose from farmland, the future of land use is always top of mind in that part of Fulton.
Kathy Johnson, director of agricultural business development with the Howard County Economic Development Authority, said Sho Nuf “has a good operation to keep growing turkeys in the future, too. Chris is a good manager of the farm, has a great deal of knowledge as well as a passion for the industry,” noting the farm was officially sold as of Oct. 1 and “will continue to be a turkey farm – at least for the time being.”