MORONI — At first glance, the 14,000 hen turkeys Bryant Blackham and his brother, Tim, are showing off at one of the long rectangular buildings that dot Bryant's farmland west of town look content enough.

Thanksgiving is over.

They all eluded the big day that makes turkeys both famous and obsolete.

But Bryant and Tim, speaking in voices loud enough for even the hens down at the far end of the 600-foot pen to hear, quickly quash any notion that it's kickback time in turkeyville.

"Oh, Thanksgiving was taken care of a long time ago," says Tim.

"These," he says, gazing at the clucking masses at his feet, "will all be gone in two weeks."

Just in time for Christmas.

"We like to think there's a good excuse to enjoy turkey every month of the year," says Tim. "There's Thanksgiving, then there's Christmas, then New Years, Valentine's Day, St. Patrick's Day .... "

His point is well taken.

If you're a turkey, the holidays never end.


The Blackham Brothers' farms — Bryant has 220,000 turkeys "growing" at any given time; Tim another 150,000 — are just the tip of the iceberg here in Utah's turkey central, also known as Sanpete County.

From Manti to Mount Pleasant, more than 60 turkey farms dot the landscape. The epicenter is Moroni, home to both the Blackhams and the Moroni Feed Co. processing plant, where every year millions of turkeys give their lives for a noble cause:

Dinner.

And not just Thanksgiving dinner.

As quick as they are to dispel notions that turkeys are a one-holiday delicacy, the Blackham brothers also dash any city-borne romantic impressions about farm kids shedding tears over pet turkeys that are plucked out of the barnyard and served death warrants for Thanksgiving — and Christmas.

For one thing, they point out, there's way too many of them to love, let alone name.

For another, your average turkey has a life span slightly less than the Clippers' annual title hopes.

"These will be 15 weeks old when they're killed," says Bryant of the aforementioned 14,000 hens.

Tom turkeys — they average about 21 weeks — live slightly longer than hens. Still, Tim points out, that's considerably less time than the 30 weeks it used to take to grow a tom back in the old days.

But as technology improves and life spans for turkeys decrease,

living conditions keep getting better. Most of the Blackhams' turkeys, for instance, live indoors their whole lives, dining in warmth on an unending buffet of corn and soybeans.

"We want them to eat and drink all they want," notes Bryant. "It's all they really do."

"And If they don't do well, we don't do well," says Tim.

As with growing most things, Tim admits, raising turkeys is not as easy as it looks.

It's more than just putting them in the coop, tossing out the feed and waiting until they turn 15 weeks old.

He and his brother are third-generation turkey growers — their grandfather, John M. Olsen, was among those who helped get turkey farming established in Sanpete County back in 1938 — and they are yet to figure out how to keep all their birds healthy and alive until they can kill them.

"There's a lot that can go wrong," says Bryant. "It's 12- to 14-hour days sometimes.

"And we're the only mothers they'll ever know."

So to speak.

"It's a tough way to make a living," says Tim.

Then, stepping out of his brother's turkey building into the fresh, crisp country air, he adds the punchline: "But a great life."

Well, other than for the turkeys.


Lee Benson's column runs Sunday, Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Please send e-mail to [email protected] and faxes to 801-237-2527.