How 220,000 turkeys and the Church’s welfare program help thousands of people through the holidays

MORONI, Utah — Tad Steadman manages the Church’s sprawling turkey farm in Moroni, Utah. He's a good-natured guy who enjoys a good turkey joke. But he also understands that the work happening here on the farm serves a serious, sacred purpose.

Hundreds of thousands of newly-hatched turkeys — called poults — are raised each year at the Church-owned turkey farm in Moroni, Utah.
Hundreds of thousands of newly-hatched turkeys — called poults — are raised each year at the Church-owned turkey farm in Moroni, Utah.

The Moroni turkey farm is part of the Church's global welfare program established to offer relief to people in need even while promoting self-sufficiency and provident living. A portion of the meat raised here will find its way to the Church's bishops' storehouses and, ultimately, to the dinner tables of families facing hard times.

“When you think of what we do here in those terms, it’s pretty humbling,” said Steadman, who began working at the turkey farm when his father, Marlin Steadman, managed it.

The Moroni facility includes three brooder houses for the poults and 13 growout barns for the more mature birds. Approximately 220,000 turkeys are raised here annually, yielding about four million pounds of meat.

Once fully mature, the birds are sold to a local turkey cooperative. The welfare department then buys back a portion of the product, depending upon the needs of the bishops’ storehouses across the United States.

Turkey meat has long been a storehouse staple. Canned turkey chunks are available year-round, while fresh frozen birds are distributed to families during the holidays.

Here’s an extra helping of “turkey talk” for your dinner table
  • A male turkey is a tom, while a female is a hen. Young male and female turkeys are called jakes and jennies. And a baby turkey is not a chick — it’s a poult.
  • According to legend, one of the U.S. Founding Fathers, Benjamin Franklin, wanted the National Bird to be the turkey. But that’s likely a myth.
  • Every Thanksgiving before the big meal, many Latter-day Saints of varied degrees of physical fitness gather at school yards and parks for the traditional neighborhood game of touch football aptly dubbed the “Turkey Bowl.”
  • A group of domesticated turkeys is not a flock; it’s a rafter.
  • The Spanish word for turkey is pavo, the word for peacock is a pavo real, which, translated, means “royal turkey.”

“Turkey is a good, high protein meat that is efficient to produce — and people really like it,” said Church agricultural specialist Wade Sperry.

Temperatures in rural central Utah can be extreme. The summers are hot and dry and the winters can be bitter cold. But the turkey houses and barns are climate controlled to keep the birds healthy and comfortable. The farm also adheres to poultry industry ethical standards, allowing the older birds access to open space, sunlight and fresh air.

And unlike many Church-operated welfare sites, there are no volunteer workers at the turkey farm. Maintaining a small staff means the turkeys encounter limited exposure to humans.

You won’t find workers here in suits and ties, but they all agree that the turkey farm is dedicated, sacred ground. Steadman appreciates that the offerings of Latter-day Saints around the world are what make this farm possible.

Meanwhile, when Sperry inspects the thousands of birds being raised here, his thoughts are often with families in need gathering around a holiday turkey and building priceless memories.

Steadman’s days are spent in the company of turkeys — thousands and thousands of turkeys. But, yes, he still looks forward to sitting down with one for a traditional holiday meal.

“My family still eats turkey every Thanksgiving,” he said with a laugh, “and more than a few times during the year.”