When eastern Daviess County farmer Wes Poole decided to raise poultry six years ago, it wasn't chickens that he invested his future in -- it was turkeys.
And in that time, Poole has established one of the state's largest commercial turkey farms near the Maceo community.
"It was just a chance thing; I was looking for an opportunity and it's what popped up at the time," said Poole about what attracted him to turkeys. "I thank the good Lord that we got the opportunity because it has been a blessing for us."
Poole is a 36-year-old first generation farmer who was exposed to agriculture as a teenager, cutting tobacco and picking up hay for one of his neighbors at $7 per hour.
He started out trucking in 2004 along with raising cattle. In 2007, Poole started planting tobacco. Two years later, he began row cropping with soybeans and corn.
Poole said he quit the trucking business in 2010 and became a full-time farmer.
"The trucking would be slow and I would do more farming," Poole said. "I was all the time looking for opportunities in farming because that's where my heart was. That's what I wanted to do. I didn't go from a little farm to a big farm overnight. It's been several years in the making."
Poole also credits his wife, Jennifer, for moving the farm to its current success.
When they married in 2008, she was the senior operations manager at Kentucky Bioprocessing in Owensboro.
"She had a really good job and that helped us on the farming side of things," Poole said. "We had our third child on Christmas and she was able to leave her job because our farm has grown so much."
Poole built his first three turkey barns in the winter of 2013 and then three more in the winter of 2017. The turkey barns look similar to the long and slender chicken houses that are more common in this region.
However, Poole's turkey barns, also called "mega-houses," are larger at 60 feet wide and 500 feet long as opposed to the average commercial chicken houses that are 40 feet wide and 400 feet long.
Each barn holds approximately 8,200 turkeys -- all males -- that weigh an average of 45 pounds.
Jamie Guffey, executive director of the Kentucky Poultry Federation, said he considers Poole among the state's best poultry producers.
"Wes is a leader in the industry," Guffey said. "…He's led the way and has shown what potential poultry has for the family farm."
Poole raises turkeys for Farbest Foods, Inc. in Huntingburg, Indiana, where the turkeys are processed. These turkeys, however, aren't for Thanksgiving but are instead sold as lunch meat for Boar's Head.
According to Farbest Foods' website, it "processes nearly 15 million live turkeys each year and ships up to 2 million pounds of fresh and frozen turkey products every day to domestic and foreign markets."
Poole is known as an integrator because he raises the turkeys, but Farbest owns the turkeys and the feed.
"I provide the barns, the utilities and the labor," Poole said.
Poole receives the turkeys when they're about 35 days old and then raises them for another 100 days before they're picked up for processing.
Caring for nearly 50,000 turkeys also comes with large amounts of manure, which Poole also recycles.
Poole said he uses the turkey litter as a natural fertilizer for the crops he raises.
"That actually saves me money," Poole said. "I can raise corn and soybeans cheaper because of my fertilizer."
Poole said he doesn't plan to add to his turkey operation beyond its current six barns, but he will continue to expand crop production.
"With our grain farming, we're constantly increasing it probably 15% to 20% every year," Poole said.
He's also an alum of the Kentucky Ag Leadership Program, president of the Daviess County Extension Board and remains active in the Kentucky Young Farmers Association.
As far as having a preference for raising crops or turkeys, Poole said both provide a purpose for his farm and family.
"I like having a balance," Poole said. "I really like raising crops. …But I have to have cash flow and (the turkeys) are year-round income."
Don Wilkins, dwilkins@messenger-inquirer, 270-691-7299