Protesters at turkey farm call for a 'new tradition' Holiday customers undeterred in Howard County

November 27, 1996|By Dana Hedgpeth | Dana Hedgpeth,SUN STAFF

Drew McCarriar wasn't going to let anybody stop him yesterday from buying the 25-pound turkey he had ordered from Maple Lawn Farm in Fulton -- one of the largest turkey-producing farms in the state.

That included the approximately 20 protesters with United Poultry Concerns -- a Potomac-based animal rights group -- who stood about a quarter-mile away from the long line of turkey buyers waiting at the farm to pick up their freshly plucked birds for the Thanksgiving holiday.

"They can do what they want to do out there, but I'm going to get a turkey from the Iagers no matter what," said McCarriar, 37, who lives in Columbia's King's Contrivance village. "They've got the freshest and best turkeys around; there's no denying that.

"We've been getting them from here for as long as I can remember. It just wouldn't be Thanksgiving without one."

The protesters, who were lined up along Route 216 across from the Iager Farm's entrance for about an hour and half, until Howard County police asked them to move on, had a different view. They held a 6-foot-long banner that read: "Why have a decapitated turkey with dead wings and leg stumps for dinner? Discover new traditions."

Karen Davis, president of United Poultry Concerns, said, "We want people to know they are cruelly killing turkeys for Thanksgiving, a holiday that's supposed to be about peace and sharing. We object to the horror death of slitting their throats, letting them die and then selling them for a profit.

"Thanksgiving is not based on massacre and bloodletting of other creatures," she said, carrying a sign saying "Let me live" with a picture of a young turkey on it.

But by dinner time tomorrow,an estimated 45 million turkeys nationwide will be on people's tables, and about 12,000 of those will have come from the Iagers' 700-acre Maple Lawn Farm. So, despite the protesters' signs and chants, cars streamed into the farm.

Most buyers said they had been coming to the Iagers farm for years based on their mothers' traditions or the recommendations of neighbors.

"It's just ridiculous and silly folks would protest this place; they've been in business for years and their clients keep coming back," said Dan Eubanks, 47, of Columbia's Harper's Choice village as he waited to pick up a 20-pound bird for the sixth year. "Their birds are fresh, they're cheap, and they're always worth the wait."

Lothar Windlobauer, 53, of Burtonsville said, "God provided certain animals for humans to eat, and turkeys is one of them."

Davis, who said she visited the Iagers farm two weeks ago, said the turkeys are kept in a "long, windowless shed, waiting to be killed."

Also based on her visit to the farm, she said, a local supermarket chain is making false claims in its newspaper ads that it gets its turkeys fresh from Maple Lawn Farm, where they are raised "free roaming on well water and all natural feed."

The Iagers, who have run their turkey farm since 1939, rejected Davis' claims. The turkeys are kept in six sheds -- each the size of two football fields -- but also are allowed outside in pens each day.

"We raise thousands of turkeys here, and I'd venture to bet most people have no idea the work and time that goes into it," said Gene Iager, 49, who runs the farm with his brother Charles.

The protest added excitement to the annual turkey-selling season, he said.

"To each his own," he said yesterday as he wrapped a turkey for a customer. "We're just a small little business."

The Iagers' is one of an estimated 12 turkey farms in the state that sell turkeys directly to customers -- and probably the largest operation in the state, agriculture specialists say.

Ten years ago, there were 56 turkey farms in Maryland producing more than 100,000 turkeys. In 1992, there were 38 farms producing about 91,000 turkeys, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The other farms are in Frederick County, Garrett County and on the Eastern Shore.

"The Iagers take probably the best care of their birds than most anyone," said Charles Wabeck, a poultry and food products specialist with the University of Maryland Eastern Shore. "Their birds probably eat better than we do. And it shows in their product. You can't sell a bird that's been mistreated and have people waiting at your doors like they do."

The Iagers have their own dressing facility, which kills, plucks and cleans the turkeys at a rate of 300 an hour. They are weighed, tagged, packed in ice and sold under the name "Show Nuf." A hen sells for about $1.45 a pound, a tom for about $1.25 a pound.

About 6,000 go to companies that give the turkeys to their employees. One of the largest commercial customers is the Fresh Fields supermarket chain, which sent trucks every day this week for a 1,000 turkeys at a time.

Pub Date: 11/27/96

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