Local News

Feathers Weigh Heavy on Some Folks in Turkey Country

Posted January 4, 2008 6:46 p.m. EST
Updated January 7, 2008 6:14 a.m. EST

— Poultry trucks are really ruffling the feathers of some folks in Sampson County. They're fed up with feathers – turkey feathers.

About half of the 40 million turkeys raised each year in North Carolina come from Sampson and Duplin counties. Not everything on the birds makes it from farm to factory.

"It's very bad. It's very discouraging," said Gloria Faircloth, who lives along N.C. Highway 24 outside Roseboro, in Sampson County.

"On a daily basis, you can pick up from a 5-gallon bucket to a trash bag full of feathers,” Faircloth said of what she finds in her front yard.

One feather, all by itself, is actually pretty. It’s as white as a wedding gown and so delicate. You could tickle a baby's chin with it. When feathers land en masse, however, it’s a different story.

N.C. 24 cuts through the heart of turkey and chicken country. Trucks heading to processing plants deposit a flurry of feathers onto windshields and onto lawns.

"On a day it's not rained, it looks like it has snowed," Faircloth said.

In Autryville, one smart aleck put up a sign: "Free turkey feathers. U pick."

The question flying in everyone's face is what to do about the feathers. Poultry companies have considered options, such as placing mesh on trailers, but they say they're concerned it would hinder proper ventilation.

Prestage Farms Inc., of Clinton, has been experimenting with wire mesh for more than a year. Scott Prestage, vice president of the company's Turkey Division, said that half the fleet’s trucks have mesh, and he eventually hopes to have all trailers wrapped. he began addressing the issues 18 months ago, he said.

It’s inevitable, though, that some feathers will fly out, he said. Mesh “would trap a significant number of feathers,” he said, but he added that “this is an ongoing experiment.”

Prestage said the key is to cover the trailer without harming the turkeys. Since the mesh was installed, workers have been checking how many birds die in transit. So far, he said, the mesh has had a minimal affect on the turkeys.

He said mesh could cause heat stress and suffocation during the summer months.

Prestage said the company gets three or four complaints a year about feathers. He said he still needs to do more experimenting with meshes and would like to share what he learns with competitors in the area.

N.C. 24 links poultry farms to a number of processing plants in the area, including Prestage, House of Raeford and Mountaire.

Gloria Faircloth said the problem has gotten worse in recent years as the number of poultry farms has increased.