by Patricia Grotenhuis
Three Ontario turkey farmers, the father/sons team of Heiko, Wayne and Mike Oegema, are featured in the 2012 Faces of Farming Calendar published by the Farm Care Foundation. Their page was sponsored by Turkey Farmers of Ontario.
These turkey farmers are the faces of January in the 2012 Faces of Farming calendar
Heiko Oegema’s family established a turkey farm in 1959, shortly after emigrating from Holland. He said that it was the opportunities available to Canadian farm families that brought his family to their chosen country.
As Heiko’s own family grew, so did their farm business. A retail store was added when his son Mike returned to the farm. Heiko recently retired and the farm and store are now being run by his twin sons, Mike and Wayne.
“The transition has gone smoothly. I used to farm with my brother, and then we phased the boys in,” says Heiko.
The store, called “The Turkey Shoppe”, opened to diversify the farm in December of 1992, after Mike graduated with his business degree. It started out small, expanded in 1996 when Wayne returned, and has been growing ever since.
“We’ve had to expand over the years, and we’re raising more birds annually to meet seasonal needs,” says Mike.
The farm has changed its production schedules slightly since opening the store to make sure it will have enough fresh birds for Thanksgiving and Christmas to meet their customers’ needs. The Oegemas have also built a licensed free-standing meat processing plant to process their turkey meat into products such as pies, sausages, burgers, and schnitzel.
Although the store is important to the farm, the family’s main focus is on ensuring the birds’ welfare. Heiko was on the committee that originally developed the Recommended Codes of Practice for turkey producers. The Codes are national guidelines for the care and handling of the different species of farm animals. They promote sound management and welfare practices through recommendations and requirements for housing, care, transportation, processing and other animal husbandry practices. The farm implemented the codes immediately, and has been following them and making improvements ever since.
Currently, the farm is undergoing barn renovations. Work includes making the barns more energy efficient, more comfortable for the birds and improving the ventilation system.
Even with so much work to do on the farm and in the store, the Oegemas are active in their community.
Heiko is the church organist, sits on church council, and enjoys time at the family cottage with his wife, Helen. He is also a member of the local Chamber of Commerce. In the past, Heiko was on the Soil and Crop Improvement Association, served as chair of the Turkey Farmers of Ontario, the organization that represents Ontario’s 190 turkey farm families. He was also an executive committee member on Turkey Farmers of Canada.
Mike and his wife, Annie, have three sons. Mike served on the local fire department for eight years, and is on church council. In what free time he has, he enjoys golf, soccer and hockey.
Wayne is chair of the local church council and likes to hunt, fish and bicycle. He and his wife Jeanna have a five-year-old son. Before returning to the farm, Wayne worked as a licensed diesel mechanic for 10 years (a skill that comes in handy on the farm). Today, though, he is happy to be home farming again.
“It’s more peaceful than the garage. You’re tied to it but there’s a freedom and an independent lifestyle. That’s what I love,” says Wayne.