Turkeys and solar power Bowman and Landes farm

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turkeys and solar panels
Solar panels were installed by Sun Lion Energy on a barn at Bowman & Landes Turkeys, in New Carlisle, Ohio. The project, completed Oct. 20, is the third solar array the farm has invested in to offset electricity costs. (Submitted photo)

The Bowman and Landes families have stuck with what they know for 72 years: turkeys.

What started as a business of raising fresh turkeys for the holidays has turned into a year-round operation that includes an assortment of fresh, cooked and processed turkey products.

The second, third and fourth generations of the two families are running and working on the farm, located in New Carlisle, Ohio, where they raise about 70,000 turkeys each year.

“Obviously, it gets complicated the bigger you get and more mouths you have to feed, but so far we’ve bucked the odds by keeping the family farm going,” said Carl Bowman. “We’ve all had the attitude that what’s best for the company is best for me.”

Growing slow

Kenneth Bowman and Dennis Landes went into business together in 1948. They raised and processed turkeys for Thanksgiving and Christmas and sold them locally.

That’s how it was for decades, even when Carl, Ken’s son, came into the business in 1973. They took time off after Christmas, when all the turkeys were sold, the fields were bare and the barns were empty, and started back up in the spring and summer.

“I could tell that there had to be more to life than just having the one crop in the fall,” Carl Bowman said.

carl bowman on his farm
Carl Bowman, a partner in Bowman & Landes Turkeys, has invested in three solar power systems over the years, dramatically cutting electricity costs at the farm that raises 70,000 turkeys a year and processed them into a variety of products. (Submitted photo)

In the 1980s, they started doing separate cuts, including ground turkey. Next came deli meats and other cooked products. It required a bigger investment to take this step. They bought a smokehouse and other equipment. A further processing facility was built in 1994. They could make and sell lunch meat, sausage, smoked turkey products throughout the year, instead of relying on all their income to come from one season.

“That slowly grew and grew and grew,” he said. “Today, our off season sales exceed our holiday sales.”

They employ about 30-35 people full time, and hire about 100 people during the busy turkey harvest season in the fall.

Doing it all

Bowman Landes sees its turkeys through almost every part of the process. Day old poults come to the farm from a hatchery, said Drew Bowman, Carl’s son.

The baby birds stay in climate controlled barns for the first few weeks of life. At about 2-3 weeks of age, they get some access to the outdoors. By 6-8 weeks, the turkeys can be let outside all the time. The turkeys are marketed as being free range.

The families also farm corn, soybeans and wheat on about 2,500 acres. The majority of the ground is farmed using no-till practices. They have a feed mill on the farm where they mix and grind their own turkey feed.

When the turkeys are ready, between 14 and 20 weeks, they go over to the farm’s U.S. Department of Agriculture inspected slaughterhouse and processing plant.

“We’re able to walk turkeys into our USDA processing plant,” Drew Bowman said. “We think that makes for a healthier bird, a cleaner bird and less stress before harvest.”

This is how they’ve been doing it since the beginning. Raising turkeys from start to finish with lots of fresh air and sunshine. The only thing that’s changed is the technology and the number of birds.

Staying power

Carl Bowman never thought of Ohio being a good state to harness the sun’s power, but the more they learned about it, the more potential they saw.

The first solar system went up in 2011 on top of one of their barns. It was a 50 kilowatt system. That went so well, they put up a second system, with 80 kilowatts of capacity, in 2013.

They added on to the further-processing facility in 2018. More equipment, more coolers and more processing capacity means using a lot more electricity.

By this time, the cost of installing solar panels had gone down and the efficiency of the panels improved. They built the most recent pole barn with solar in mind; it has a reinforced roof meant to handle solar panels, Carl Bowman said.

They decided it was time to put in a third solar array to help offset costs from the new processing facility. Sun Lion Energy just finished the installation on Oct. 20. The latest Bowman Landes solar project — a 219 kilowatt system — includes 576 solar panels atop a 400-foot long barn.

boy with ladder and turkeys
Solar installer Sam Ennis, of Sun Lion Energy, works among a flock of turkeys at Bowman & Landes turkey farm, in New Carlisle, Ohio. (Submitted photo)

Jess Ennis, president of Sun Lion Energy, said solar panels can generate double the power they did a decade ago and the cost is about half of what it was before. The new Bowman Landes system should pay for itself in about four years from saved electricity costs, Ennis said.

“Once the system pays for itself in saved electricity costs, all the savings, year after year, go right to the farm’s bottom line,” he said.

Carl Bowman said in 25 years time, they calculated that this new system should save the farm close to $800,000. All the systems combined should produce more than half of the electricity used on the farm.

“That’s a good legacy for the next generation,” he said.

The third and fourth generations of Bowmans and Landeses are coming up in the business now. Carl Bowman, who is semi-retired, said the solar arrays on the farm are the crowning achievement for he and his partner, Stan Landes. He feels like they’ve set up the company well for the future.

Running a family farm isn’t easy, and it can get even more complicated with two families running it side by side. Carl said they’ve kept the company going strong by doing what’s best for the farm.

“Whether I agree with it or not. I have to be big enough to say, ‘that’s not really what I thought we’d do, but if everyone else wants to do that, I’m with you,’” he said. “You have to be willing to submit to others. When you find out that you give up self for the other, you can get really successful and keep people hanging together.”

(Reporter Rachel Wagoner can be contacted at 800-837-3419 or rachel@farmanddairy.com.)

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Rachel is a reporter with Farm and Dairy and a graduate of Clarion University of Pennsylvania. She married a fourth-generation beef and sheep farmer and settled down in her hometown in Beaver County. Before coming to Farm and Dairy, she worked at several daily and weekly newspapers throughout Western Pennsylvania covering everything from education and community news to police and courts.

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