At Yordy farm in Illinois, turkey trade is all in the family

MORTON, Ill. — While most families celebrate Thanksgiving with a single turkey, Brent Yordy ends up with a lot more on his plate.

Each year, he raises more than 10,000 hatchlings into fully-grown turkeys for processing and sale through Yordy Turkey Farm, a family-owned business that prides itself on delivering fresh product to customers and forging family traditions. The long-standing turkey source based in Morton was started more than 80 years ago by his grandfather and has remained in family hands for four generations.

“It’s always fun to sell a product that kind of sells itself,” Brent Yordy said of the business he now runs with his sons, Travis and Avery Yordy.

When the country was still reeling from the worst stock market crash in its history, business founder Robert Yordy raised 50 turkeys to sell for Thanksgiving in 1930. The following year, he doubled down. Now, the family-run business produces turkeys year round serving thousands of customers with entire birds and a la carte options through online orders and phone appointments. In November and December — the hot months for turkey sales — the iconic storefront, with its interior reminiscent of an old log cabin, opens to pre-order and walk-in customers.

The once-rural area where the Yordys still process their home-grown turkeys is now surrounded by residences and businesses that sprouted up over the decades. The live operation where turkeys are raised from hatchlings was relocated to a 200-acre indoor facility two miles away as the operation grew and the town around it expanded. There, the father and sons handle most of the day-to-day tasks that go with raising ready-to-eat birds.

While some of the processes have modernized over the years for the sake of efficiency, the practice of doing everything in-house is what Yordy Turkey Farm was founded on and continues to be integral to the business model.

“We’ve been farm to table since before farm to table was a thing,” said eldest son Travis Yordy, 32.

Like their father, both Travis and Avery Yordy grew up learning the turkey trade inside and out. After working elsewhere for a few years and starting a family of his own, Travis Yordy said he rejoined the business because it’s something he thoroughly enjoys doing.

“I always kind of knew I wanted to come back,” he said.

Every step of the growing process is controlled and monitored by Yordy Turkey Farm, from the diet the turkeys are fed to the temperature and conditions in which they are housed. Food given to each round of birds contains no growth hormones or genetically modified organisms — known as GMOs — and is produced at farming operations overseen by the Yordys.

“We feel like that is a huge advantage on the growing side, because we know everything we’re feeding them,” Brent Yordy said.

None of the turkeys raised on the Yordy farm are sold to grocery stores for resale to ensure the responsibility of product quality remains with the business, Brent Yordy said. Also, having the freedom to alter any step of the process is central to the success of the business, he said, because customers can get answers to any question directly from the farm.

“They can come right to us, and we know everything from day one of that turkey until they carry it out this door,” Brent Yordy said.

This year, Travis Yordy celebrated the birth of his first child, Violet. When asked if there was any chance she would become part of the fifth generation to work the farm, he said it’s far too early to tell. And she won’t have to if she isn’t interested.

“Yes, she does,” Brent Yordy said, with a quick smile and a laugh.