Free-range turkeys a good fit for palm plantations

Farmer Joe believes he has discovered the keys to profitably raising free-range turkeys in Southeast Asia – and now he’s looking for joint-venture partners.

Joseph Stanyer, aka “Farmer Joe,” began raising turkeys on a rubber plantation in Rayong in 1988. Then in 1990, he moved to a more accessible site in Sri Racha.

In a desperate bid to halt an outbreak of disease in the indoor housing he was using at the time, he let the birds go outside where they gathered under a large, shady tree.

After he noticed that the outside birds recovered faster than those indoors, he looked further into the possibility of free-range turkey production in the hot, humid climate of Thailand.

Providing adequate shade for the birds was the key, he decided.

In 1999, at an operation in Hua Hin, he welded together a steel frame that was fitted with a thatched roof and dubbed it “Cooltent.” It worked, but was cumbersome to move around.

The technology has since been upgraded to Cooltent MK2, which uses greenhouse components to reduce costs and weight. With a lightweight, reflective plastic roof, it was awarded a Thai patent and has been used successfully since 2014 at Farmer Joe’s latest start-up site in Johor, Malaysia.

“In Malaysia, we can create a very healthy and cost-effective turkey farming system by combining Cooltent with oil-palm plantation. The only restrictions being the land should be fairly level and well drained,” said Mr Stanyer.

The plantation, with it’s large area of shade, creates a comfortable “micro-climate,” and the tree spacing allows good access and air movement.

Well-managed plantations also have some grass and herbs, a healthy supplement to the turkey’s diet, he added.

The turkeys are moved around the plantation in a rotational manner, so that every hatch is placed on a clean site.

Rotational “grazing” – a free-range strategy that is becoming very popular in Western countries for poultry, cattle, sheep, goats and even pigs –  prevents buildup of disease and parasites while distributing manure fertilizer on the land.

With free-range turkeys on a palm plantation, Mr Stanyer advises a two-year rest period between grazing periods.

Combining palm oil production with free-range turkeys offers plantation owners a lucrative way to turn palm byproducts into a marketable product.

Mr Stanyer, who has been researching the use of palm co-products in poultry feed for over 15 years, said that palm co-products can be included at rates of up to 30% or more of the feed.

Compared to conventional turkey production, the palm plantation/turkey system offers 20-30% cost savings and extra revenue for palm growers with minimal disturbance to plantation routines.

Due to its year-round warm weather, Southeast Asia has great potential for outdoor, free-range turkey production, said Mr Stanyer.

Besides offering lower overhead costs, free-range production is catching on with consumers who are willing to pay a premium price for meat produced under less-intensive, “natural,” and animal welfare friendly conditions.

“In a hot, humid climate, the more room you give your livestock, the better. It results in a much cleaner, reduced stress environment,” said Mr Stanyer.

“Crowding animals together increases overheating, and an unhealthy environment where diseases spread rapidly. It also suppresses natural behavior, and can initiate vices like pecking and cannibalism.”

Farmer Joe can be reached at