LIMA — As chief operating officer at Cooper Farms, Gary Cooper has seen a lot of turkeys — the family-owned business sells 300 million pounds of the animal annually — but he’s never seen a turkey drown from staring at the sky during a rainstorm.
Instead, during his presentation with the Rotary Club of Lima Monday, he led his talk with some self-deprecating turkey humor.
“Who’s more stupid than a turkey? They guy who takes care of them,” Cooper said.
Cooper is one of three second-generation Coopers — Jim and Diane round out the trio — that have helped grow the family business into one the top ten U.S. turkey providers and leading turkey producer in Ohio. After 82 years in business, Cooper Farms now employs 2,300 workers, and Cooper provided some insights Monday into how the major employer works to deliver its many meat products.
Outside of its processing plants, Cooper said most of its turkeys come from area family farms who contract with Cooper Farms to raise the animals. Farmers throughout the area basically provide space and any caretaking, and Cooper provides the feed and animals.
The model provides Cooper Farms with three basic products — turkeys, hogs and eggs — which can then be processed at the company’s St. Henry or Van Wert facilities. The business also owns a hatchery business, located in Oakwood, and a feed and animal production plant in Fort Recovery.
The end result is 300 million pounds of turkey, 200 million pounds of pork, 1.2 million tons of grain and a 115 million eggs annually for the wider company. Plans are in the works for an additional plant to provide cage-free products, Cooper said.
But with such success, Cooper has had seen some outside groups question both safety and quality of their goods, especially as Cooper Farms product ends up in other major brands, such as the in-house deli store brands in both Meijer and Kroger. Cooper said staged videos, for example, are sometimes recorded by animal rights group to create negative perceptions about places like Cooper Farms, but while some such videos have captured workers acting irresponsibly, Cooper said his business works to ensure such practices don’t happen in their facilities.
Cooper also highlighted some of the moves Cooper Farms have made on the environmental front. Both wind and solar power have been installed to offset electricity costs, and Cooper estimates that three quarters of electricity used by the Van Wert facility is produced by three Cooper Farms turbines at that location. The initiative was prompted by the work of other wind companies that had already deemed turbine installation in the county worth the investment.
“We didn’t need to do any research. They must work,” Cooper said. “So we put them up, and they work.”
Outside of electric production, Cooper said half of their business’s waste is recycled, and that Cooper Farms encourages responsible manure management in order to reduce the amount of runoff into Lake Erie. A total of 222 filter strips and 571 wooded areas are located in the Cooper Farms footprint.
Cooper also fielded a few audience questions. As Burger King’s “Impossible Whopper” — a plant-based burger said to taste like meat — grows in popularity, Cooper was asked about his thoughts on the emerging trend.
Cooper said he’s tried the veggie burger, and while there’s something of an aftertaste now, he figures that the industry will probably make the taste practically indistinguishable sooner or later. That doesn’t mean plant-based competitors, however, will be calling their new patties “meat,” especially if the wider meat industry has anything to do with it.
“If it’s called the ‘Impossible Peat Patty,’ you’ll know why,” Cooper said. “We sued.”
Reach Josh Ellerbrock at 567-242-0398.