Dirty Jobs

Season 2 Episode 14

Turkey Farmer

1
Aired Sunday 10:00 PM Jan 17, 2006 on Discovery Channel

Episode Recap

Mike goes to Cayote, Texas which is a very small town with more turkeys than people. We meet Romero who manages a turkey farm. Mike has to put on booties before entering the farm for bio-security purposes. They don't want to bring in any kind of diseases into the farm that can infect the birds.

The turkeys Mike sees first are only eight days old. Baby turkeys are called poults. They are housed in a building that is about 20,000 square feet. Their feed is dyed green so the poults are attracted to it. They are too young at this point to know where their food is and the babies are instinctively drawn to the color. Trays of the green feed are placed throughout the building. Soon they will learn to eat on their own out of their food dishes and won't need to have their feed dyed.

The poults are too young to gobble so Mike is then taken to the gobblers. Turkeys congregate around their water stations. Of course, this is where they pee and poo so the ground under the water stations needs to be turned every day. Romero calls these piles of turkey poo "cake". Mike has a pitchfork and starts in on removing the stinky cake.

Mike picks up a dead turkey. Romero tells him that out of 14,000 birds, about ten die per day from natural causes. Mike is told to go around and pick up the rest of the dead turkeys. He hunts for the dead birds. He says they're hard to find, but the key to locating them is to find the ones that aren't moving. No surprise there!

All the turkeys on this farm are females. They are less agressive and easier to raise than males. If they live to 15 weeks, they'll weigh 13-15 pounds and be sold like the ones we eat at Thanksgiving. Males can get up to 42 pounds and will be used in processed turkey meat found at grocery stores.

Mike found seven dead turkeys. They will take them to the compost pile on the other end of the farm. Dead birds are put on the compost pile in layers and covered with "litter" which is Romero's term for manure. Mike steps in goo on the floor that Romero says is blood and basically liquid turkey. The decomposing bodies are leaking out of the compost pile onto the floor. Mike is pretty grossed out by that. Poo from turkey is pretty much just water and bacteria. Piling the poo on top of dead turkeys causes a chemical reaction on a microbial level where they'll end up with a fertilizer.

David (better known as Dr. Gobbler) comes and picks up the compost. He will turn the composted poo into a fertilizer that people will buy. A huge tractor trailer truck pulls up full of 20 tons of turkey litter (poo). There are piles of poo all over Dr. Gobbler's place. Dr. Gobbler uses trucks with "live bottom floor" technology. It squeezes and pushes the poo from the back end out of the truck so it doesn't need to be unloaded manually. Mike is pretty impressed with this - and happy to not be shoveling poo!

Mike gets to drive the John Deere 544 bulldozer. He's doing this to push the poo around the compost piles. He needs to turn the compost pile to keep it at the right tempurature range. It can't be too hot or too cold. If the pile isn't turned, the resulting product could be harmful to plants.

Mike and Dr. Gobbler climb up onto some of the compost piles. Dr. Gobbler hands Mike a temperature gauge that will tell them when to turn the pile or if it's getting too hot. Inside the mounds, bacteria is slowly breaking down the turkey poo. As the microorganisms work, they generate heat. It is this heat that kills the bacteria itself. They measure the temperature of some of the piles and they are at around 120-130 degrees. After the compost cooks for eight months, it is dumped into a screener that takes out the rocks and sticks. At that point it is ready to be bagged and sold to be put into people's gardens.

Next Mike is Gunnison, Colorado near the foot of the Rocky Mountains about 20 miles from the Continental Divide. He is on a potato farm called Milk Ranch Specialty Potatoes. Verlin Rockey and son Craig invent new strains of potatoes in their homemade lab and raise them in their fields. They produce seed potoates that they sell to other farmers who want to grow these unique breeds themselves. It can take several years of trial and error to develop a new potato.

Verlin wants to build a better potato. In his small lab he creates new breeds of potatoes in a sanitized environment. New potatoes are first grown in petri dishes that eventually will be planted in his fields. Verlyn shows Mike his specimens. He explains that all they do in the lab is cloning, not cross pollination as Mike suggests. Verlin says cross pollination takes place in the dirt with flowering plants, not in a lab. Verlin hands Mike a petri dish to take to the greenhouse for planting.

In the greenhouse, Craig plants the experiments in trays of soil. The first generation of plants will be under a watchful eye. In about three months they'll have mini-tubers. (Tuber is another word for potato.) They will harvest the new potatoes, then store them in the cellar and plant them next year. A seed potato is specifically grown to be planted, not eaten. They take the planted trays to the harvester machine which is a vibrating contraption that shakes free all of the dirt leaving only the seed potatoes. These will be planted in the experimental field to produce the first crop of a new type of potato.

Next Mike gets to harvest some potatoes out in the field. They set up the conveyor belt first. Verlin has a Bobcat to do the heavy lifting. Mike first has to remove the dirt and rocks from under the conveyor belt from yesterday's harvest. Then the big tractor is brought out to dig the potatoes out of the ground. The latest crop is Verlin's latest invention, Purple Potatoes. They will use a chain digger that can dig up an entire row of potatoes in a few minutes. It will remove the dirt, potatoes and rock from the ground and pile it up onto the digger chain. There the soil will fall through the digger chain and the rocks and potatoes will fall into a bin where the rocks will removed by hand.

Craig drives the tractor while Verlin and Mike ride on the back to throw out the rocks and vines. Sometimes other things pop up. The land used to be an old stagecoach stop and often they find artifacts from that time period. Verlin explains the history of the area and why their farm is called Milk Ranch.

Sorting the rocks and potatoes is done by the whole family including Craig's wife, Dawna, and their son, Joshua. Mike thinks he's a natural at sorting the rocks from potatoes, but the family says he's missing too many. Mike is trying to blame his mistakes on Joshua. The purple potatoes look like a regular potato on the outside, but are bright purple when cut open.

After the harvest, the potatoes are carted to the cellar to hibernate for the winter. Then they'll be sold as seed potatoes in the spring. At the end of the day, Dawna makes Mike a snack she calls Star Spangled Fries. Mike shares the red white and blue potatoes with the crew.

Finally, Mike takes us to San Francisco, California to learn how we treat our poo before we dump it into the ocean. There are two wastewater treatment plants serving the city. Mike is at the West Side pumping station which processes 43 million gallons of raw sewage a day. Here, they're only about 100 yards from the Pacific Ocean. Every time someone flushes their toilet on the west side, it comes here. The flow can get pretty high.

Mike meets Chuck who will be Mike's guide in the dark and dangerous plant. They are at pump chamber number one where they need to replace a lift pump. The lift pump is a 300 horsepower, 25 million gallon a day pump that feeds the plant with wastewater. On the other side of the chamber door is raw sewage. Mike has a monitor strapped to him which will gauge the air so he doesn't die. There can be dangerous levels of methane, hydrogen sulfide (fifteen parts per million will kill you) and carbon dioxide. The monitor also measures how much oxygen is in the air. Some dangerous things Mike needs to be aware of before entering are engulfment, drowning and exposure to hazardous atmosphere - such as TB and hepatitis. People working at the plant have died from these diseases.

Anything anyone throws in a toilet can be seen at their feet. Mike gets to open the door to the chamber housing the lift pump. Liquid starts pouring out from under the door. They can't get get the door fully opened because it is blocked with poo. Chuck tries to get the debris away from the door opening by hosing it down with water. Suddenly, they're getting a hydrogen sulfide alert and need to leave.

When the sewage decays it produces hydrogen sulfide which is a gas that neutralizes your senses so you can't smell it. Then it paralyzes your breathing and you drown. As they wait for the dangerous levels to go down, Mike shows us the bar screener. This is a machine comprised of a series of mechanical rakes desinged to get everything out of the pumping station that shouldn't have gone down the drain - rocks, rats, plastics, etc. It is step one in the treatment process.

They had to evacuate the entrance to the pumping chamber, but fifteen minutes later it was clear enough to go back. After only a short time, again they have to clear the area. This time it's only nine minutes until they can go back in. Mike has to walk out on the end of a plank. There's just enough room for Mike to get through the door. Once inside the chamber, Mike has to hose the poo away from the door so it can be opened fully if they need to make another quick exit.

There are four lift pumps in this section and they have three more elsewhere in the plant. They don't break very often, but whenever a lift pump is being replaced, the entire facility has to shut down. Every minute is critical because sewage continues to enter the plant during the shutdown. That's why the tanks are five stories tall in case of backups.

Chuck explains how the lift pump works. Mike has to wash the lift pump off before it's hoisted out. He connects the cable and it is lifted to the top of the plant. Mike again hoses the lift pump from up top. They want to keep the poo contained inside the plant. In comes the new lift pump and after it's installed, Mike gets to see the rest of the plant.

The plant is completely automated. All waste needs to be separated taking the solids away from the liquids. Mike shows us the gravity belt which shows the solid sludge on the way to a digester. Liquids are on their way to aeration. The digester removes harmful pathogens and reduces volume. Once the sludge is digested, it is trucked to four landfill sites in the Bay area or used as a soil substititute in agriculture. After liquids are aerated to final clarification, the water is pumped four and a half miles out into the ocean. It is 95% treated so it won't hurt fish or birds. Apparently it is also safe enough to drink, however Mike won't try a sip. He knows where it's been.
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