Gator: From swamp to table

Photo by staff.
Friday, May 17, 2013 - 5:20pm

Kliebert's Turtle and Alligator Farm is a family business, four generations strong.

"We're actually one of the first legal operating alligator farms in the United States," says T-Mike. He's one of the one of the managers here. They do tours, have a variety of animals, nearly 50 thousand turtles and more than 2500 gators. About 220 of the gators live in a large pond on the property. They're the breeding stock.

"My grandpa hatched all these gators in 1957," says T-Mike who's taken a seat on the ground just a couple feet away from a giant gator named Sally. She's one of the originals. It's a bit off-putting at first, but T-Mike is calm and so is Sally.

"This gator in particular is being calm not only I think because she knows me but because she's used to people."

A scene like this is clearly something you won't find in the wild and T-Mike says, you won't find these kind of gators in the wild either.

"You go out to the swamp, you see gators but you don't see gators this big," he says. "Our gators make wild gators look like chiuauas!"

Crush is a prime example of that. He's what T-Mike calls the 'bull gator' which is the dominant gator at the farm. He's about 14 feet long and weighs in at more than1500 pounds. He's Sally's boyfriend and, these days, you'll find the two of them sunbathing on the edge of the pond. It's breeding season right now which means, next month, T-Mike is going to be busy.

"The offspring to this breeding stock here which is 55 years old. We collect eggs here. This is female here I'm sitting by," he says, pointing to Sally. "So this year, actually next month, she's gonna lay a nest, build a mound about 5 to 5 foot in perimeter, about 2 foot high, she's gonna lay 40 to 50 eggs in that nest and we'll come in, we'll fight her off, steal her eggs from her. Bring 'em to the hatchery, hatch 'em after we incubate 'em and then we'll basically move that gator to different stages."

By stages, T-mike means different pools. The pools are split up by age group.

"Once that gator reaches a certain age which is about 71/2 to 8 years of age, we'll harvest that gator," he explains. "Once we process the meat, we'll actually sell it inside our gift shop, here locally, we'll sell it to a few local restaurants here, New Orleans, Baton Rouge and we'll also ship it off to other states."

And they don't just sell the meat.

"We sell the hide, make purses, wallets, belts, whatever we can," says T-Mike. "We figure if you're going to kill him, why waste anything?"

There are other parts of the business too; the turtles and the tours. T-Mike loves it all.

"I have a passion for what I do. I love what I do. I don't consider it a job when you love it."

One of the things he loves most is the tours.

"I want them to have a taste of Louisiana. A taste of the swamp--the Kliebert swamp." he says. "They always have a smile on their face and that's what I look forward to seeing every day."

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