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It's a dirty job

Brothers Dana and Paul Nelson grew up working on the family turkey farm near Kensington.

They had no idea at the time that they'd still be working there years later.

Nor did they know their jobs would someday land them on national TV.

The men work at Oakdale Farm, which they own with their parents, Vernal and Marlene Nelson.

"This is the last thing I was thinking about doing," Dana said of turkey farming. "But I guess as you grow older the farm life seems like a good place to be, a good place to raise kids. Those are things you don't think about when you're younger."

Paul moved away for awhile and worked as a cabinet maker. After moving back to the area, he continued cabinetry, just helping out at the farm when needed.

That need eventually grew and Paul quit the cabinet business to help on the farm full time.

Oakdale Farm specializes in breeder hens. They raise 12,000 turkeys a season, with 8,000 hens laying at one time.

When Paul sat down in the evening to watch one of his favorite television shows, Dirty Jobs, he could relate with some of the workers featured.

"I guess I have a dirty job," he said of his work at the turkey farm. "I know I smell when I come home, so I guess it's a dirty job."

"We'd actually joked about being on the show when it first came out," Dana said of Dirty Jobs.

But it was Paul's wife, Jessica, who took the next step.

"I had no doubt in my mind that they would get on the show after seeing what they do," Jessica said. "Just hearing Paul talk about what he does was enough to convince me."

Paul is in charge of "milking" the toms to get semen, which is then artificially inseminated into the hens.

This is done once a week, however it takes three days a week to inseminate every hen.

In January of 2006, Jessica visited the Dirty Jobs Web site and completed an eight-page application, which asked for a description of the job, information about the people involved in the work and information about why they wanted to be on the show. She was also required to send a short video showing the actual work.

Within a month, the Nelsons received a call from a show representative.

"He said they were interested and definitely wanted to come out and do the show," Jessica said. "We were so excited!"

But the excitement slowly faded as time passed and dates were continuously set, cancelled and reset.

For two years show representatives were in touch with the Nelsons, but nothing came to fruition.

"We heard from them every few months, but we'd actually kind of given up on their ever coming," Jessica said.

"They wanted to wait until they had other tapings to do in Minnesota, so they could do them all in one trip," Paul explained of the wait. Dirty Jobs is based in California.

Finally, the call came that they were waiting for, and a date was set for the taping - Friday, March 21.

The Dirty Jobs crew made a stop in Detroit Lakes the day before to tape workers removing a car that had fallen through the ice.

Mike Rowe, host of the show, and a crew of six men arrived at the Nelson farm at 9 a.m. to begin taping.

After explaining the process to those involved, the crew donned boots and coveralls and followed Paul into the "tom barn" to begin "milking the toms" to collect their semen. This process took nearly four hours.

On the show, Rowe is shown actually doing the "dirty jobs." Paul said Rowe did try milking the toms, but didn't have a lot of luck.

"He tried," he said with a laugh. "He didn't do very well. At one point he said, 'What the heck am I doing?' "

The semen was then taken to the hen barn, where the Nelsons' hired hands, Mike Stevens and Corey Knabe, inseminated the sperm into the hens.

After finishing the job, packing up their equipment and spending time visiting with family members and signing autographs, the crew left at 7 p.m. - 10 hours after arriving.

"We couldn't believe how much time it takes," Dana said. "Guys were running back and forth getting batteries and film."

"Lighting is a huge thing," Paul added. "The light had to be perfect. They were working with all this different equipment and light filters. That took a lot of time."

But it wasn't all work. The Dirty Jobs crew did take time for a little fun. The producer donned the Nelsons' turkey costume and ran through the barn with it on.

"I couldn't believe it," Marlene said. "He ran through the barn barefoot! I'd never do that. He was quite a character."

The Nelsons agreed that Rowe and his crew were "nice guys" and the experience was a lot of fun.

"He really is committed to showing the average guy," Dana concluded.

The show will air on Monday, May 12 at 8 p.m. Central Standard Time on the Discovery Channel.

About the show

Dirty Jobs profiles the "unsung American laborers" who make their living in the most unthinkable, yet vital, ways.

The Discovery Channel series features Mike Rowe as the host and apprentice. On each program, Rowe introduces hard-working men and women who overcome fear, danger and sometimes stench and overall "ickiness" to accomplish their daily tasks.

Rowe assumes the duties of the jobs he's profiling, working alongside rattlesnake catchers, termite collectors, sewer inspectors, fish processors, bee removers, oyster shuckers, septic-tank technicians and other professionals.

The hope is that viewers will gain a new understanding and appreciation for all the often-unpleasant functions someone is shouldering to make your everyday life easier, safer and perhaps cleaner.

Dirty Jobs airs each week on the Discovery Channel, Mondays at 8 p.m. Central Standard Time.