Thanksgiving 2018 is just around the corner, but planning for the holiday began much earlier. It is the most traveled time in the U.S., where folks are in search for one thing…… turkey!
But where do all these turkeys come from?
While we know turkeys are not ‘born’ this way, it sure does create a memorable family moment when this prank goes smoothly. On the other hand, piles and piles of frozen turkeys show up at our local grocery stores like magic! Some stores even give them out for free with a coupon! It is estimated that in the U.S. alone 46 million turkeys are consumed for the Thanksgiving holiday. Many of the turkeys that we consume are only 3 to 6 months of age. So how are turkeys raised for the holiday season?
THE “TURKEY-INDUSTRIAL COMPLEX”
The turkey dominated by brands such as Butterball and Hormel produce both frozen and fresh whole birds. Turkeys destined for the freezer (which are most of what we eat) are produced year-round, while producing fresh turkeys takes a bit more planning.
In the industrial operation, eggs for breeder birds are purchased from genetic suppliers, and then hatched and placed in farms so they can grow throughout the winter. Come spring, these birds will produce the eggs that will eventually become the turkeys that we eat. Hens produce eggs in 25-week-long cycles; the first five weeks of eggs go toward fresh production, and the rest toward the frozen turkey market.
The National Agricultural Statistics reports that the ‘turkeys slaughtered during September 2017 averaged 30.7 pounds per bird’ which has increased since last year’s size. Year after year the turkey population for meat has increased about 2% each year. Sounds like they have this down to a science, right?… well, they do!
THE LOCAL FARMER
There is a growing demand for all natural, free-range turkeys. Although the big producers have recognized this trend, and started offering the ‘organic alternative’. There are many small farms that are now in ‘the game’.
The small, often family-owned, farms advertise their turkeys with such descriptors as: locally grown, no antibiotics, no hormones, gluten-free, no preservatives, fed a vegetarian diet, and sustainable. These cottage industry farms raise their turkeys in natural pastures as opposed to the more controlled, confined conditions found in mass production. They also practice humane slaughter techniques, and naturally process their hens, without the basting solutions, additives or fillers. And, with the growing demand for the ‘all-natural’ bird, the prices are not that bad!
So, knowing that this lovely meal will produce leftovers for days (or weeks!)…what’s on your table this holiday, factory bird or yard bird?
Happy Thanksgiving from Latitudes Environmental! #Thanksgiving2018 #Turkey #ThanksgivingWeek
We are a Houston-based environmental and safety consultancy, offering professional services to a range of industries.
(Slate Magazine, ref. David Anderson and Kip Bodnar of Butterball and Michael Davis of Texas A&M University. ref. USDA, National Agricultural Statistics Service: Poultry Slaughter)