Why Buy Local?: A Snapshot of the Thanksgiving Turkey Industry

We’re proud to once again offer pasture-raised turkeys from Smith & Smith Farms in Burlington, Texas, for your Thanksgiving enjoyment. All the turkeys we deliver will be processed the evening of Monday, November 19th, less than 24 hours before they arrive at your door. While we always encourage members of our communities to invest in humanely raised, locally-sourced meat, Thanksgiving presents a compelling case for examining the commercial poultry market, with a whole year of production centered around a single day. The University of Illinois reports that Americans consume around 46 million turkeys on Thanksgiving, with an additional 22 million for Christmas. As you might guess, that means American farmers carry a bulky task of keeping supermarkets stocked for the holiday season, and methods for production are centered around birds with breasts large enough to feed the whole family.

Limited supply: Shop local, pasture-raised turkey.

All-important in the Thanksgiving market is the fresh, never-frozen turkey option, prized and slightly pricier than the frozen alternative. This makes sense in general because fresh turkeys need more attention to be kept at a specific temperature after slaughter, but it also highlights a quirky question: if a bird needs to be ready for slaughter just before Thanksgiving so that it can be sold fresh, when would it need to be born? An article by Slate answers this and the resulting question: when was its mother born?

For an example of the yearly breeding cycle at a company like Butterball, let’s consider the turkeys available fresh for Thanksgiving 2018. Timed to be ready for slaughter just before this Thanksgiving, the breeding cycle is built around those birds hatching sometime in the spring of this year. This means that in 2017, Butterball bought their mothers as fertilized eggs from a large company so that those “breeder” mothers would hatch and be ready to reproduce by spring 2018. Turkeys to be sold fresh come from the first five cycles of their mother’s reproductive maturity. Their younger siblings from later cycles are raised to market size, slaughtered, and flash frozen to be available all year round. Their mothers usually meet the same fate when the breeding season is complete.

The problems for conscious turkeys consumers arise in the form of large white-meat breasts that are standard on Thanksgiving birds. While the gigantic breast portions are the producers’ method for packing the most possible meat onto a single bird, the white broad-breasted breed has been made to develop such large breasts that their reproduction of the turkey now must be artificially maintained by their human keepers. That’s right, the breasts on the males (toms) are big enough to keep them from properly engaging in sexual activity with hens. Reproductive material must be harvested from the toms and placed in the hens by syringe.

If you’re looking to feed your family with a bird with the same all-natural life and taste our forefathers would have enjoyed, shop Thanksgiving turkeys from Rosso & Flynn while they’re available.

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