Although we had millions of turkeys dying from Avian flu, the Thanksgiving supply of birds is okay. You can decide why after we talk turkey for awhile.
Now more than 30 pounds, our average commercial turkey was only 17 pounds in 1960. The reason? Breeding has increased productivity. Birds with big breasts provide more ground turkey, turkey sausage and processed meats. So we get more meat from fewer birds.
You can see below that almost a century ago turkey size was rather close to today’s largest chickens.
The largest turkeys are really big birds. Among the five types of commercial broad breasted white turkeys, the breeder tom is huge. Weighing 50 to 70 pounds, he can produce 1050 turkey chicks (poults) by artificial inseminating 10 hens during one year. The size of his breast precludes any natural mating.
Next are the regular toms. No one’s dad, the regular toms reach 40 pounds in 16-19 weeks and then become ground or processed. Similarly, heavy hens do not become moms. They average 22-24 pounds and then are sold whole to become deli cuts, breast rolls or Thanksgiving dinners. The other birds that make it to our tables are the young hens that reach 11 to 16 pounds in 12 -14 weeks.
The three top turkey producers in 2014 were, in descending order, Minnesota, Arkansas and North Carolina.
The industry pretty much covers the whole U.S.:
Killing 7.5 million turkeys, the Avian flu could have decimated the market. Instead all is okay. Prices for fresh birds went up minimally and the frozen birds were even cheaper. With retailers able to stock up when they suspected a problem and farmers able to get poults to replace what died, the market rebounded.