MAC Autumn 2000 Newsletter
It is believed that the Aztecs were the first to domesticate the turkey. Christopher Columbus and Hernando Cortez both took turkeys to Spain with them. By 1530, turkeys were being raised domestically in Italy, France and England. When the Pilgrims and other settlers arrived in America, they were already familiar with the turkey. Domesticated turkeys were brought from Europe in 1620.
Turkey meat was a staple of the diet of many Indians. They also used the feathers to stabilize their arrows and to make headdresses and decorate their clothes. The Anasazi people of the Southwest domesticated the turkey and used the feathers to make blankets and warm leggings.
Wild turkeys are colorful birds with red or blue featherless heads and brown feathers with buff-colored feathers on the tips of the wing and the tail. They can reach four feet from beak to the tip of the tail and can stand four feet in height. Wild turkeys have longer necks and legs, as well as smaller breasts, than domestic turkeys. Although domestic turkeys cant fly, wild turkeys can fly for short distances at up to 55 miles per hour. They are also fast on the ground, running at speeds of up to 25 miles per hour.
Wild turkeys live in flocks in open fields and woodlands. They spend the nights roosting in trees, especially oak trees. Turkeys do not migrate and will stay in the same area all year long, alternating between feeding areas ten miles apart. They are omnivores, eating acorns, nuts, berries, seeds and insects. Turkeys have excellent hearing and keen eyesight that can see the smallest movement a hundred yards away. However, they have poor night vision and depth perception.
Wild turkeys mate in the early spring. The hen will make a nest of leaves, hidden in the forest undergrowth, where she will produce ten to twenty, tan and brown specked eggs. The eggs hatch in 28 days, in late May or early June. The chicks walk immediately and can fly within two weeks. There are actually six different subspecies of wild turkey, each adapted to a different habitat.
The clearing of woodlands for agriculture and forestry and aggressive market hunting brought the wild turkey near to extinction by the turn of the last century. By 1910, they had disappeared from twelve states including all of New England (the last wild turkey was seen in Massachusetts in 1878). In the 1950's, wildlife biologists learned that they could reestablish populations, by using nets to capture wild birds and move them to new areas. Today there are over two million wild turkeys living in the continental U.S.
All domestic turkeys belong to one breed, which has been bred and selected over hundreds of years to create eight varieties. The commonly portrayed Thanksgiving turkey is the colorful "Bronze" variety, a very large breed that was popular earlier in the last century when families were larger. Today most turkey farmers raise two white feathered varieties, the "White Holland" and the smaller "Beltsville White." Five less commonly raised varieties are the Narragansett, Bourbon Red, Black, the Broad Breasted Bronze and the Broad Breasted Large White.
Modern domestic turkeys are bred to have more breast meat and meatier thighs. They are also bred to have white feathers, so they leave no unsightly pigment spots under the skin when plucked.
The turkey industry has developed into three specialty areas: egg production, hatching of eggs to chicks, and raising chicks into full grown turkeys. At the egg production companies, hens that are thirty weeks old are artificially inseminated, so that they will produce eggs. Each hen lays about five eggs a week, totaling a hundred eggs over a 25 week cycle. Once the eggs have been laid, they are washed, dried and packed into boxes and shipped to the hatchery.
At the hatchery huge incubators hold thousands of eggs. The temperature is held at a constant 99.5 to 99.7 degrees F and the humidity is held at 86 percent. After two weeks of incubation, the growing chicks inside the eggs produce so much heat that sometimes cooling fan must be used. The eggs are tipped at 45 degrees in two alternating directions, to imitate the natural movement of the mother. The eggs hatch in 28 days. Each chick first makes a tiny hole in the shell; it may take two days for the young turkey (poult) to emerge.
Soon after the young turkeys hatch, they are taken from the hatchery to the turkey farm. Before they are shipped, the young poults are given a shot of vitamins and antibiotics and their bills are clipped to prevent them from pecking at one another. At the farm, the new poults are housed in a temperature-controlled barn, where they are protected from the weather and predators during the first six weeks of their lives. The barns are carefully sanitized and furnished with fresh wood shavings to keep the young turkeys clean and warm. The new poults always have fresh water and food available.
After six weeks, the poults are transferred to "growout" facilities. They remain there for several weeks until they are ready for processing. Hens are usually processed when they are 14-18 weeks old and 10-14 pounds. Toms reach market weight later, at 18-24 weeks and 20-26 pounds. Turkeys may be raised either free range or in scientifically designed, environmentally controlled barns that provide maximum protection from predators, disease and weather.
Farmers feed turkeys a balanced diet of corn and soybean meal mixed with a supplement of vitamins and minerals. Fresh water is available at all time. On average it takes 84 pounds of feed to raise a 30 pound tom turkey. Feed ingredients account for 2/3 of the cost of raising a turkey. All turkeys are hormone and steroid free, as regulated by the USDA. A well-treated turkey will stay healthy and grow more efficiently, delivering the highest return to the grower. Turkey feathers are composted and ground up for use as farm fertilizers. Most of a domestic turkeys body can be used for meat, the insides are ground up and used for animal food.
Information for this article was taken from the National Turkey Federation Web Site, the Norbest Web Site, Wonders of Turkeys by Sigmund A Lavine and Vincent Scuro and Wild Turkey Tame Turkey by Dorothy Hinshaw Patent.
- Beard: black lock of hair on the chest
- Caruncle: reddish-pink fleshy growth on the head and upper neck of the turkey. When agitated, the caruncle will extend over the face or beak.
- Comb: red-pink fleshy tissue on top of head
- Flock: large group of turkeys
- Gobble: seasonal mating call of male turkeys. Hens make a clicking noise.
- Hen: female turkey. Hens begin laying eggs at about seven to eight months.
- Poultry: birds raised for meat or eggs - chickens, turkeys, ducks and geese
- Poults: young turkeys
- Snood: a long, red, fleshy growth that hangs down over the beak. It is large, plump and elastic on males and small, thin and inelastic on females.
- Tom: a male turkey.
- Turkey eggs: Turkey eggs are tan with brown specks and twice the size of chicken eggs.
History associates the turkey with the first Thanksgiving feast celebrated by the Pilgrims in 1621. Their first winter was devastating, and they lost 46 of the original 102 who sailed on the Mayflower. When the harvest of 1621 was bountiful, the remaining colonists, along with the 91 Indians who helped them survive their first year, decided to celebrate with a feast. Governor William Bradford sent four men fowling, and they returned with ducks, geese and turkeys. The feast was more like a traditional English harvest festival than a true thanksgiving observance, and it lasted three days.
This thanksgiving feast was not repeated the following year. But in 1623, during a severe drought, the Pilgrims gathered in a prayer service, to pray for rain. When a long, steady rain followed the very next day, Governor Bradford proclaimed another day of Thanksgiving, again inviting their Indian friends. It wasn't until June of 1676 that another Day of Thanksgiving was proclaimed, by the governing council of Charlestown, Massachusetts.
The first national Thanksgiving was called for by the Continental Congress in 1777. National Thanksgivings were proclaimed by Presidents Washington, Adams and Monroe, but the custom fell out of use after 1815. President Lincoln declared two Thanksgivings, one for Thursday August 6, and a second for the last Thursday in November. From that time on, some Thursday in fall was annually declared a national Thanksgiving Day by the president.
The date was changed a couple of times, most recently by President Franklin Roosevelt, who moved it up one week to the next-to-last Thursday in order to create a longer Christmas shopping season. Public uproar against this decision caused the president to move Thanksgiving back to its original date two years later. And in 1941, Thanksgiving was finally sanctioned by Congress as a legal holiday, as the fourth Thursday in November.
- About 275 million turkeys are raised annually in the U.S. In Massachusetts, 80 thousand turkeys are raised on local turkey farms each year.
- Massachusetts turkey farms produce over 1.6 million pounds of turkey annually, brining in 1.9 million dollars at an average price of $1.20 per pound. A total of 2.74 billion pounds of turkey is processed in the U.S., bringing 2.68 billion dollars to U.S. farmers. With the value added to turkey through processing and turkey products, the total value of turkey production in the U.S. 1996 was more than $7.9 billion.
- In 1997, there were 3,397 farms producing turkeys in the U. S. There are 22 turkey farms in Massachusetts.
- In Massachusetts, most turkeys raised on turkey farms are sold directly to the consumer as fresh turkey or value added turkey products such as roaster turkey, pies, turkey salad, turkey sandwiches and turkey compost. A few Massachusetts farms incubate eggs and hatch them to chicks, which are sold to turkey farmers.
- For a list of local turkey farms in your area check out the Massachusetts Department of Food & Agriculture Web Site at www.massgrown.org .
Turkey has the smallest amount of saturated and unsaturated fat of any meat commercially available, with the highest percentage of protein. A 3 ½ ounce serving of skinless turkey breast has 161 calories, 4 grams of fat and 30 grams of protein. The same size serving of skinless, dark-meat turkey has 192 calories, 8 grams of fat and 28 grams of protein. Turkey is also low in cholesterol.
Turkey is an inexpensive source of iron, zinc, phosphorus, potassium and B vitamins. All turkey is hormone and steroid free, since the USDA prohibits the use of these substances.
- Over the past 20 years, American consumption of turkey has increased from 8.3 pounds to over 18 pounds of turkey per person per year.
- Since 1947, the National Turkey Federation has annually presented the President of the United States with a live turkey and two dressed turkeys for Thanksgiving.
- The president pardons the live bird and it retires to a historical farm to live out its life.
- Ben Franklin suggested that the national bird be a turkey, not the eagle.
- It is estimated that a mature turkey has approximately 3500 feathers.
- Neil Armstrong and Edwin Aldrins first meal on the moon was roast turkey with all the trimmings.
Mass. Turkey Growers Association
163 Hampstead Street
Methuen, MA 01844
fax: (978) 686-2162
National Turkey Federation
1225 New York Avenue N. W
Washington, D.C. 20005
Fax: (202) 898-0203
Web Site: www.eatturkey.com
National Wild Turkey Federation:
Web Site: www.nwtf.org
Norbest Web Site: www.norbest.com Honeysuckle White Web Site: www.honeysucklewhite.com
Butterball Web Site:
Books about Turkeys
All About Turkeys by Jim Arnosky, 1998, Scholastic Trade. (Ages 6-9) Barnyard Friends - Turkeys by Jason Cooper, 1995, Rourke Book Company. Childs Story of Thanksgiving by Laura Rader & Mary Ann Utt, 1998, Ideals Childrens Books. The First Thanksgiving (A Step 2 Book) by Linda Hayward & James Watling, 1990. A Horn Book Company. (Ages 4-8) Gobble, Gobble, Giggle: A Book Stuffed with Thanksgiving Riddles by Katy Hall and Lisa Eisenberg, 1996, Harper Collins Juvenile Book. (Ages 4-8) High Ridge Gobbler: A Story of the American Wild Turkey by David Stemple, 1979, William Collins. The Great Turkey Walk by Kathleen Karr, 1998. Farrar, Straus and Giroux. (Ages 9-12) The Pilgrims First Thanksgiving by Ann McGovern, 1993, Scholastic Trade. Raising Your Own Turkeys by Leonard S. Mercia, 1981, Storey Communications. Sometimes Its Turkey, Sometimes Its Feathers by Lorna Ballan, 1994. Storeys Guide to Raising Turkeys: Breeds, Care, Health by Leonard S. Mercia, 2000, Storey Comm. Thanksgiving Day by Gail Gibbons, 1985, Holiday House. (Ages 4-8) Turkeys by Rachel Bell, 2000, Heineman Library. Turkeys: Barnyard Friends by Jason Cooper, 1995, The Rourke Book Company. Turkeys, Pilgrims and Indian Corn: The Story of the Thanksgiving Symbols by Edna Barth, 1981, Houghton Mifflin, Company. Turkeys That Fly - Turkeys That Dont (Rookie Read About Science) by Allan Fowler, 1994, Childrens Press. Wild Turkeys (Early Bird Nature Book) by Dorothy Hinshaw Patent, 1999, Lerner Publishing. Wild Turkeys Tame Turkeys by Dorothy Hinshaw Patent, 1989, Clarion Books. Wonders of Turkeys by Sigmund A. Lavine and Vincent Scuro, 1984, Dodd, Mead and Company.
The information from this newsletter was taken from the resources listed above.