Thursday, November 26, 2009

The market for fresh turkeys

Frozen turkeys can be produced year round, but fresh turkeys for Thanksgiving all need to be brought to maturity at around the same time. This column from last year's Slate puts the picture into focus: The Turkey-Industrial Complex--How do farmers produce so many birds for Thanksgiving?

"Producing fresh turkeys takes more planning. Market leader Butterball, for example—which grows about one fresh bird for every nine frozen ones—has already begun the production cycle for next year's holiday season. Eggs for breeder birds have been purchased from one of the world's two major genetic suppliers, Hybrid and Nicholas. Those eggs will then be hatched and placed in turkey farms so that they can grow and become sexually mature during the winter. (Butterball needs roughly 28,000 laying hens and 1,700 "stud" toms each year to produce the right amount of fresh turkeys.) Come springtime, these birds will produce the eggs that are destined to become the turkeys we actually eat. Hens produce eggs in 25-weeklong cycles: The first five weeks' worth go toward fresh turkey production, the rest toward the frozen turkey market. Breeder hens are normally used for a single cycle before being slaughtered and processed themselves."

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