Happy Thanksgiving: Turkey Facts as a Tribute to Those who Gave their Lives for our Stomachs


Whether you are eating turkey or tofurkey this Thanksgiving, you cannot deny the great sacrifice that turkeys are making to fill dinner plates across the nation. I figured I would honor their sacrifice here on the eve of thanksgiving, with some fun turkey facts.

  • More than 45 million turkeys are eaten in the U.S. at Thanksgiving (one sixth of all turkeys sold in the U.S. each year). American per capita consumption of turkeys has soared from 8.3 pounds in 1975 to 18.5 pounds in 1997. Ten years later, the number has dropped slightly in 2007 to 17.5 pounds (more tofurkey?)

  • The turkey and the bald eagle were each considered as the national symbol of America. Benjamin Franklin was one of those who argued vehemently on behalf of the turkey. Franklin felt the turkey, although “vain and silly”, was a better choice than the bald eagle, whom he felt was “a coward”.
  • 250 million turkeys were raised in 2008, together weighed 7.9 billion pounds and were valued at $4.5 billion.
  • In 2002, retail sales of turkey was approximately $3.6 billion. Forecasts for 2009 expect sales to reach $3.8 billion.
  • Age matters: Old, large males are preferable to young toms (males) as tom meat is stringy. The opposite is true for females: old hens are tougher birds than their younger counterparts.
  • A turkey under sixteen weeks of age is called a fryer, while a young roaster is five to seven months old.
  • Turkeys are the only poultry native to the Western Hemisphere. Wild turkeys (Meleagris gallopavo) live in woods in parts of North America and are the largest game birds in the area. They spend their days foraging for food like acorns, seeds, small insects and wild berries.
  • Turkeys have great hearing, but no external ears. They have excellent visual acuity, see in color, and a wide field of vision, which makes sneaking up on them difficult.
  • The wild turkey we usually see in photos or pictures is not the same as the domestic turkey that we serve at Thanksgiving.
  • Domesticated turkeys cannot fly. Wild turkeys, however, can fly for short distances at speeds up to 55 miles per hour.
  • Turkeys sometimes spend the night in trees.
  • Turkeys can have heart attacks.
  • They grunt, make a “gobble gobble sound” and strut about shaking their feathers. This fancy turkey trot helps the male attract females (also called “hens”) for mating.
  • The ballroom dance known as the Turkey Trot was named for the short, jerky steps a turkey makes.

Image Credit: stevevoght on Flickr

3 thoughts on “Happy Thanksgiving: Turkey Facts as a Tribute to Those who Gave their Lives for our Stomachs”

  1. There was a guest on The Colbert Report last night who mentioned that the typical Thanksgiving Day Turkey cannot reproduce on its own, it must be artificially inseminated. I did a search to read more on it and found the comment to this article.

    NPR once did a story on naturally raised turkeys. They were smaller, but cost over $200 a bird and were significantly tastier. Healthy animals are tasty animals.

    It’s really sad how out of control everything is in this country. The food industry. The medical industry. They lobby so much that they convince being against good reform is un-American.

    The desire for moderation has become nothing more than just another advertising campaign.

  2. First of all, the turkeys did not give their lives. They were slaughtered.

    Another fact you forgot to mention is that domestic turkeys have been bred to be much bigger than their wild relatives. As a result, they cannot reproduce on their own and are forcibly artificially inseminated (a.k.a.”raped”)

    “Like chickens, the 300 million turkeys raised and killed for their flesh every year in the United States have no federal legal protection.4 Thousands of turkeys are crammed into filthy sheds after their beaks and toes are burned off with a hot blade. Many suffer heart failure or debilitating leg pain, often becoming crippled under the weight of their genetically manipulated and drugged bodies. When the time comes for slaughter, they are thrown into transport trucks, and when they arrive at the slaughterhouse, their throats are cut and their feathers burned off—often while they are still fully conscious.”

    4 Farm Sanctuary, “Turkey Industry Information,” 2004.

    “Every year in the United States, 300 million turkeys are killed for their flesh.5 Almost all spend their entire lives on factory farms and have no federal legal protection.”

    “Turkeys raised on factory farms are hatched in large incubators and never see their mothers or feel the warmth of a nest.6 When they are only a few weeks old, they are moved into filthy, windowless sheds with thousands of other turkeys, where they will spend the rest of their lives. To keep the birds from killing one another in such crowded conditions, parts of the turkeys’ toes and beaks are cut off, as are the males’ snoods (the flap of skin under the chin). All this is done without any pain relievers—imagine having the skin under your chin chopped off with a pair of scissors.7 Millions of turkeys don’t even make it past the first few weeks of life in a factory farm before succumbing to “starve-out,” a stress-induced condition that causes young birds to simply stop eating.8”

    “Turkeys are bred, drugged, and genetically manipulated to grow as large as possible as quickly as possible to increase profits. According to one industry publication, modern turkeys grow so quickly that if a 7 pound human baby grew at the same rate, the infant would weigh 1,500 pounds at just 18 weeks of age.9 Turkeys are now so obese that they cannot reproduce naturally; instead, all the turkeys who are born in the United States today are conceived through artificial insemination.10”

    “Read “My Day Working as a Turkey Breeder,” a first hand account of this cruel process. (http://www.goveg.com/f-artificialturkeys.asp)”

    “Their unnaturally large size also causes many turkeys to die from organ failure or heart attacks before they are even 6 months old.12 According an investigative report in the Wall Street Journal about the miserable conditions on turkey farms, “It’s common in a rearing house to find a dead bird surrounded by four others whose hearts failed after they watched the first one ‘fall back and go into convulsions, with its wings flapping wildly.’”13 When they grow so obese that their legs can’t even support their own weight, turkeys may become crippled—some of these birds starve to death within inches of water.”

    “When turkeys fall ill because of the filthy conditions or become crippled under their own weight, farmers walk through the shed to cull the slow-growing animals (so that they don’t eat any more food). A PETA investigation in Minnesota, the number-one turkey-producing state in the country, revealed that the manager of the farm repeatedly used a metal pipe to bludgeon 12-week-old turkeys who were lame, injured, ill, or otherwise unsuitable for slaughter and consumption. The injured birds were thrown onto piles of other dead and dying birds then tossed into a wheelbarrow for disposal. Birds who were overlooked were kicked or beaten with pliers or had their necks wrung—all in full view of other terrified birds. When the Minnesota Turkey Growers came to the defense of the farmer, the local district attorney refused to prosecute.”

    You can help

    “Turkeys are intelligent, agile, and resourceful animals. When in their natural surroundings, not on factory farms, they enjoy running, building nests, and raising their young. Please don’t support an industry that abuses these fascinating animals by the millions. Learn how you can help save turkeys from miserable lives and painful deaths.” Go to http://www.goveg.com/howyoucanhelp.asp

    5 Ibid.
    6 Patrick Martins, “About a Bird,” New York Times, 24 Nov. 2003.
    7 Jodie Karrow and Dr. Ian Duncan, “Starve-Out in Turkey Poults,” University of Guelph, Dec. 1999.
    8 University of Guelph, “Farm Animal Welfare Research,” 1998-2000.
    9 John Robbins, The Food Revolution, Conari Press: Boston, 2001, p. 195.
    10 Rick Weiss, “Techno Turkeys,” The Washington Post, 12 Nov. 1997,
    11 Christina Duff, “If You Think Surviving Tomorrow Is a Turkey’s Only Worry, Read On,” The Wall Street Journal, 27 Nov. 1991, B1.
    12 Jan Falstad, “Plucked by the Big Boys: No Fresh Turkeys From Ballentine Turkey Farm This Season,” Billings Gazette, 2 Nov. 2003.
    13 Duff.
    14 Robbins, p. 195.


    Full article at

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