While it may not be the United States’ official bird as Ben Franklin had proposed, on the average Thanksgiving Day, Americans consume nearly 46 million turkeys. Its consumption has increased nearly 104%, and production has increased nearly 110% since 1970. While the average turkey weighed in at about 15 pounds in 1940, they doubled in size weighing almost 29 pounds in 2013. So how exactly did these turkeys continue to grow in size over the years?
The broad-breasted white turkey is the most dominate turkey in the supermarket nation, despite every kids’ hand turkeys being decorated with the colors of the rainbow. However, turkeys didn’t use to be like this; George Nicholas, a turkey farmer, changed the turkey game in the 1950s eventually turning turkey farming into a multimillion dollar business. With families in the 1930s originally asking for smaller turkeys so they could fit into refrigerators and ovens, World War II gave way to selective breeding techniques allowing customers to get just what they wanted. Selective breeding, though different from genetic modification, is often used interchangeably with the term. Genetic modification is the modification and changing of DNA patterns or even crossbreeding of different species, but selective breeding is the breeding of desirable and dominant traits. With selective breeding, two members or the same species are bred to bring out their dominant and desirable traits to their offspring. Selective breeding is often used in cows –to produce offspring that produce the most milk- , corn – to produce a high-yield hybrid-, and other foods and animals to fabricate the most desirable and high achieving offspring.
Turkeys that bred now are significantly different from the turkeys that Ben Franklin was hoping to become the national bird. Turkeys bred through factory farms have unusually large breasts; this often has a negative effect on their wellbeing. It makes them have trouble standing, walking, and mating, as many of them rely on the process of artificial insemination for reproductive purposes. These turkeys’ family tree also leads them to often be dim-witted and disease-prone; they’re given antibiotics to prevent illnesses. However because these types of turkeys grow abnormally fast, they’re typically shipped to a slaughterhouse by the time they are 12 weeks old. To combat this negative effect, the Slow Food movement group breeds heritage turkeys, which must meet three requirements. They must first mate and bred naturally, live a long and productive live outdoor, and finally they must grow at a slow rate. To develop healthily, these heritage turkeys may take up to 28 weeks to grow. Some also say that the meat from heritage turkeys tastes different and better than the meat coming from selectively bred turkeys. Despite these efforts only around 8,800 heritage turkeys are bred a year.
If turkeys continue to be selectively bred, they could potentially reach up to 40 pounds in 2020. While most Americans will still continue to choose these selectively bred turkeys, don’t forget to be thankful for the selective breeding process that graced your turkey’s abnormally large size.