It’s time to talk turkey before setting your Thanksgiving table

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Turkey is a favorite holiday staple once a year, but Virginia farmers care for their turkey flocks year-round.

Conventional poultry farming employs a vertical integration system that works like a partnership. In general, turkey companies provide farmers with the turkeys and their feed. Sometimes they offer an allotment for gas and electricity used to operate the growers’ poultry houses.

Turkey houses are equipped with heating, cooling and ventilation systems, along with feed and water lines. Birds have access to fresh feed and water at all times, and the temperature is regulated to ensure their comfort. The houses not only keep the turkeys in a comfortable environment, but also protect them from predators and possible exposure to wild birds that could be carrying diseases.

U.S. turkey consumption

Nearly 88 percent of Americans surveyed by the National Turkey Federation eat turkey at Thanksgiving. 
The average weight of turkeys purchased for Thanksgiving is 16 pounds, meaning that approximately 736 million pounds of turkey were consumed in the United States during Thanksgiving in 2012.

Turkey consumption has nearly doubled over the past 25 years. In 2012, per-capita turkey consumption was 16 pounds compared to 8.3 pounds in 1975.

When Neil Armstrong and Edwin Aldrin sat down to eat their first meal on the moon, their foil food packets contained roasted turkey and all of the trimmings. 

Turkey trivia

  • Mature female turkeys are called hens, and mature male turkeys are called toms or gobblers. Newly hatched turkeys are called poults.
  • Domesticated turkeys cannot fly.
  • Wild turkeys can fly up to 55 mph for short distances and can run 20 mph.

Virginia turkey facts

Most Virginia turkey farms are located in the Shenandoah Valley, though there are poultry operations on the Eastern Shore and in the Piedmont region. 

There are more than 300 turkey farms in Virginia.

Virginia ranks sixth among turkey-producing states and, along with five other states, accounts for nearly two-thirds of the turkeys produced in the U.S. The top five turkey-producing states are Minnesota, North Carolina, Arkansas, Indiana and Missouri.

“Virginia has a long and proud history of turkey production,” said Tony Banks, a commodity marketing specialist for Virginia Farm Bureau Federation. “We’ve always been a major turkey-producing state, even ranking fourth nationwide before turkey production expanded in other states. Consumers here can expect access to fresh, locally raised turkeys for the holidays.”

The Virginia poultry industry, which includes chicken and egg production, contributes more than $13 billion to Virginia’s economy and directly supports nearly 52,000 jobs in the state.

There are more than 1,100 family-owned poultry farms in Virginia.


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