It’s nearly turkey time and the turkey you will eat this Thanksgiving is a very different bird than what the Pilgrims ate in 1620, or what your parents ate in 1960. The “super turkey” of today is a different breed and a dramatically different size. Unfortunately, the Thanksgiving turkey of 2020 grew up on a factory farm where the administering of antibiotics and the practice of selective breeding is rampant.
Why Turkeys Can’t Have Sex
Do turkeys have sex on farms? No, while selective breeding may be rampant on turkey farms, actual sex isn’t. In fact, there’s none of it. Turkey farms are like a big Duggar family post-prom party. It’s probably just a lot of awkward conversation and side-hugs!
The only time a turkey gets laid is when it’s an egg. (Sorry, I had to!)
Turkeys have become so genetically modified that their knowledge of the mechanics of “how to do it” is limited, as it’s largely been bred out of them. So too is their physical ability to actually have sex.
The all-coveted breast meat has led to the breasts of male turkeys to be so large that the males can no longer mount the females. Imagine an x-rated episode of My 600-lb. Life and you’ll understand why sex just isn’t happening!
According to the WSJ, 99% of all turkeys sold in the US are two breeds – the Broad Breasted and the Large White. These breeds also have shorter legs and a shorter breastbone than traditional turkeys, adding to the male’s sexual shortcomings.
Normally these qualities wouldn’t be desirable in selective breeding, but when it comes to raising Thanksgiving turkeys, farmers are definitely “breast men.”
Big Breasts But No Flava’
No, I’m not talking about Dolly Parton, I’m talking about Thanksgiving Turkeys.
Because of factory farming, the taste has also suffered. Most grocery store turkeys are almost tasteless both because the bird is very young when slaughtered and because it has had little exercise – two factors that contribute to a more complex taste.
I also can’t imagine the psychological toll this lifestyle has on turkeys. Really sad!
But how can you “take back the bird?” You can do so by buying a “heritage” breed of turkey. There has been a movement toward the reintroduction of these turkeys which by definition have to be able to breed “on their own” ie. with no assistance of the vet and his equipment, live seven to ten years and grow slowly.
These are characteristics NOT designed to create cheap meat. Allowing turkeys to be turkeys isn’t a good investment, so in this case, sex doesn’t sell!
Some examples of heritage breeds turkeys include the Beltsville Small White, Black, Standard Bronze, and Narragansett.
Thanksgiving Turkey Buying Tips
If you’re not able to find a heritage breed, here’s how to get a more natural turkey:
- Pasture-Raised or Free Range: Although these terms get misused and abused, it is more likely that if it has this label, it was raised in a more “natural” setting, with time outdoors.
- Organic: The turkeys may have still spent significant time indoors, but they will not have been given antibiotics and will have been fed organic feed.
- Farmer’s market: The turkeys will have been grown in much smaller numbers and in most cases, raised in a more traditional “on the farm” style. (I personally am less concerned about the “organic” label and more concerned about how the animal was raised.)
So this Thanksgiving, consider not supporting the factory farms. Buy yourself a farm-raised turkey that got some exercise and maybe even a little “turkey tail” during its short life.
*The more I read about Thanksgiving turkey, the more I consider going vegetarian!