As the holiday season of Thanksgiving and Christmas approaches, many reflect on what they are thankful for in their lives. What am I thankful for? Turkeys! I am thankful not only for the turkey and the meat they provide to families across the country, but I am also thankful for the farmers and everyone involved in the turkey production process that take on an integral role in getting a turkey to your plate for the holiday season. Did you know that on average, a person will consume 15.6 lbs. of turkey/year? One light weight hen weighs about 15.6 lbs. which means that each egg that hatches at the hatchery is feeding one person their total per capita consumption of turkey per year or providing a family a Thanksgiving turkey!
Many consumers are not aware of how much care and time goes into the production process. I got an inside look into this full-circle process as I interned with Cargill Turkey and Cooked Meats as a Live Production intern over the summer. My main project over the summer was a male fertility analysis project in which I analyzed sperm cells to determine live, dead, and deformed counts while collecting data at different time points throughout the day to determine livability.
On the laying hen farms, hens are artificially inseminated with semen from the local tom farm that is then quickly transported to the laying hen farms. The sample should be used within 4 to 6 hours, as turkey semen is not able to be frozen like other livestock species. An artificial insemination crew will then inseminate the hens. Egg gatherers collect the eggs, clean them, and ship them off to the local hatchery where the eggs are incubated, hatched, and sorted. From the hatchery, the poults (poult= baby turkey) are transported to contract growers in the area that will raise the turkeys up until they are ready to be processed at the local processing facility. These processed birds can be found in your grocery store under the brand Shadybrook Farms (east coast) or Honeysuckle White (mid-west), which are both Cargill brands.
Through this internship I was able to see first-hand that these employees truly care about the welfare and health of these animals and sincerely want to produce the highest of quality products for their consumers. Don’t be a turkey, give thanks for the farmers and employees that raise your Thanksgiving turkey!
I guess I just can’t get away from turkeys! Here is a picture of me with my heritage breed, Black Spanish turkey that I raised as 4-H project back in the day! Gobble Gobble!