Oklahoma Ag in the Classroom

Turkey Facts

  • Turkeys are raised extensively because of the excellent quality of their meat and eggs.

  • Turkeys were first domesticated by the Aztecs in Mexico. Fossils show turkeys roamed Texas 2.5 million years ago.

  • Early European explorers took turkeys from the New World to Europe in the 16th Century. In Europe the species became established as farmstead fowl. In the 17th Century, English colonists brought turkeys back to the New World, introducing European-bred types to eastern North America.

  • When Europeans first encountered a turkeys in the Americas, they incorrectly identified them as a type of peacock, known as a "turkey fowl" in Europe because it came from the exotic East. At that time Europeans associated anything from the east with the Ottoman Empire and often gave it the name of Turkey, the seat of the Ottoman Empire. They also assumed it was a turkey fowl because they thought they were in Asia.

  • A group of turkeys is called a "rafter."

  • A nest full of turkey eggs is called a "clutch."

  • The male turkey is called a "tom." The female is called a "hen."

  • Only tom turkeys gobble. Hens make a clucking sound.

  • The red fleshy thing that hangs from a turkey's neck is called a "wattle."

  • Today’s farm-raised birds are produced through artificial insemination. The broad-breasted birds are too large and heavy to mate naturally.

  • Each Thanksgiving about 675 million pounds of turkey are consumed in the US. Americans consume an average of 18 pounds of turkey meat per capita each year.

  • The US is the world's largest turkey producer and largest exporter of turkey products. While exports are a major part of the US turkey market, people in the US also eat more turkey than people in other countries—13.6 pounds per person in 2007.

  • The top five turkey-producing states in 2007 were Minnesota, North Carolina, Arkansas, Virginia and Mississippi.

  • Some Oklahoma farmers range-feed small flocks of turkeys. That means they turn them loose to find their own grain, weed seed and insects to eat. Five weeks before it’s time to sell them, the farmer will start to feed them whole corn so they’ll get plump.

  • While Americans prefer the white meat of turkeys, most of the rest of the world prefers the dark meat.

  • Dark meat, which avian myologists (bird muscle scientists) refer to as "red muscle," is used for sustained activity—chiefly walking, in the case of a turkey. The dark color comes from a chemical compound in the muscle called myoglobin, which plays a key role in oxygen transport. White muscle, in contrast, is suitable only for short bursts of activity such as, for turkeys, flying. That's why the turkey's leg meat and thigh meat are dark, and its breast meat (which makes up the primary flight muscles) is white. Other birds more capable in the flight department, such as ducks and geese, have red muscle (and dark meat) throughout.

  • Most of the turkey we eat is from the Broad Breasted White breed. Commercial producers prefer white turkeys because their feathers don't leave unattractive dark pigment after they have been plucked.

  • Domesticated turkeys are bred to have more breast meat, meatier thighs and white feathers. White feathers are preferred so that, when plucked, they leave no unsightly pigment spots under the skin.

  • Turkeys have 3,500 feathers at maturity.

  • Sesame Street's Big Bird costume is made of turkey feathers.

  • Before modern transportation, farmers in the British Isles put leather shoes on turkeys and walked them to market.

  • Turkeys are fed mainly a balanced diet of corn and soybean meal mixed with a supplement of vitamins and minerals. On average it takes 84 pounds of feed to raise a 30-pound tom turkey. A hen usually grows 16 weeks and weighs 8-16 pounds when processed. A tom takes about 19 weeks to get to a market weight of 24 pounds. Large toms (24-40 pounds) are a few weeks older.

  • Some Oklahoma farmers range-feed small flocks of turkeys. That means they turn them loose to find their own grain, weed seed and insects to eat. Five weeks before it’s time to sell them, the farmer will start to feed them whole corn so they’ll get plump.

  • Early in our history turkeys were kept on small farms not just for their meat but also because they ate large numbers of insects and so were a great source of pest control.

  • Turkeys are sometimes difficult to raise because they are very curious and tend to get their heads caught in fences. They must be taught to eat from special feeders and waterers, just like other baby animals.

  • Turkey skins are tanned and used to make items like cowboy boots, belts and other accessories.

  • The ballroom dance known as the Turkey Trot was named for the short, jerky steps a turkey makes.

Heritage Turkeys

  • By the late 1800s, poultry producers had developed dozens of different breeds, varieties and strains of turkeys. Only a few breeds have survived.

  • Standard Bronze turkeys are the country's oldest domesticated breed.

  • Heritage turkeys must be reproduced and genetically maintained through natural mating. They must have a long, productive lifespan—5-7 years for hens and 3-5 years for toms. They must have a slow to moderate rate of growth.

  • Today's heritage turkeys reach a marketable weight in about 28 weeks, giving the birds time to develop a strong skeletal structure and healthy organs.

Wild Turkeys

  • The wild turkey is native to northern Mexico and the eastern United States.

  • The Wampanoag and Plymouth colonists often ate wild turkey; however it was not specifically mentioned in connection with the 1621 harvest celebration that we know as the first Thanksgiving. Edward Winslow said only that four men went hunting and brought back large amounts of "fowl." Because of the season, this was most likely waterfowl, such as ducks and geese.

  • Turkeys run wild in many parts of Oklahoma today.

  • Wild turkeys have brown features with buff-colored feathers on the tips of the wing and tail.

  • Benjamin Franklin is quoted as having wished the wild turkey instead of the eagle had been chosen to represent our country. Franklin thought the eagle was "a bird of bad moral character" and that the turkey was much more respectable. Franklin wanted to put the turkey on the American flag.

  • Domesticated turkeys cannot fly. Wild turkeys fly for short distances up to 55 miles per hour and can run 25 miles per hour.

  • Wild turkey doesn’t taste the same as domesticated turkey because it has a different diet.

  • Wild turkeys also have more dark meat than domesticated turkey. Domesticated turkey is bred to have more white meat.

 

 

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Oklahoma Ag in the Classroom

Oklahoma Ag in the Classroom is a program of the Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service, Oklahoma Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry and the Oklahoma State Department of Education.