Let’s talk turkey …

By Dom Castaldo, Ph.D.

Americans are eating more turkey — approximately 16.4 pounds per person per year, more than double the 8.1 pounds they consumed in 1970. Much of the increase is the result of new products, such as turkey ham, turkey sausage and turkey bologna. Although we love our turkey, many of us don’t know much about this tasty bird. So, if you want to know more about turkey, read on — and feel free to quiz your holiday guests on their “turkey trivia.”

Poultry pedigree

• Turkeys lived almost 10 million years ago.

The turkey was domesticated in Mexico and brought to Europe.

Native Americans hunted wild turkey for its sweet, juicy meat as early as 1000 A.D.

Turkey feathers were used to stabilize arrows and adorn ceremonial dress, and the spurs on the legs of wild tom turkeys were used as projectiles on arrowheads.

Turkeys are believed to have been brought to Britain in 1526 by Yorkshireman William Strickland. He acquired six turkeys from American Indian traders and sold them for tuppence in Bristol.

Henry VIII was the first British king to enjoy turkey, and Edward VII made turkey eating fashionable at Christmas.

In England, 200 years ago, turkeys were walked to market in herds. They wore “booties” to protect their feet. The booties were custom fit — farmers herded the birds through tar before the journey. Turkeys were also walked to market in the United States.

Ben Franklin — in a letter to his daughter — proposed the turkey as the official national bird.

Wild turkeys were almost wiped out in the early 1900s. Today, there are wild turkeys in every state except Alaska.

USDA developed the white turkey in 1941 at its research station in Beltsville, Md.

Since 1947, the National Turkey Federation has presented a live turkey and two dressed turkeys to the president. The president has never eaten any of the live turkeys. Instead, he “pardons” them and allows them to live out their days on a historical farm.

The ballroom dance the “turkey trot” was named for the short, jerky steps that turkeys take.

The wild turkey and the domestic turkey are members of the same species (Meleagris gallopavo) but are just different strains.

Five breeds of wild turkeys live in the United States: Eastern, Merriam, Osceola, Rio Grande and Gould’s.

Wild turkeys are the world’s largest gamebird.

In 1920, wild turkeys were almost extinct in the U.S. However, thanks to restoration efforts, nearly 10 million wild turkeys roam in every state except Alaska.

Domestic turkey breeds are the Bronze, Bourbon, Slate, Black, Narragansett, Crested, Crimson Dawn, White Holland, Broad Breasted Large White and Jersey Buff.

June is National Turkey Lover’s Month.

The costume that “Big Bird” wears on Sesame Street is rumored to be made of turkey feathers.

A number of U.S. towns and cities are named after the holiday’s traditional main course. Turkey, Texas, is the most populous, with about 500 residents; followed by Turkey Creek, La. (population 357); and Turkey, N.C. (population 269). There also are nine townships around the country named “Turkey” — three are in Kansas

For 87 percent of people in the U.K., Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without a traditional roasted turkey.

Down on the farm

U.S. turkey growers produced an estimated 244.2 million turkeys in 2010 — down 1.3 percent from the 247.4 million turkeys raised in 2009 and down 2.2 percent from the 249.7 million raised in 2008. In 1995, U.S. growers raised approximately 293 million turkeys. USDA predicts that U.S. turkey production will jump to 243 million birds in 2011.

Minnesota is the leading turkey-producing state with 46.5 million birds followed by North Carolina and Arkansas, which both produced 30 million turkeys. Missouri with 18 million turkeys and Virginia with 17.5 million round out the top-five turkey-producing states.

The five states mentioned above — along with Indiana and California — produce 70 percent of the turkeys produced in the U.S.

Illinois produces approximately 3 million turkeys per year.

Turkey production in 2010 was worth $4.37 billion — up 22.4 percent over 2010.

A growing number of consumers are requesting “heritage” breeds of turkeys — such as Bourbons, Narragansetts or Bronze.

Nearly all commercial turkeys are produced through artificial insemination. In males, the pectoralis major (breast) muscles are too large for turkeys to mate naturally.

According to the 2002 USDA census, there were 8,436 turkey farms in the U.S.

In 1920, U.S. turkey growers produced one turkey for every 29 people in the U.S. Today, growers produce nearly one turkey for every person in the country.

It takes 75 to 80 pounds of feed to raise a 30-pound tom turkey.

It takes about 16 weeks to raise a hen turkey from 1 day of age to market and 23 weeks to raise a tom.

Most of the larger tom turkeys are cut into parts, deboned or further processed to turkey ham, turkey hot dogs or other products.

Most hens are marketed as whole birds, while toms are processed into products such as turkey boloney, hot dogs and cut-up parts, such as breasts, thighs and wings.

A domesticated male turkey can reach a weight of 30 pounds within 18 weeks after hatching.

A 16-week-old turkey is called a fryer. A five- to seven-month-old turkey is called a young roaster, and a yearling is a year-old. Any turkey 15 months or older is called mature.

The heaviest turkey ever raised was an 86-pound breeder tom named Tyson. It was owned by Leacroft Turkeys Ltd. of Peterborough, U.K., in 1989.

Turkeys have been bred to have white feathers. White feathers have no spots under the skin when plucked.

Bird biology

Turkeys are related to pheasants.

The carbuncle is a red-pink fleshy growth on the head and upper neck of the turkey.

Turkeys have a long, red, fleshy area called a snood that grows from the forehead over the beak. Its purpose is to dissipate body heat.

The fleshy growth under a turkey’s throat is called a wattle.

Turkey eggs are tan with brown specks, and are larger than chicken eggs.

Turkey eggs hatch in 28 days.

A commercial hen turkey lays approximately 125 eggs per year.

Some turkeys don’t have fathers. In 1951, USDA researchers discovered a line of turkeys where the eggs are “fertilized” through parthenogenesis — fertilization without sperm. The ovum (egg) replicates its own DNA, and the cells begin dividing to produce a normal embryo and a normal turkey.

The male turkey is called a tom.

The female turkey is called a hen.

A baby turkey is called a poult.

A large group of turkeys is called a flock.

Wild turkeys can fly for short distances up to 55 miles per hour.

Wild turkeys can run 20 miles per hour and fly at a speed of 55 mph.

Domesticated turkeys cannot fly because they are too heavy.

Tom turkeys have beards — black, hair-like feathers on their breast. Hens sometimes have beards.

Turkeys’ heads change colors when they become excited.

Turkeys can see movement almost 100 yards away.

Turkeys can see in color.

Turkeys do not see well at night.

Turkeys possess very good hearing — but no exterior ears.

Male turkeys gobble. Hens do not. They make a clicking noise.

Gobbling turkeys can be heard a mile away on a quiet day.

Turkeys do not have “heart attacks.” However, their aortas — the large artery that carries blood from the heart — sometimes burst. The United States Air Force was doing test runs and breaking the sound barrier. Nearby turkeys dropped dead with aortic ruptures.

Turkeys have approximately 3,500 feathers at maturity.

The blood pressure of an average male turkey is 200 over 170 mm of Hg. (Normal human blood pressure is 120 over 80 mm of Hg).

The body temperature of a live turkey is 103 degrees Fahrenheit.

Wild turkeys spend the night in trees. They especially like oak trees because they eat acorns.

Eating turkey does not cause you to feel sleepy after your Thanksgiving dinner. Carbohydrates in the other foods on your Thanksgiving dinner are the likely cause of your sleepiness.

White meat or dark?

The average American consumed 16.4 pounds of turkey in 2010 — up from 8.1 pounds in 1970. This is a 103 percent increase.

In 2010, turkey was the fourth most popular meat choice in the U.S. — behind chicken (82 pounds), beef (60 pounds) and pork (48 pounds).

Approximately 45 million of the 244.2 million turkeys produced in the U.S. in 2010 were eaten on Thanksgiving — approximately 17 percent of annual production. Another 25 million were eaten at Christmas, and 20 million on Easter.

The average weight of a turkey purchased at Thanksgiving is 15 pounds.

A 15-pound dressed turkey has about 70 percent white meat and 30 percent dark meat.

According to a National Turkey Federation survey, 97 percent of Americans eat turkey on Thanksgiving Day. In the United Kingdom, 87 percent of the people eat turkey on Christmas.

Approximately 675 million pounds of turkey are eaten each Thanksgiving in the United States.

Approximately 31 percent of turkeys consumed in the United States are consumed during the holidays — down from 50 percent in 1970 — meaning turkey is eaten throughout the year.

The five most popular ways to serve leftover turkey is as a sandwich, in stew, chili or soup, casseroles and as a burger.

Approximately 50 percent of U.S. consumers eat turkey at least once per week.

The three largest U.S. turkey processors are Butterball LLC with 1.3 billion pounds of turkey meat per year, Jennie-O Turkey Store with1.29 billion pounds, and Cargill Value-Added Meats with 1.1 billion pounds. Other major turkey processors are Farbest Foods, Sara Lee, Cargill Foods/Oscar Mayer, Perdue Farms and Foster Farms, each with 250-300 million pounds per year.

In 1991, 13.6 percent of turkeys in the U.S. were sold as whole birds. The percent of whole-bird sales consistently dropped to 7.9 percent in 2008, meaning a larger portion of turkey meat is sold as cut-up parts, such as breast, or turkey products, such as turkey ham or turkey-based delicatessen meat.

In 2010, the average American ate 16.4 pounds of turkey. U.S. turkey consumption has remained steady at this level since 2008.

A “fryer” is a turkey that is less than 16 weeks old, while a “roaster” is 20-28 weeks old.

Turkey is low in fat and high in protein.

Meat from old male turkeys is more tender than meat from young males.

Turkey has more protein than chicken or beef.

White meat has fewer calories and less fat than dark meat.

Most turkey feathers are composted, but a large number of feathers are cooked, ground, and fed to beef and dairy cattle. Feather meal is high in protein.

Turkey skins are tanned into leather and used to make boots, shoes, belts and purses.

U.S. turkey exports in 2010 totaled $464 million — about 10 percent of the total value of U.S. turkey production. Mexico — the U.S.’s biggest turkey customer — purchases more than 269 million pounds of U.S. turkey every year, and China buys nearly 65 million pounds of turkey annually. Other big customers are Russia (17 million pounds), Canada (22 million pounds) and Hong Kong (19 million pounds).

The U.S. imported approximately $23.1 million in 2010, mostly from Canada.

Globally, Israelis eat the most turkey — .28 pounds per person.

A turducken is a quail stuffed in a partially-deboned chicken that is stuffed in a partially-deboned duck that is stuffed in a partially-deboned turkey.

Deep fried turkey is a Southern tradition that has gained popularity across the U.S.

Sources: National Turkey Federation, USDA, United States Census Bureau, Minnesota Turkey Growers Association, British Turkey Information Service, Canadian Turkey Marketing Association, University of Illinois and personal data.

Try this test: http://home.aristotle.net/Thanksgiving/trivia-index.asp

Dr. Dom Castaldo, a resident of Mt. Morris, Ill., is a biology instructor at Sauk Valley Community College. He can be contacted via e-mail at critterdoctor@hotmail.com.

From the Nov. 23-29, 2011, issue

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