The Size of Turkeys Today vs. 85 Years Ago Is Jaw-Dropping

November 25th 2015

Laura Donovan

Turkeys nowadays are more than double the size of what your grandparents and parents had growing up.

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Because turkey consumption has spiked significantly over the past few decades, turkey farmers changed their system to keep up with demand, according to Suzanne McMillan, senior director of the farm animal welfare campaign of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

Turkey size changes over the years

Last year alone, the average person ate nearly 16 pounds of turkey, according to the National Turkey Federation.


Consider where your turkey comes from this Thanksgiving.

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Since 1970, turkey production has increased by nearly 110 percent, and farmers raised almost 240 million turkeys last year.

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In the 1950s, turkey farmers began breeding birds for size and growth speed. But the turkeys grew in size so quickly that many of them couldn't even hold stand upright or hold their own weight.


"The male turkeys, or toms, got so big—as heavy as 50 pounds—that they could no longer manage to transfer semen to hens," wrote Mother Jones' Kiera Butler. "Today, reproduction happens almost exclusively through artificial insemination."

There were other health consequences for the turkeys as well. Turkey production gradually moved to small settings indoors, putting the birds at a greater risk of infection. Farmers tried giving them antibiotics to prevent sicknesses, but this plan backfired, as the birds grew angrier in such crowded settings and even began eating each other. This prompted farmers to de-beak birds soon after their birth.

It's likely that some of this meat will go to waste this holiday season. In 2012, the Natural Resources Defense Council reported that more than a third of Thanksgiving turkey goes to waste after the holiday.


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h/t Business Insider