A genetic marvel
What do we know about the make-up of turkeys? Ricki Lewis has twelve facts about turkey genetics:
I haven’t checked the DNA of the turkeys of Martha’s Vineyard, but I’d bet their immune systems are a lot tougher than those of the barnyard variety. Instead of the ginormous “breasts” (why do we speak of breasts in birds, who do not lactate?) that cause the broad-breasted “industrial” white turkey to topple over, these wild turkeys have more dark meat (more myoglobin), which enables them to suddenly soar up into the treetops at a clap of thunder, and to have flown to the island in the first place, reaching speeds, according to PETA, of 55 mph.
Can you breed turkeys without destroying the planet?
Research undertaken, perhaps unsurprisingly, by Bernard Matthews has explored if turkey-rearing can be done in a manner which has the lowest impact. The question of what to do with all the unwanted feathers rather than send them to landfill is answered with a 'maybe we can make poultry feed from them', but the main focus is on the farms themselves:
It is important though that we understand the Life Cycle Analysis of turkey meat production, and can evaluate all of the factors involved in rearing turkeys all through the year in the British climate. We need to understand in detail the aspects of housing, heating, nutrition and animal husbandry practises that delivers the most sustainable rearing cycles as well as the the lowest environmental impacts , in terms of greenhouse gas emissions, manures and any waste streams. Under the Integrated Pollution Prevention and Control Regulations (IPPC) it is necessary that farms control and limit emissions of ammonia and other compounds that can have environmental impacts.
Many turkey farmers have planted tree belts around farms that shield the view of such building in the countryside, but these trees also create plant belts that ammonia can be absorbed by allowing reduced ammonia release, control of smells and the nitrogen can be used by the trees to grow and release oxygen, as well as absorbing Carbon Dioxide too.
We are aware that turkey has in preliminary studies by DEFRA been the protein with the lowest environmental impact and the lowest greenhouse gas emissions, with turkeys benefiting from a simple digestive system that does not create methane in the considerable levels seen from ruminants like cattle and sheep. We believe that poultry will become the protein of choice that will have the lowest levels of inputs, the best food conversion rates, and the rearing conditions with the lowest environmental impacts.
How much does it cost to take a turkey from egg to dinner?
CALU at Bangor considered this question as part of a guide to turkey rearing - noting, in passing, that the numbers of turkeys raised for food in the UK was falling:
Costs of production vary widely depending on factors such as: scale of production; heating; strain of bird; whether single sex production; finishing weight; feed costs and ration composition. As a guideline, small scale seasonal production of white birds will cost around £15/bird; rising to around £18/bird for bronze turkeys. Production is not cheap; therefore, it is essential (and possible) to obtain a premium price for home grown birds. Current prices for preordered turkeys for Christmas 2008 selling direct to the consumer range from £8/kg to more than £15/kg (nb these prices are for oven ready birds, so slaughter and preparation costs need to be taken into account). [Depending on how you measure it, £15 is worth about £18 in current terms]
How many turkeys does the UK produce?
The UK government keeps track of the total number of turkeys that the country produces - and when we say "produce", we mean "kill to eat". As you'd expect, the killings peak around December:
The role of supermarkets in turkey (and chicken) consumption
Although there's a decline in the number of turkeys being eaten year-on-year, the number of fowl consumed in the UK is still way, way higher than in the post-war years. Part of this - as explained by Henley Business School's Andrew C Godley and Bridget Williams - was driven by changes in retailing:
It was the co-ordinating role played by a few leading food retailers that enabled efficiency levels to rise so quickly in the British industry. Sainsbury was committed to introducing self-service techniques into its chain of stores from the late 1950s, while still retaining its traditional commitment to poultry. It was only after realizing the possibilities that arose from introducing American methods in processing that Sainsbury’s then organised the industry by allocating regional sectors to its privileged suppliers, who then had to go ensure supplies came from their local farmers.
This, the “group system”, was an echo of wartime practice and yet it was superbly successful in peacetime competitive markets because it allowed the British industry to avoid the volatility associated with the U.S. model. The lack of co-ordination there meant that the market for chicken initially oscillated between periods of glut and scarcity before consolidation occurred. Instead, in Britain, the market was created for frozen, not fresh, chicken, so perishability was reduced.
Co-ordination around this frozen chicken enabled a stable market to be created very early. Revenues then became far more predictable, so prompting higher rates of investment in advanced mechanisation, and, with the guaranteed sales, high rates of utilisation across all new capital equipment from the outset. It provided an institutional structure that enabled scarce investment to be used very efficiently, and so encouraged rapid growth.
How do they raise turkeys in Benin?
A team of veterinary scientists researched turkey farming in Benin:
Turkey in Ouake was integrated in traditional poultry keeping. Households keep various species together: chickens, guinea fowls, turkeys, and ducks.
In day time, the turkeys are made to scavenge, but at night time, in all visited households, they were housed either in a traditional hen house (90%), or on perches (6%), or in other shelters (4%).
Recorded losses were caused by various predators: birds (during day time), carnivores, snakes and dogs. Moreover, the poultry were exposed to loss, theft, and disease by wild birds carrying infectious agents. Poultry keepers feed their turkeys without considering quantitative and qualitative standards. They give them crushed cereals, and sometimes termites, maggots or kitchen left overs, in addition to what the turkeys have already scavenged during the day. The adult turkeys are given only some wrists of cereal grains on the ground. The mangers and drinking troughs used in the majority of the husbandries are empty cans, broken plates or broken pottery.