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Missouri turkey numbers decline in 2021

Mindy Ward turkeys
TABLE TIME: Missouri turkey growers have different management practices. Some raise them in enclosed barns, while others use free-range resources. In either case, combined they produce enough birds to boost the state’s rank to fifth in the nation in turkey production.
No need to panic; there is still plenty of turkey to go around for the holidays.

Missouri has the lowest number of turkeys on the ground since 1988.

USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service reported 16.5 million head of turkeys in 2021. That’s down from last year’s 17 million, and well off the record-high of 25.5 million in 2002.

However, the state has come a long way in turkey production from when the USDA first tracked the number of birds in 1929. Then, Missouri had a mere 263,000 birds.

Today’s birds pack on quite a bit of meat. Missouri growers produce 581.4 million pounds of turkey annually. Nationally, the turkey industry produces more than 5.3 billion pounds of turkey products annually, according to the National Turkey Federation. And most of that turkey is being consumed on two holidays — Thanksgiving and Christmas.

The National Turkey Federation estimates that 88% of Americans eat turkey for Thanksgiving. People are consuming about 46 million turkeys at Thanksgiving and another 22 million at Christmas in an average year. However, the past two years have not been average holiday seasons.

Scaling back

In 2020, The Food Industry Association and marketing consultants the Hartman Group completed a survey that showed 33% of Americans had fewer people at Thanksgiving celebrations. About 26% of respondents said they would avoid long-distance travel.

While that trend is supposed to rebound, it will not be back to the traditional large family gatherings. Industry experts are once again predicting fewer gathered around the table this year. In addition, they are finding shoppers want smaller turkeys in 2021.

turkey production across the U.S. infographic

Despite fewer turkeys in Missouri, the National Turkey Federation says there will be plenty in the freezer case.

People can also consider buying locally. The Missouri Department of Agriculture hosts the Missouri Grown USA website, where consumers can type in what they are looking for, like turkeys, and find local producers.

Share the knowledge

Here are a few fun facts about turkeys to share around the holiday table:

  • Turkey packs more protein and less fat compared to other similar cuts of chicken and beef. When Neil Armstrong and Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin ate their first meal on the moon, their foil food packets contained roast turkey and all the trimmings.
  • Benjamin Franklin proposed the turkey as the official U.S. bird. Dismayed by news of the selection of the bald eagle, Franklin replied, “The turkey is a much more respectable bird, and is a true original native of America.”
  • About 46 million turkeys are eaten around Thanksgiving nationally.
  • June is National Turkey Lovers Month.
  • Turkeys have about 3,500 feathers at maturity.
  • The costume worn by Big Bird on "Sesame Street" is rumored to be made of turkey feathers.
  • Only tom turkeys gobble. Hen turkeys make a clicking sound.
  • Turkey eggs are tan with brown specks and are larger than chicken eggs.
  • The “caruncle” on a turkey is the red-pink fleshy growth on the head and upper neck.
  • The “snood” is a long, red, fleshy growth from the base of the beak that hangs down over the beard.
  • The “wattle” is the bright red appendage at the neck.
  • The “beard” is a black lock of hair found on the chest of a male turkey.
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