News / Science & Technology

Turkey Research Geared Toward Bigger Birds, Profits

Today's turkeys only slightly resemble their ancestors: wild turkeys the American pilgrims feasted on at their first Thanksgiving in 1621
Today's turkeys only slightly resemble their ancestors: wild turkeys the American pilgrims feasted on at their first Thanksgiving in 1621

Multimedia

Zulima Palacio

Roughly 45 million turkeys will be served across the United States on Thanksgiving Day, November 25. But the turkey we eat today is not the same one that was consumed by the pilgrims in the 17th century.  Today's turkey - large and mostly white - is the result of years of research at the US Department of Agriculture where scientists have now sequenced the genome for the domesticated turkey.  Producer Zulima Palacio prepared this little-known story that many Americans might prefer not to hear.  

These turkeys only slightly resemble their ancestors: wild turkeys the American pilgrims feasted on at their first Thanksgiving in 1621.  Those turkeys weighed no more than 6 kilograms. Today these males, called Toms, can weigh up to 36 kilos.

"The wild turkey is pretty scrawny compared to today's birds," said Dr. Julie Long, a leading scientist on turkey reproduction at the Agriculture Research Service of the US Department of Agriculture. "Through natural selection, the turkey breeders have developed turkeys that have very large breast muscle, and they grow very large."

That selection began decades ago when consumers started favoring bigger birds with more breast meat. By the 1960s, the poultry industry had begun to artificially inseminate so-called "broad breasted white" turkeys.

"All of the turkeys in the US are produced with artificial insemination, and it takes a lot of time," added Long.

Artificial insemination of turkeys became required for many reasons.  One is productivity.  The other has to do with weight.  Watch these turkeys. The smaller one in the front is the female, about 11 kilos.  The large ones in the back are males, more than double her weight at 32 kilos. As the males grew larger breasts, that interfered with their ability to mate.

"If they did not perform artificial insemination, the turkey industry will begin to wane.  Fertility through natural mating is very low," noted Murray Bakst, an expert on reproduction in birds at the USDA.  He says turkey, a good source of protein, has become a fast growing international industry.  

"Right now in the industry, the incubation capacity is huge.  Hatcheries will hatch a million eggs in a week," added Bask.  

In just one day, on November 25, 45 million turkeys will be served for the traditional Thanksgiving meal.

At the research facilities of the Department of Agriculture, the incubator can hold hundreds of eggs.  Sue Rosoff manages the hatchery.

"The turkey eggs stay here for 25 days and on the 25th day we transfer them to the hatchers in the other room," said Rosoff.

These chicks are being closely monitored for research on the effectiveness of artificial insemination and their resistance to disease.  Recently, the USDA and 28 other institutions finished mapping the turkey genome.

"The turkey genome is basically like a road map or a textbook to the turkey," explained long.

Using the genetic map, turkeys may be further fine tuned to feed a human population growing every day.

You May Like

Video One Year After Thai Coup, No End in Sight for Military Rule

Since carrying out the May 22, 2014 coup, the general has retired from the military but is still firmly in charge More

Goodbye, New York

This is what the fastest-growing big cities in America have in common More

Job-Seeking Bangladeshis Risk Lives to Find Work

The number of Bangladeshi migrants on smugglers’ boats bound for Southeast Asian countries has soared in the past two years More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthroughi
X
May 22, 2015 10:23 AM
Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthrough

Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Europe Follows US Lead in Tackling ‘Conflict Minerals’

Metals mined from conflict zones in places like the Democratic Republic of Congo are often sold by warlords to buy weapons. This week European lawmakers voted to force manufacturers to prove that their supply chains are not inadvertently fueling conflicts and human rights abuses. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Class Tackles Questions of Race, Discrimination

Unrest in some U.S. cities is more than just a trending news item at Ladue Middle School in St. Louis, Missouri. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, it’s a focus of a multicultural studies class engaging students in wide-ranging discussions about racial tensions and police aggression.
Video

Video Mind-Controlled Prosthetics Are Getting Closer

Scientists and engineers are making substantial advances towards the ultimate goal in prosthetics – creation of limbs that can be controlled by the wearer’s mind. Thanks to sophisticated sensors capable of picking up the brain’s signals, an amputee in Iceland is literally bringing us one step closer to that goal. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Afghan Economy Sinks As Foreign Troops Depart

As international troops prepare to leave Afghanistan, and many foreign aid groups follow, Afghans are grappling with how the exodus will affect the country's fragile economy. Ayesha Tanzeem reports from the Afghan capital, Kabul.
Video

Video Poverty, Ignorance Force Underage Girls Into Marriage

The recent marriage of a 17-year old Chechen girl to a local police chief who was 30 years older and already had a wife caused an outcry in Russia and beyond. The bride was reportedly forced to marry and her parents were intimidated into giving their consent. The union spotlighted yet again the plight of many underage girls in developing countries. Zlatica Hoke reports poverty, ignorance and fear are behind the practice, especially in Asia and Africa.
Video

Video South Korea Marks Gwangju Uprising Anniversary

South Korea this week marked the 35th anniversary of a protest that turned deadly. The Gwangju Uprising is credited with starting the country’s democratic revolution after it was violently quelled by South Korea’s former military rulers. But as Jason Strother reports, some observers worry that democracy has recently been eroded.
Video

Video California’s Water System Not Created To Handle Current Drought

The drought in California is moving into its fourth year. While the state's governor is mandating a reduction in urban water use, most of the water used in California is for agriculture. But both city dwellers and farmers are feeling the impact of the drought. Some experts say the state’s water system was not created to handle long periods of drought. Elizabeth Lee reports from Ventura County, an agricultural region just northwest of Los Angeles.
Video

Video How to Clone a Mammoth: The Science of De-Extinction

An international team of scientists has sequenced the complete genome of the woolly mammoth. Led by the Swedish Museum of Natural History in Stockholm, the work opens the door to recreate the huge herbivore, which last roamed the Earth 4,000 years ago. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble considers the science of de-extinction and its place on the planet
Video

Video Blind Boy Defines His Life with Music

Cole Moran was born blind. He also has cognitive delays and other birth defects. He has to learn everything by ear. Nevertheless, the 12-year-old has had an insatiable love for music since he was born. VOA’s June Soh introduces us to the young phenomenal harmonica player.

VOA Blogs