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

Lesotho Faces New Round of Violence, Political Crisis

Brutal killing of military officer has sent former leaders back into S. Africa where they're watching anxiously as regional officials head in to try to restore peace More

Video US Diplomat Expects Adoption of Bosnian Massacre Anniversary Resolution

Samantha Power says there's broad consensus about killings in Bosnia's war, but Russia calls resolution 'divisive,' backs UN countermeasure More

UN Report Exposes Widespread Boko Haram Atrocities

Damning report graphically details pattern of vicious, widespread atrocities committed by Islamist militants 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.
Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountaini
X
July 02, 2015 4:10 AM
Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountain

Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Xenophobia Victims in South Africa Flee Violence, Then Return

Many Malawians fled South Africa early this year after xenophobic attacks on African immigrants. But many quickly found life was no better at home and have returned to South Africa – often illegally and without jobs, and facing the tough task of having to start over. Lameck Masina and Anita Powell file from Johannesburg.
Video

Video Family of American Marine Calls for Release From Iranian Prison

As the crowd of journalists covering the Iran talks swells, so too do the opportunities for media coverage.  Hoping to catch the attention of high-level diplomats, the family of American-Iranian marine Amir Hekmati is in Vienna, pleading for his release from an Iranian prison after nearly 4 years.  VOA’s Heather Murdock reports from Vienna.
Video

Video UK Holds Terror Drill as MPs Mull Tunisia Response

After pledging a tough response to last Friday’s terror attack in Tunisia, which came just days before the 10th anniversary of the bomb attacks on London’s transport network, British security services are shifting their focus to overseas counter-terror operations. VOA's Henry Ridgwell has more.
Video

Video Obama on Cuba: This is What Change Looks Like

President Barack Obama says the United States will soon reopen its embassy in Cuba for the first time since 1961, ending a half-century of isolation. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Hate Groups Spread Influence Via Internet

Hate groups of various kinds are using the Internet for propaganda and recruitment, and a Jewish human rights organization that monitors these groups, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says their influence is growing. The messages are different, but the calls to hatred or violence are similar. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video US Silica Sand Mining Surge Worries Illinois Residents, Businesses

Increased domestic U.S. oil and gas production, thanks to advances known as “fracking,” has created a boom for other industries supporting that extraction. Demand for silica sand, used in fracking, could triple over the next five years. In the Midwest state of Illinois, people living near the mines are worried about how increased silica sand mining will affect their businesses and their health. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh has more in this first of a series of reports.
Video

Video Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishu

Despite improving security in the last few years, Somalia remains one of the most dangerous countries to be a journalist – even more so for someone who cannot see. Abdulaziz Billow has the story of journalist Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal, who has been reporting from the Somali capital for the last decade despite being blind.
Video

Video Texas Defies Same-Sex Marriage Ruling

Texas state officials have criticized the US Supreme Court decision giving same-sex couples the right to marry nationwide. The attorney general of Texas says last week's decision did not overrule constitutional "rights of religious liberty," and therefore officials performing wedding services can refuse to perform them for same-sex couples if it is against their religious beliefs. Zlatica Hoke reports on the controversy.
Video

Video Rabbi Hits Road to Heal Jewish-Muslim Relations in France

France is on high alert after last week's terrorist attack near the city Lyon, just six months after deadly Paris shootings. The attack have added new tensions to relations between French Jews and Muslims. France’s Jewish and Muslim communities also share a common heritage, though, and as far as one French rabbi is concerned, they are destined to be friends. From the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, Lisa Bryant reports about Rabbi Michel Serfaty and his friendship bus.
Video

Video Saudi Leaks Expose ‘Checkbook Diplomacy’ In Battle With Iran

Saudi Arabia’s willingness to wield its oil money on the global diplomatic stage appears to have been laid bare, after the website WikiLeaks published tens of thousands of leaked cables from Riyadh’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video In Kenya, Police Said to Shoot First, Ask Questions Later

An organization that documents torture and extrajudicial killings says Kenyan police were responsible for 1,252 shooting deaths in five cities, including Nairobi, between 2009 and 2014, representing 67 percent of all gun deaths in the areas reviewed. Gabe Joselow has more from Nairobi.

VOA Blogs