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

TEXT SIZE - +
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

Wikipedia Proves Useful for Tracking Flu

Technique gave better results than Center for Disease Control (CDC) and Google’s Flu Trends More

Turkish Law Gives Spy Agency Controversial Powers

Parliament approves legislation to bolster powers of intelligence service, which government claims is necessary to modernize and deal with new threats Turkey faces More

Video Face of American Farmer Changing

Average American farmer is now 58 years old, and farmers 65 and older are the fastest growing segment of the population 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.
Face of American Farmer is Changingi
X
Mike Osborne
April 18, 2014
The average American farmer is now 58 years old, and farmers 65 and older are the fastest growing segment of the population. It’s a troubling trend signaling big changes ahead for American agriculture as aging farmers retire. Reporter Mike Osborne says a new report from the U.S. Census Bureau is suggesting what some of those changes might look like... and why they might not be so troubling.
Video

Video Face of American Farmer is Changing

The average American farmer is now 58 years old, and farmers 65 and older are the fastest growing segment of the population. It’s a troubling trend signaling big changes ahead for American agriculture as aging farmers retire. Reporter Mike Osborne says a new report from the U.S. Census Bureau is suggesting what some of those changes might look like... and why they might not be so troubling.
Video

Video Donetsk Governor: Ukraine Military Assault 'Delicate But Necessary'

Around a dozen state buildings in eastern Ukraine remain in the hands of pro-Russian protesters who are demanding a referendum on self-rule. The governor of the whole Donetsk region is among those forced out by the protesters. He spoke to VOA's Henry Ridgwell from his temporary new office in Donetsk city.
Video

Video Drones May Soon Send Data From High Seas

Drones are usually associated with unmanned flying vehicles, but autonomous watercraft are also becoming useful tools for jobs ranging from scientific exploration to law enforcement to searching for a missing airliner in the Indian Ocean. VOA’s George Putic reports on sea-faring drones.
Video

Video New Earth-Size Planet Found

Not too big, not too small. Not too hot, not too cold. A newly discovered planet looks just right for life as we know it, according to an international group of astronomers. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.
Video

Video Copts in Diaspora Worry About Future in Egypt

Around 10 percent of Egypt’s population belong to the Coptic faith, making them the largest Christian minority in the Middle East. But they have become targets of violence since the revolution three years ago. With elections scheduled for May and the struggle between the Egyptian military and Islamists continuing, many Copts abroad are deeply worried about the future of their ancient church. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky visited a Coptic church outside Washington DC.
Video

Video Critics Say Venezuelan Protests Test Limits of Military's Support

During the two months of deadly anti-government protests that have rocked the oil-rich nation of Venezuela, President Nicolas Maduro has accused the opposition of trying to initiate a coup. Though a small number of military officers have been arrested for allegedly plotting against the government, VOA’s Brian Padden reports the leadership of the armed forces continues to support the president, at least for now.
Video

Video More Millenials Unplug to Embrace Board Games

A big new trend in the U.S. toy industry has more consumers switching off their high-tech gadgets to play with classic toys, like board games. This is especially true among the so-called millenial generation - those born in the 1980's and 90's. Elizabeth Lee has more from an unusual café in Los Angeles, where the new trend is popular and business is booming.
Video

Video Google Buys Drone Company

In its latest purchase of high-tech companies, Google has acquired a manufacturer of solar-powered drones that can stay in the air almost indefinitely, relaying broadband Internet connection to remote areas. It is seen as yet another step in the U.S. based Web giant’s bid to bring Internet to the whole world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
AppleAndroid