Turkeys Don’t Have Sex

It’s nearly turkey time and the turkey you will eat this Thanksgiving is a very different bird than what the Pilgrims ate in 1620 or what your parents ate in 1950.  The “super turkey” of today is a different breed and a dramatically different size.  The turkey of 2013 grew up on a factory farm where the administering of antibiotics and the practice of selective breeding is rampant.

 But you know what’s not rampant on the factory farm? Sex. There’s none of it. Turkeys have become so genetically modified that though their hormones suggest that getting some action would be a good thing, their knowledge of the mechanics of “how to” is limited – it’s largely been bred out of them – so too is their physical ability.

The all-coveted breast meat has led to the breasts of males (and females) to be so large that the males can no longer mount the females. 99% of all turkeys sold in the US are two breeds – the Broad Breasted and the Large White.  These breeds also have shorter legs and a shorter breastbone than traditional turkeys, adding to the male’s sexual shortcomings.

Taste has also suffered, with most turkey now being almost tasteless both because the bird is very young when slaughtered and because it has had little exercise – two factors that contribute to a more complex taste.

But you can “take back the bird”. You can do so by buying a “heritage” breed. There has been a movement toward the reintroduction of these turkeys which by definition have to be able to breed “on their own” ie. with no assistance of the vet and his equipment, live seven to ten years and grow slowly – all characteristics NOT designed to create cheap meat.   (Some examples of heritage breeds include the Beltsville Small White, Black, Standard Bronze, and Narragansett.)

If you’re not able to find a heritage breed, look for:

“Pasture Raised or Free Range”: Although these terms get misused and abused, it is more likely that if it has this label, it was raised in a more “natural” setting, with time outdoors.

“Organic”: The turkeys may have still spent significant time indoors, but they will not have been given antibiotics and will have been fed organic feed.

Shop at the farmers market: The turkeys will have been grown in much smaller numbers and in most cases, raised in a more traditional “on the farm” style. (I personally am less concerned about the “organic” label and more concerned about how the animal was raised.)

So this Thanksgiving, when you’re giving thanks for small things, remember your turkey is likely not one of those.

(PS: The winner of the sprouted foods package from Essential Eating is April from California!  Congrats!)

*Photo courtesy of Wikipedia


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  • Fred

    HA!! Very interesting, helpful and humorous article. Thanks.

  • mavera

    Or even better: Don’t eat animals 😉

  • Anonymous

    How they were raised and what they were fed are more important than the “sex” in your headline.

    • Kaleb Rippstein

      But what makes people click on the story? I wouldn’t have read it without such a gripping headline.

  • Nicole

    Unfortunately these turkeys cost an astronomical amount and getting the average American to pay more than $.50 a pound is unrealistic. I’m willing to do it once a year because I like supporting small farms and a better agricultural system. But until the infrastructure is there to support sustainable agriculture, heritage turkeys are unfortunately going to remain rich man’s food.

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