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Small-flock turkey production

Agriculture.com Staff 03/28/2011 @ 9:14am

Raising turkeys can be a satisfying educational activity as well as a source of economical, high-quality meat for your family and friends. By raising a small flock of turkeys, you can produce the freshest turkey possible while involving the whole family in working with and learning about live animals. Turkeys can easily be started by hatching eggs or by raising young poults. They can be grown and home processed without the use of expensive processing equipment, or they may be sold to live markets (auctions) or to neighbors. Turkeys are either of two bird species in the family Meleagrididae (order Galliformes). The best known is the common turkey (Meleagris gallopavo), a game bird native to North America but widely domesticated for the table. The other species is Agriocharis (or Meleagris) ocellata, the ocellated turkey.

The common turkey was probably first domesticated by the Indians of pre-Columbian Mexico. The birds were first taken to Spain about 1519, and from Spain they spread throughout Europe, reaching England in 1541. When the birds became popular in England, they were called by the name turkey-cock, a name formerly used for the guinea fowl of Islamic lands. English colonists then introduced Euro- pean-bred strains of the turkey to eastern North America in the 17th century. Turkeys were bred mainly for their beautifully colored plumage until about 1935, after which the breeding emphasis changed to their meat qualities.

Adult males have a naked, heavily carunculated (bumpy) head that normally is bright red but that turns to white overlaid with bright blue when the birds are excited. Other distinguishing features of the common turkey are a long red fleshy ornament (called a snood) that grows from the forehead over the bill; a fleshy wattle growing from the throat; a tuft of coarse, black, hairy feathers (known as a beard) projecting from the breast; and more or less promi- nent leg spurs. The male wild turkey (variously called a gobbler, tom, or jake—immature male), may be 50 inches long and weigh up to 22 pounds, although the average weight is less. Female turkeys (hens) generally weigh only half as much and have less warty heads. Domesticated strains of the common turkey, developed for their fine- tasting flesh, may be much heavier.

In many European countries roast turkey has long been a customary Christmas dish. In the United States the bird is especially associated with Thanksgiving. Turkey production has thus tended to be seasonal, although in the United States and some other countries, ready-to-cook, lean, boned turkey is available in rolls any time of the year.

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