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AGRICULTURE REPORT – November 20, 2001: Turkey Time - 2001-11-19

This is the VOA Special English AGRICULTURE REPORT.

Americans will observe Thanksgiving on Thursday. Many people celebrate the holiday with a large dinner that includes turkey. Eating turkey is an American tradition. Early explorers to North America found the woods full of wild turkeys. The first settlers raised and ate the birds.

Today, Americans eat more than two-thousand-million kilograms of turkey each year. That is about eight kilograms of turkey for every person. This year, about two-hundred-sixty-million turkeys will be raised in the United States. Almost all of the birds are raised on farms, then killed and sold in food stores.

The National Turkey Federation represents the American turkey industry. The group says turkeys sold in stores are products of artificial insemination. Scientists collect reproductive fluid from male turkeys and put it in the females, or hens.

Normally, a hen produces eighty to one-hundred eggs during a period of twenty-five weeks. At the end of this period, the hen usually is killed. However, some farmers let the hen rest for three months before the start of another reproductive period. The hen produces seventy-five to eighty eggs during the second period. Baby birds burst from the eggs twenty-eight days after the eggs are laid.

Farmers feed turkeys corn and soybean meal. They also give the birds vitamins and minerals for good health. Modern production methods have shortened the time needed to raise a turkey. It usually takes fourteen weeks to raise a hen to a weight of seven kilograms. A male turkey needs eighteen weeks to reach a weight of sixteen kilograms.

The National Turkey Federation says genetic studies, better feed and other processes have improved the quality of turkeys raised on farms. Turkeys are raised in environmentally-controlled barns. These buildings protect the birds from other animals, disease and bad weather. Turkeys walk freely inside the barns. They are not raised in boxes.

The National Turkey Federation says turkeys are not given drugs or hormones. It notes, however, that American officials have approved the use of antibiotic drugs to prevent disease. It says farmers must wait for a period of time after feeding the birds antibiotics before the birds can be killed and processed for food.

This VOA Special English AGRICULTURE REPORT was written by George Grow.