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AGRICULTURE REPORT- Turkeys and Thanksgiving - 2004-11-23

Broadcast: November 23, 2004

I'm Gwen Outen with the VOA Special English Agriculture Report.

Americans will celebrate Thanksgiving Day this Thursday. The holiday tradition includes eating turkey. Some of the birds will be fried in oil or barbecued over hot coals. Most will be cooked in the oven.

Most farm-raised turkeys grow quickly. In fourteen weeks, a female turkey weighs seven kilograms and is ready for market. Hens are usually sold as whole birds. Male turkeys, or toms, are usually grown for eighteen weeks. They weigh more than fourteen kilograms. Toms are processed for meat products.

Some farms have started to raise what are called heritage turkeys. These more traditional kinds of birds take longer to raise and require more care. Some can be ordered over the Internet. The meat is at least four times the cost of other turkey. Often, heritage turkeys are raised on organic farms, where no chemicals are used.

Under federal law, turkeys and other poultry cannot be given hormones to increase growth. But they may receive antibiotic drugs to fight infection and improve weight gain.

Turkeys once were served mainly during Thanksgiving and Christmas. Now people have a wide choice of products served all year.

Over the years, growers have developed turkeys that have more meat on their chest. These farm-raised birds are very different from their wild relatives. They cannot even reproduce without assistance. They are fertilized through the artificial insemination process.

Two-thirds of the cost to raise a turkey is spent on food. Farmed turkeys eat a mixture of corn and soybean with added vitamins and minerals. It takes about thirty-six kilograms of food to raise a fourteen-kilogram bird.

About eight percent of turkeys raised in the United States are exported. Mexico is the top importer. American turkey production is valued at three thousand million dollars a year.

Turkeys are native to North America. In the seventeen hundreds, Benjamin Franklin wanted the turkey, and not the bald eagle, to be the national symbol.

But today it does have a place in national politics before Thanksgiving Day. Last week President Bush “pardoned” two turkeys in a ceremony at the White House. The National Turkey Federation, an industry group, started this tradition in nineteen forty-seven.

This VOA Special English Agriculture Report was written by Mario Ritter. I'm Gwen Outen.