Where America gets its turkeys

If you’re eating turkey at Thanksgiving dinner, chances are the bird came from Minnesota
President Joe Biden pardons Chocolate, the national Thanksgiving turkey, at the White House in Washington, Monday, Nov. 21, 2022.(AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

If you’re eating turkey at Thanksgiving dinner, chances are the bird came from Minnesota, which has dominated the industry by raising between 40 and 42 million birds a year.

Minnesota raised 40.5 million turkeys in 2021, the most of any state, according to an annual USDA assessment. Minnesota accounted for nearly 19% of the 216 million raised across all 50 states.

From those 40.5 million turkeys, Minnesota produced 1.04 billion pounds of turkey products last year, worth $857 million. Nationally, over 7 billion pounds of turkey was produced in 2021, with a value of over $5.8 billion.

According to the Minnesota Turkey Growers Association, the state has about 600 turkey farms, with 450 of them family-owned. Minnesota’s turkey industry generates over $1 billion in economic activity and provides more than 26,000 jobs.

The state is also home to Select Genetics, the country’s largest turkey hatchery. The hatchery is part of a collection of businesses focused on science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM, innovation.

North Carolina was second in the number of turkeys raised, with 30 million. But the Tar Heel State produced 1.16 billion pounds of turkey worth $958 million.

The difference is that more male turkeys are raised in North Carolina than in Minnesota, said National Turkey Federation spokeswoman Beth Breeding.

“It largely has to do with the type of turkey produced in each state,” Breeding said in an email. “The majority of the turkeys produced in North Carolina are toms (male turkeys). So, they are heavier and provide more meat. In Minnesota, there is a good amount of hen (female turkey) production. So, those turkeys tend to weigh less.”

Toms take about 18 weeks to mature and weigh 38 pounds, while hens take 14 weeks to reach maturity and weigh 15 pounds.

Turkey production is also an economic driver in North Carolina. According to the U.S. Poultry and Egg Association, the turkey industry in North Carolina employs about 9,648 people across the state and generates an additional 25,520 jobs in supplier and ancillary industries.

In 2022, the industry was responsible for as much as $9.55 billion in total economic activity throughout the state, the poultry interest group said.

Arkansas raised 27 million turkeys and produced 540 million pounds worth $443 million.

According to the Arkansas, Missouri and Oklahoma Poultry Federation, the turkey industry supports 17,538 jobs in Arkansas. In 2020, the industry was responsible for roughly $4.32 billion in total economic activity throughout the state. Jobs in the industry pay an average of $48,800 in wages and benefits.

Rounding out the top five were Indiana, which raised 20.5 million turkeys, and Missouri, which raised 17 million turkeys.

While it’s not clear if turkey was eaten at the first Thanksgiving, the bird has become interwoven in the nation’s history.

Ben Franklin proposed that the turkey be deemed the official United States bird. On their historic voyage, Neil Armstrong and Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin sat down for their first meal on the moon with foil food packets containing roasted turkey and all the trimmings.

About 46 million turkeys are eaten at Thanksgiving every year. The National Turkey Foundation provides hints for Thanksgiving meal preparation and ideas for how to use the leftovers.