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Growing up to be Thanksgiving dinner in America has become a thankless job. Back in 1929, a typical turkey weighed just 13.2 pounds (6 kg). The average holiday bird has more than doubled in size since then, surpassing 30 pounds (13.6 kg) in 2013.
This increase in weight has caused turkeys to grow so large and breast-heavy that they have difficulty standing upright, have the lost the ability to fly, and can no longer procreate the old-fashioned way. So turkeys today are artificially inseminated by hand, using a process that had become widespread by the 1960s.
The truth about turkeys:
- The insemination process “adds a whole new level of efficiency,” explained Ohio State University breeder John Anderson. “You can spread (the male’s semen) over more hens. It takes the lid off how big the bird can be.”
- Demand for turkey is greater than ever. Americans ate 16 pounds (7.3 kg) of turkey per person in 2014, and turkey consumption has increased by more than 110 percent since 1970, the National Turkey Federation says.
- USDA regulations prevent turkey farmers from giving the birds hormones. And as of January 2017, US farmers are not allowed to use antibiotics for growth purposes. Antibiotics can only be used to prevent disease.