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Giving Thanks

How turkey lands on your table
The gobbler is primarily a fowl for festivities, with most of the nine pounds every Canadian eats each year consumed at Thanksgiving and Christmas. ALANNA MITCHELL explains what happens before it ends up in the oven

By ALANNA MITCHELL, The Globe and Mail

Saturday, October 6, 2001

Canadians can really pack away the turkey.

This year, we will consume 288 million pounds of the poultry, which works out to an average of about nine pounds a year for every Canadian man, woman and child.

That may not sound like a lot, but keep in mind that most of it is eaten over the course of just two major meals annually - Thanksgiving and Christmas. This weekend, 4.9 million households in Canada will sit down to the first of our two turkey feasts of the year.

But where does the festive fowl start out, before it lands on our groaning tables and then in sandwiches, soup and salad for days on end? Here is the tale of three turkeys you're likely to encounter: mass market, certified organic, and, for vegetarians, the increasingly popular Tofurky.

Mass market

This is the standard-issue turkey found in the freezer aisle or meat counter of the local grocery store. Life begins in one of 16 hatcheries across Canada. Hatcheries buy eggs from egg producers and place them in incubators for 28 days. Temperature and humidity are closely monitored. Day-old chicks - poults, as they're called - are divided by sex and shipped to one of 546 registered turkey farms across the country.

More than half of them end up in Ontario or Quebec, which accounts for 51 per cent of national production. British Columbia is the next largest producer, and all the provinces expect for Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland farm turkeys. Last year, Canadian farms produced a total of 151.7 million kilograms (344.4 million pounds) of turkey - an average of 38,000 turkeys each for about 344,000 kilo-grams a year, says John Sheldon, manager of market information of the Canadian Turkey Marketing Agency.

The Canadian industry has increased steadily over the years, growing 16.5 per cent since 1989. Canada has come to be the sixth-leading producer of turkeys in the world. But most of the product stays at home: In 1999, just 7 per cent of total production was exported.

Farms have become slightly bigger over the past decade or so. In 1989, Canada had 569 registered turkey farms, each producing an average of 210,000 kilograms.

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