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Giving Thanks

How turkey lands on your table
By ALANNA MITCHELL, The Globe and Mail
Saturday, October 6, 2001
Page 2

Once the poult reaches the farm, it will share quarters with about 9,500 other gobblers at any given time. For the first week, poults ought to be clustered in groups of 50 for every square metre, according to the turkey bible put out by Agriculture Canada, Raising Chicken and Turkey Broilers in Canada. That drops to five poults per square metre when they are six to 12 weeks old. Too much floor space per bird cuts down on the tenderness of its meat, the publication says.

Poults are none too bright, so the guide recommends dipping their beaks into waterers right off the bat, to show them where the water is. Otherwise, they tend to die of thirst. Lighting is another critical part of the modern turkey farm, it adds. The birds need lots of it for the first 48 hours of life.

But after that, it's smart to reduce light dramatically. Not only does it cut the electricity bills, mood lighting also keeps the turkeys calm and makes them less prone to cannabilism, which can become a serious problem, the guide notes. Once cannibalism gets going among stressed-out poults, it's hard to stop.

The average size of a mass-market turkey is about 4.6 kilograms (10 pounds). In turkey-production lingo, that makes it a broiler, which is a male or female bird weighing less than five kilos when it's eviscerated - 6.2 kilos live. It takes up to 84 days to reach this size.

Hens, female turkeys, are raised for 12 to 14 weeks to weigh in at 6.2 to 9.8 kilograms live. Toms, the males, grow to more than 9.8 kilos (21 pounds) in 14 to 17 weeks.

The average Christmas turkey is slightly bigger the Thanksgiving gobbler, and the really huge ones, 20 or 30 pounders, tend to be used in processed foods such as turkey slices.

The broiler gets three different diets: the starter diet (Days 1 to 28), the grower diet (29 to 56) and the finisher (57 to 84). They vary in proportion of protein and fat. The base diet is made up of ground corn, ground wheat, soybean meal, fishmeal, poultry grease, a touch of ground limestone and a vitamin mineral mix.

That vitamin mix is made up of the usual A, B, D, E and K varieties, as well as such things as zinc oxide, copper sulfate, sodium selenite and the drug coccidiostat. Coccidiostat, which controls and treats infection, is omitted from the finisher diets the last week before slaughter to allow any drug residues to get excreted before the turkey hits the grocery freezer.

A study in 1987 showed that the average 12-week broiler consumed roughly 10 kilos of feed over the course of its life.

At the end, the birds are carefully herded into crates and taken to the abatoir. There, the broilers are weighed and shackled to a conveying chain, killed, bled, plucked, gutted, inspected, and graded.

Then they're delivered to your store and sold for an average $3.33 a kilo.

Page 3

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