Wednesday, November 25, 2015


Not many people know that I once spent a good deal of time studying the poultry industry in Mexico. In fact, I published several specialized reports and a book chapter with one of my research colleagues from the Universidad Autonoma de Queretaro several years ago. My experiences with the poultry industry in Mexico is just one of the reasons why I found this article on the increasing size of Thanksgiving turkeys so interesting.

In a few words, the super birds we see on our Thanksgiving table today have been artificially "engineered" to satisfy market demand. Today's stoop framed and debeaked frankenbirds are no accident, as this Mother Jones article makes clear.

I encourage you to read the article because it helps us understand two things about the modern poultry family (which include chicken, turkey, and quail among others). First, the size of our poultry "products" have been supercharged in unnatural ways. Second, the time needed to grow poultry has been sped up.

In our 2009 book chapter, for example, my colleague and I explain how chicken producers have employed new farming techniques to reduce the amount of time necessary to grow a four-pound chicken. A four-pound chicken no longer needs nine-and-one-half weeks to grow, as was the case in the late 1960s. Today you need just six weeks to grow a four-pound chicken.

What this means is that four production cycles per year (1960s) have been increased to 5.7 cycles per year because of improvements in technology, environment, and management.

A modern poultry farm, with two hatcheries.
In human terms this is the functional equivalent of engineering and modifying our environments so that children become full-sized "adults" (i.e. reach their 18-year-old size) by the time they're a 13-year-old.

There's more, but you get the point. Your Thanksgiving turkey is a frankenbird.

- Mark 

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