2/18/2020 12:21:53 PM

How artificial insemination has led to Thanksgiving turkeys nearly DOUBLING in weight since 1960

American Thanksgiving turkeys are getting bigger and bigger and have broken a new record this year with an average weight of over 30 pounds for the first time ever, almost double of what it weighed in 1960.

According to numbers taken from January to October this year, the average weight of a commercially bred turkey is 30.47 pounds.

In 1960, the average weight of a turkey was just 16.83 pounds, and in 1985, it was only 20 pounds. Turkeys hit the 25-pound mark in 1999. 

The sharp increase in weight is largely due to artificial insemination (AI), according to The Atlantic.

Artificial insemination is a required part of turkey breeding as the modern bird is too heavy and misshapen with its massive breast area to procreate the old fashioned way.

John Anderson, a long-time breeder at Ohio State University, said the process ‘adds a whole new level of efficiency’.

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‘You can spread [the male’s semen] over more hens. It takes the lid off how big the bird can be.’

William Henry Burrows and Joseph P. Quinn of the US Department of Agriculture developed the process of artificially inseminating turkeys and chickens and published their findings in 1939. 

They worked the kinks out of the processover a series of years and discovered it was best to collect semen fromturkey toms once per day, though one could try as often as twice per day.

If they waited two days, they got the ‘maximum quantity at one collection’, but not enough to make up for skipping the off day.

Andon the receiving end, they found the right dosage of semen to achieve good fertility. That turned out to be 0.1cc of semen once per week from amix of males to offset any poor performers.

Andrew F. Smith wrote a great academic work called The Turkey, which provides a very detailed description of the AI process.

According to Smith, the process of insemination must be done by hand.

‘First,semen is collected by picking up a tom by its legs and one wing and locking it to a bench with rubber clamps, rear facing upward.

"The copulatory organs are stimulated by stroking the tail feathers and back;the vent is squeezed; and semen is collected with an aspirator, a glasstube that vacuums it in.’

He goes on to explain that the semen is then combined with ‘extenders’ that include antibiotics and a saline solution to give more control over the inseminating dose.

A syringe is filled, taken to the hen house, and inserted into the artificial insemination machine.

Aworker grabs a hen"s legs, crosses them, and holds the hen with one hand. With the other hand the worker wipes the hen"s backside and pushesup her tail.

Pressure is applied to her abdomen, which causes the cloaca to evert and the oviduct to protrude. A tube is inserted into thevent, and the semen is injected.

The process spread fairly slowly but by the 1960s it was widespread, marking the introduction of the Broad Breasted White breed that now dominates the market.

The turkeys of 2013 have been precision engineered by generations of scientists and corporations to deliver moreand more marketable turkeys at a continuously lower cost.

These birds have shorter breast bones and larger breasts, and they produce more breast meat than their ancestors.

The bird"s properties have made the breed popular in commercial turkey production but enthusiasts of slow food argue that the development of this breed and the methods in commercial turkey production have come at a cost of less flavor.

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How artificial insemination has led to Thanksgiving turkeys nearly DOUBLING in weight since 1960How artificial insemination has led to Thanksgiving turkeys nearly DOUBLING in weight since 1960

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