10 Facts About Turkeys

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As Thanksgiving nears, it is time to pay homage to the iconic bird. Not just tasty and delicious, turkeys are multifaceted critters with fascinating histories. Enjoy these ten facts about turkeys.

1. Shock of all shocks – Benjamin Franklin did not actually recommend the wild turkey to be the symbol of America. His official suggestion in 1776 was an image of Moses and Pharoah. He did, however, mention the turkey in a letter to his daughter, after the bald eagle was chosen to be the symbol of America. Franklin disapproved of the bald eagle due to its nature as a scavenger. He found the turkey to be a "much more respectable Bird".

2. Gobble, gobble, gobble. A wild turkey's gobble can be heard a mile away. Why do turkeys gobble, and which turkeys gobble? Male turkeys gobble to show up other males and to attract the attention of female turkeys, known as "hens".

3. Turkey chicks need their rest! According to the University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture Cooperative Extension Service, turkey chicks need "a minimum of two consecutive hours of undisturbed time four times a day followed by eight to ten hours of undisturbed nighttime rest." That's 8 hours a day of rest, followed by an 8 or 10 hour night's sleep.

4. Turkeys need to be trained to eat. According to the University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service, turkeys grow the most when they are trained to eat several small meals a day. If they are not trained to eat only small meals, they will gorge themselves. Training the turkeys to only eat small meals is simple. All it takes is shaking some feed into their feed trough, or gently rousing the cute little poults. The poults will learn that activity means food.

5. Young turkeys are called "Poults". According to Webster's New Twentieth Century Dictionary, the word "poult" comes from the French word "poulet", and is the diminutive form of the word "poule", or hen.  

6. Like humans, turkeys can get sick. According to the Texas Agricultural Extension Service of the Texas A&M University System, turkeys are susceptible to respiratory infections, Coccidiosis outbreaks (bloody diarrhea), water glut, and parasites, among other health problems.

7. Which breed of turkey are you probably buying in the supermarket? The Broad Breasted White turkey is the favorite turkey breed of the poultry industry. The Broad Breasted White turkey is a derivative breed of the Small White turkey. The Broad Breasted White turkey has a large breast muscle, which satisfies consumer demand for turkey breast meat.

8. Heritage turkeys are traditional breeds of turkey.  There are 8 breeds of turkey that are recognized by the American Poultry Association are heritage turkey breeds: Bronze, Narragansett, White Holland, Black, Slate, Bourbon Red, Beltsville Small White, and Royal Palm. Heritage turkey breeds don't grow as big, nor as quickly as Broad Breasted White turkeys. However, the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy and Slow Food are working to revive heritage breeds. Many smaller turkey breeders are now raising and selling heritage turkey breeds

9. A brief history of the turkey: According to the Penn State Agricultural Research and Cooperative Extension, "The common turkey was probably first domesticated by the Indians of pre-Columbian Mexico. The birds were first taken to Spain about 1519, and from Spain they spread throughout Europe, reaching England in 1541. When the birds became popular in England, they were called by the name turkey-cock, a name formerly used for the guinea fowl of Islamic lands. English colonists then introduced European-bred strains of the turkey to eastern North America in the 17th century. Turkeys were bred mainly for their beautifully colored plumage until about 1935, after which the breeding emphasis changed to their meat qualities."

10. And you can't forget the snood! Male turkeys have a snood. What do you notice when you look at a turkey head on? You notice the long, fleshy attachment to its beak. Although, according to the National Wild Turkey Federation, the snood does not have a known function, it does change form as the male turkey, or tom, moves. When the gobbler relaxes, the snood retracts. When he struts, his snood engorges with blood and extends.

How do you feel about turkeys? Love them, leave them, or just roast and eat them?

Chaya Kurtz writes about everything from Philadelphia carpenters to how to find a good roofer for Networx.com.

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