Production and Consumption

The turkey industry is composed of a small number of large vertically integrated companies. The entities own or contract out all major components of the businesses, such as hatcheries, production farms, feed mills, processing plants, and transportation fleets. In this way they can better control costs and quality and improve the efficiency of their operations by designing better production schedules.

In the commercial hatcheries eggs are placed in hatching trays, round edge up, and then secured in place. Environmental conditions and egg rotation are automatically controlled; chicks emerge after 28 days of incubation. The young poults go through sex determination, vaccinations against common diseases, and beak trimming to prevent cannibalism. Then they are placed in shipment packages, which are well ventilated and temperature controlled. Within 24 hours they are moved to brooder barns, where they live to about 6 weeks of age. During this time the poults need a special starter feed, supplemental heat from brooder stoves, adequate ventilation, and protection from exposure to diseases. Due to poult sensitivity to diseases, brooder barns are separated from hatcheries and growing barns. The growing barns are typically 500 feet long and 50 feet wide and hold about 10,000 hens or 7,000 toms (Fig. 2). Hens are grown for 14 to 16 weeks and toms 17 to 21 weeks before being marketed. In free-range operations, the birds can roam in a large fenced field adjacent to the barn, similar to free-range production of chickens (Fig. 3). In France, where the free-range system is well developed, other operational conditions besides outside space are required. These include no artificial lighting, large space allotment per bird inside and outside, no animal by-products in the feed, no antibiotics, no water chilling of carcasses during processing, and, most importantly, slow-growing breeds and a longer growth period for better flavor development. As a result, production costs are much higher, but

Figure 2. Broad-breast White turkey production barn.
Figure 3. Free-range chicken farm in France.

devoted customers of free-range poultry are willing to pay this premium.

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