Giving thanks is all about tradition, but this year’s tradition is a bit different for turkey farmers.
According to a Nielsen survey, more than 70 percent of households plan to have Thanksgiving with fewer than six people.
According to a survey by Butterball, America’s largest turkey producer, about 25 percent of families are serving small turkeys this year.
For growers big and small, this means that the turkeys have both grown and processed to prepare fresh and frozen birds for the busy holiday season.
In June, Aaron Bell, an eighth-generation farmer running Tide Mill Organic Farm in Edmonds, Maine, made a call to start a turkey-raised turkey poultry a few weeks later than normal, aiming for 15 pounds of birds. Was to develop instead. 20-pounder in general.
“We could tell by the way everything was going [pandemic] There was not going to be an end anytime soon, “he said.” This is a good time to make a small change if you can. “
Bell’s “micro farm” processes about 1,000 whole birds for Thanksgiving, selling to local co-ops and distributors, as well as directly to customers, who sometimes put coolers on the back of pickup trucks and fresh birds. Let’s drive three hours to get to.
Bell said the walk-up business has tripled this summer as consumers, increasingly looking for new, local options with less processing, avoiding supermarket shortages and congestion.
Although their turkeys make a big difference to their happy and loyal customers, their operation is a downfall in the gravy boat. More than 46 million turkeys are eaten at Thanksgiving, the National Turkish Federation estimates, mostly from large-scale integrators who pay farmers on contract to raise birds for them.
Outbreaks at meat and poultry processing plants, including a small turkey processing plant in Indiana, have forced large companies to slow down production and implement new safety measures.
Butterball, which says it produces 30 percent of the turkeys eaten at Thanksgiving, about 14 million, “slowed production periodically during the epidemic,” spokeswoman Rebecca Welch said in an email, reducing line speeds. To reduce line workers and to keep them safe.
“Currently all of our facilities are operating normally, and we have spent a long time preparing to meet the needs of our retailers and consumers,” she wrote.
It is the work of a large-scale integrator, including Butterball, Foster Farms, Hormel and Purdue Farms, “for large-scale integrators,” said Professor Michael Lilburn, an animal scientist at Ohio State University.
“You always have the option of bringing and processing birds first, if they think there is a market there,” he said. “You still need labor to process them.”
Operators in Turkey’s supply chain say that this summer’s tightening of their general labor had worsened, to give workers space or to reduce the number of days they could balance health and economic concerns Were ready for.
“Our biggest issue is labor. We can’t get labor,” said John King, president of the Virginia Poultry Growers Cooperative. “The first direct effect was when the unemployment stimulus passed. We actually had workers to take unemployment rather than take work.
“These are not minimum-wage jobs, either, but there are attractive benefits,” he said. Even adding new bonuses for appearance and security may not return enough workers.
Small farms also had to implement security measures and manage shortages of experienced workers. In other areas, they were less constrained and had advantages.
“Our work is almost completely out,” said Jamie Egger, co-owner of Hickory Nut Gap Farm in Fairview, North Carolina. “We don’t have the security precautions we had to invest in. We are very low-tech, electric fences and big houses.”
Egger said that during the summer, the farm crew was able to operate as pods – but when processing indoors, when it takes more outdoor help, social distance and masks are needed. His farm is processing about 400 birds this year, the same as last year, but he said that due to more uncertainty about the size and scope of Thanksgiving celebrations, it took a few more weeks to sell more than usual .
Scott Greeney, an independent turkey farmer, said in an email, “Some customers are also looking ahead and planning to keep the remaining turkey in the freezer in case there is a shortage or need to separate.” “People are really ahead and preparing, like in the old days.”
Some customers are opting for larger chickens rather than general admission. But for the most part, if it’s thanksgiving, there’s a turkey on the table, even though fewer people are around it.
“It’s a gorgeous looking bird. … It looks delicious when roasted and sitting in the pan and the skin is brown and rough on the outside.” “It’s just a tradition that has taken a long time to build, and it’s not going anywhere.”
Despite the distance and epidemiological disruptions, there are still ways to connect with the family, even if virtually.
“This year will be a small house with us and the children,” said John Kinnear, a marketing director and father of two in Salt Lake City, in an online message. “We are installing laptops on the table and sending a zoom link to our family and friends for drop-in.”
For turkey, he swapped his usual organic turkey from Costco, which seemed too big, for a small frozen butterball to “salty, smoke and then end up in the oven,” Kinnear told NBC News Told. “But it’s still going to be more than we can eat,” he said.
“We will not see the family, but will not worry about the extra survivors,” he said.