Unexpectedly Intriguing!
24 November 2020

Thanksgiving is the quintessential American holiday, and for many American households, turkey is the centerpiece of their Thanksgiving dinner.

But how many farm-raised turkeys are there? How much turkey meat is produced each year? And how big is an average farm-raised turkey in the United States?

Political Calculations tracks all these Thanksgiving-related datapoints, tapping the U.S. Department of Agriculture's databases going back to 1970, so you can see how American farm-raised turkeys have changed over the past five decades.

Speaking of change, the population of farm-raised turkeys in the United States has generally fallen since 1996. In 2020, an estimated 222 million turkeys were raised on American farms, which is down some 27% from the peak of 302.7 million raised in 1996.

Number of Turkeys Raised on U.S. Farms, 1970-2019, with estimate for 2020

The figure for 2020 also represents a decline of 7 million from 2019's level, which itself was revised downward from an initial estimate of 240 million.

By contrast, the collective live weight of farm-raised turkeys has generally plateaued since 1996, falling within a range between 6.877 billion pounds (1999) and 7.922 billion pounds (2008). The initial estimate of the live weight of 2020's 222 million farm-raised turkeys is 7.175 billion pounds.

Total Live Weight of Turkeys Produced, 1970-2019, with estimate for 2020

The combination of a generally flat total live weight for all turkeys produced on American farms with a falling number of birds can only be explained by the growing size of individual turkeys. In 2020, we estimate the average weight of a live farm-raised turkey in the U.S. is 32.3 pounds, down slightly from 2019's revised figure of 32.5 pounds.

Total Live Weight of Turkeys Produced, 1970-2019, with estimate for 2020

Compared to the decade of the 1970s, when the average farm-raised turkey tipped the scale at 18.7 pounds, that represents a 73% increase in the typical size of turkeys produced in the U.S., where their average weight has steadily risen over the last four decades.

That trend may be changing however, because smaller turkeys are in high demand as Americans downsize for 2020's Thanksgiving. With celebrations limited to immediate family members with the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, American consumers have been bypassing larger birds in favor of smaller ones.

Data Sources

National Turkey Federation. Sourcebook. [PDF Document]. October 2013.

U.S. Department of Agriculture. National Agricultural Statistics Service. Poultry - Production and Value: 2019 Summary. [PDF Document]. April 2020.

U.S. Department of Agriculture. National Agricultural Statistics Service. Turkeys Raised. [Online Database]. Accessed 1 November 2020.

U.S. Department of Agriculture. Economic Research Service. Livestock, Dairy, and Poultry Outlook. (LDP-M-316). [PDF Document]. 16 October 2020.

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