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Not so bright turkeys are afraid of a lot more than Thanksgiving ax

Not so bright turkeys are afraid of a lot more than Thanksgiving ax

COLUMBIA, Mo. – Turkeys fear a lot more things than an ax this time of year.

 Turkeys are quite afraid of certain things,” said Jeff Firman, University of Missouri turkey researcher.

“They are not too bright,” he said. “So you have to be pretty smart to deal with all the things that will kill these birds.”

The birds will scatter and run with disastrous results if a hawk, owl or airplane passes overhead.

Fences built around a turkey pen should be on the outside of the posts and should not be tied to the bottom of the posts to prevent deadly pileups.

“I have seen 10,000 turkeys run and all pile into a fence crushing each other,” Firman said.

“If you put an empty bucket in a pen with small turkeys, one will jump into the bucket, but I have never seen one jump out. One will jump in, start to cheep, and the others jump in on top crushing the ones below,” he said.

Turkey barns close to airports or military bases have had thousands of birds die because a jet coming in low caused the turkeys to pile up, he said.

Turkeys are scared of rainstorms, too. “They will get scared and pile up under a tree and thousands of them will die,” Firman said.

Sometimes they cannot figure out how to drink water. Firman recalls one instance when turkeys were moved from the brooder house to the finish house, which had different colored water.

Birds died of thirst with water just a foot away. Surviving birds were returned to the brooding house. Water was brought in, and the birds’ heads were submerged to show them how to drink.

Hen turkeys, sold on the whole bird market, are harvested at 10 to 14 pounds after 12 to 14 weeks. The 24 to 25 pound males, or toms, are harvested at 15 weeks for an 18 to 20 pound processed bird. Larger toms are used for further processing.

“We tend to go to bigger and bigger birds. Some people are processing birds over 50 pounds,” he said.

Due to the demand for the white breast meat, the commercially produced birds have become so large that breeding is difficult. Almost all turkeys are bred by artificial insemination.

Missouri ranks fourth in turkey production with about 25 million birds a year. Prices may be a little high this year at around $1.10 a pound for frozen birds, but many stores offer birds at much lower prices to entice customers to buy related items.