The estimated number of turkeys eaten each Thanksgiving Day in the U.S is 46 million, but Tom the turkey goes through a lot before he finally ends up on the dinner table.
Having turkey for Thanksgiving dinner is a widely celebrated American tradition, but not every turkey comes from a local grocery store. Instead, people have the option to buy locally, purchase turkeys from larger stores such as Kroger or even hunt down a turkey of their choice.
Tyler Shope, a senior studying environmental engineering at the Southern Campus branch of Ohio University, has been hunting turkeys for 12 years, after his uncle introduced him to the sport.
“He took me out and the first time I heard the turkey gobblin’ out in the woods, that’s kind of when it got started," Shope said. "From that point on, I was hooked,”
Turkeys in Ohio have not always been as plentiful as they are today, Shope said. He has seen the turkey population “explode” in the past 10 years, especially.
“Just listening to my dad and everybody, back in the ’70s and early ’80s, you wouldn’t hardly ever see a turkey in this area and now it’s a pretty common thing to see a turkey when you’re hunting or even just driving and looking in the field,” Shope said.
Groups such as the Ohio Department of Natural Resources have been reintroducing turkeys into the wild, which has led to growth in the population in the last 20 years. Zaleski State Forest was one site in particular where the Ohio Department of Natural Resources released many turkeys for re-population, Shope said.
However, some people prefer a tame, farm-raised turkey for their Thanksgiving meal. In fact, Shope said there is a distinct difference in taste and toughness when comparing wild versus farm-raised turkeys.
“Where they’re moving so much throughout the woods and they’re constantly walking day after day, their legs and some of the other meat, it’s really tough,” Shope said. “It makes it kind of hard to eat. … With the tame turkey you know something you’d go to the store and get … pretty much the whole thing, you can eat it.”
Those who choose to purchase their turkeys from a larger corporate grocer often turn to stores such as Kroger for their bird. Hector Gonzalez, the human resources manager at the Athens' Kroger, said the Athens store estimates it has sold 69 birds since last Sunday, and it expects that number to triple before Thanksgiving.
“I know Kroger is huge on — especially this Kroger — is huge on local product, but as far as turkeys, we don’t (purchase local). There’s a lot of bylaws to go through to purchase meat in particular so it’s very difficult to get local,” Gonzalez said.
Farmers such as J.B. King and his wife Charlene, the owners of King Family Farm in Albany, are on the opposite end of the corporate-local spectrum. They raise turkeys on a much smaller scale — about 350 per season.
Married for 41 years, the couple comes from a long line of farming ancestry.
“She is an animal lover, period. … I’m not as much into pets or things like that as she would be but I love livestock, love taking care of it. I have done it all my life,” J.B. King said.
King Family Farm owners pride themselves in the methods they use to raise their animals. Their livestock is grass-fed, the pasture their turkeys roam freely on is 100 percent chemical-free and their operation is completely G.M.O.-free.
“We’re not organic but we’re very, very close to it. The farm could be certified organic but we haven’t because basically, being in the livestock business, we don’t have any place to have livestock processed organically,” J.B. King said.
Being the animal lover she is, Charlene King said it took a little getting used to when it came time to slaughter the birds. However, the quality of life the King’s animals experience while they are on the farm gives her peace of mind.
“One of our mottos is our livestock only has one bad day,” J.B. King said. “We take really good care of them, treat them right, feed them the things they need, if they’re sick they get tended to.”
So while the path they traveled to arrive might vary dramatically, every year, turkeys across the U.S. end up next to a steaming pile of sweet potatoes and stuffing. For hunters such as Shope, the chase is more rewarding than the taste.
“When you’re sitting there and you’re trying to call this bird in and you get closer and closer and closer, when that turkey gobbles, you can feel your chest rattle, you can feel that inside, it’s just so awesome,” Shope said.