Turkey Data

Impress your family tomorrow with these bird facts

I had some time to spare this morning and wanted to look up some data, so on Twitter I asked if anyone was curious about anything in particular:

My friend Jana replied with a timely request:

So, I looked up some data on turkeys. Here’s what I found in 30 minutes.

First, I wanted to know about turkey production in the US. The top five most turkey productive states account for 58.5% of all US turkey production. I found that Minnesota raises more turkeys each year than any other state. At 44 million turkeys, that’s ~30% more than North Carolina, the second most turkey productive state in the country. A note for you fellow Californians — we’re the 7th most turkey productive state in the country, producing 13 million turkeys in 2013.

That’s so many turkeys.

This data source also had production by state in pounds, so I calculated the average bird size for these states. It turns out bird sizes vary a lot by state. Of the top 5 most productive states, Indiana produces the largest average turkey at 37.9 pounds. Based on the USDA’s 3 ounce serving size for turkey, a single Indiana turkey contains 202 servings worth of turkey, for a total of 34,350 calories!

Fun fact: Big Bird was born in Indiana. I made that up.

Next, I wanted to know who is responsible for producing all these turkeys. Fortunately, a company named WATT Global Media keeps track of this. Side note: WATT Global Media was founded in 1917 by a man named J.W. Watt who emigrated from Scotland to — you guessed it —Indiana, the land of large turkeys. Anyway, armed with a new subscription to the WATT Poultry USA report, I gathered some data on the top producers in the country. The top 3 turkey producers in the US — Butterball, Jennie-O Turkey, and Cargill — produced about half of the nation’s turkey meat last year. Butterball, a private company previously owned by ConAgra and now based in Garner, North Carolina, produced 1.3 million pounds of turkey last year.

Next, I wanted to know how turkey production compares to other meat production in the US. In looking this up, I came across a data source of all meat production in the US from the USDA, by month. The turkey data goes back all the way to 1960. The USDA is great. I downloaded the file MeatsStatsFull.xls (props to the Mildred Haley, an Agricultural Economist responsible for this data source at the USDA, for a great file name) and graphed the data.

Check it out:

Look at that seasonality! It appears turkey production was once much more seasonal than it is today. Here’s the same data, limited to the 1960s to illustrate just how seasonal it was:

Those peaks are October and November of each year. What a time to be alive.

Here’s the same data for the 2000s:

Next, I grouped the data for the 1960s and the 2000s by month:

In both the 1960s and the 2000s, February and October were still the least and most productive months for turkey, respectively. In the 1960s, turkey production increased 1,388% from February lows to October highs. In the 2000s, that increase was just 20%! I have some ideas as to why that’s changed but I’ll get to that another time.

That’s all the time I had to explore data on turkeys this morning. I’ll close with a photograph of JFK on November 19th, 1963. After being presented with this 55 pound turkey, President Kennedy responded, “We’ll just let this one grow.”

Maybe the turkey was from Indiana.

Happy Thanksgiving!

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