Turkey History & Other Facts

Turkey history
Turkey's scientific name is Meleagris gallopava (mel-e-AY-gris-low-PAY-voe) from Latin gallus, meaning cock, and pavo, meaning chicken like. Meleagris is the Roman name for guineafowl, suggestive of the early confusion of the turkey with guineafowl.

Turkeys originated from Mexico not Turkey.

Turkeys have been around for 10 million years - there are fossils to prove it.

The bronze coloured wild turkey must fly to survive and glide a mile without fluttering a wing.

The American Indians hunted wild turkey for its sweet, juicy meat as early as 1000AD. Turkey feathers were used to stabilise arrows and adorn ceremonial dress, and the spurs on the legs of wild tom turkeys were used as projectiles on arrowheads.

Turkeys are believed to have first been brought to Britain in 1526 by Yorkshireman William Strickland - he acquired six birds from American Indian traders on his travels and sold them for tuppence each in Bristol. His family coat of arms — showing a turkey cock as the family crest — is among the earliest known European depictions of a turkey

Henry VIII was the first English king to enjoy turkey, although Edward VII made eating turkey fashionable at Christmas. It replaced peacocks on the table in Royal Courts

By 1720 circa 250,000 turkeys were walked from Norfolk to the London markets in small flocks of 300-1000. They started in August and fed on stubble fields and feeding stations along the A12 road. Their feet were dipped in tar to protect them.

In 1930 it took a week’s wage to buy a turkey. Now it takes 1.7 hours.

Turkey was a luxury right up until the 1950's, when they became more accessible and affordable for everyone.

The bronze feather colour is the original breed colour, but from 1950 to 1957 all turkeys had been bred from having bronze feather to white feathers.   

Most of the turkeys raised commercially are White Holland's which have all white plumage. The Bronze turkey was the chief turkey raised in Canada until mid '60s.


General facts
Female turkeys are called hens, male turkeys are stags and baby turkeys are called poults until they are 5 weeks old.

A large group of turkeys is called a flock

Stags gobble while hens make a clicking sound

A stag can produce as many as 1,500 poults during a hen’s 6 month production cycle

Turkey eggs hatch in 28 days

Turkeys do not have ears like ours but have very good hearing

Turkeys can see in colour although they do not see well at night

Domesticated turkeys cannot fly. However wild turkeys can fly short for distances up to 55 miles per hour and can run 20 miles per hour

Turkeys have approx 3,500 feathers at maturity


Turkeys today
There are 43 different breeds of turkey. The most common in the UK are standard white, bronze and Norfolk black breeds. The white turkey is the second fastest growing animal in the world

There are many more turkey cuts and joints than people may be aware of - mince, diced turkey, breast steak, drumsticks, sausages, stir fry strips, burgers and crown roasts...to name but a few.

The average weight of a Christmas turkey is 5.5kg/12lb. Approx 10 million are eaten in UK every Christmas. In the US approx. 60 million are eaten at Thanksgiving

Israel is the world’s biggest eater of turkey at 13kg per capita (UK 4.8kg)

The world record fastest time to pluck three turkeys is 11 min 30.16 sec and was achieved by Paul Kelly of Kelly Turkeys, at Little Claydon Farm, Essex, United Kingdom, on 13 November 2008.This was attempted as part of Gordon Ramsay's Cookalong show and Paul went head to head against Gordon Ramsay who plucked three turkeys in 11 min 31.78 sec.
Source: Guinness Book of Records

The world record fastest time to carve a turkey is 3 min 19.47 sec and was also achieved by Paul Kelly of Kelly Turkeys  at Little Claydon Farm, Essex, UK, on 3 June 2009.  He went head-to-head against local butcher David Harrison at an event to celebrate the 25th birthday of KellyBronze turkeys. This is Paul's second world record along with the fastest time to pluck three turkeys. Source: Guinness Book of Records

The world record for the largest gathering of people dressed as turkeys is 661 and was accomplished at the 44th Annual Capital One Bank Dallas YMCA Turkey Trot in Dallas, Texas, USA on 24 November 2011.
Source: Guinness Book of Records