Most of the Iowa turkeys were sliced, not carved, this Thanksgiving

Turkey farmers in Iowa raise nearly 12 million birds each year, but all the turkey at the center of your Thanksgiving dinner is probably not an Iowa turkey.

The state ranks fifth in the US for turkey processing and seventh in the nation for turkey production. There are two turkey processing plants in Iowa – West Liberty Foods in West Liberty and Tyson Foods in Storm Lake.

The two turkey factories in the state further process turkey into delicacies, sausage crumbs and turkey thighs, said Gretta Irwin, executive director and house economist for the Iowa Turkey Federation.

“If you go to a fast food restaurant and order a turkey sandwich, it’s probably coming from turkey farms in Iowa,” Irwin said. “Or if you see things like turkey sausages, ground turkey crumbles or products like that in the grocery store, that’s probably from a turkey farm in Iowa too.”

Irwin said there are independent small farmers in Iowa who raise whole turkeys and market directly to consumers. But independent growers have had a hard time.

“A lot of this has to do with the availability of a workforce that keeps people interested in local processing and interested in working the hard hours it takes to run a meat closet and do small-scale processing in the state of Iowa,” said Irvin.

That year, the Iowa Legislature passed a emergency services recommendations to create a community college program for artisanal butchers. A spokesman for Community Colleges for Iowa says several schools are talking about it.

Avian flu has hit the turkey industry in Iowa, but not as hard as it did in 2015

This year, a highly contagious and deadly poultry disease has been circulating on poultry farms and backyards across the United States

Highly pathogenic bird flu, better known as bird flu, has infected nine commercial turkey flocks in Iowa, according to data from the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship. Nearly 400,000 turkeys have died from the virus or have been killed to try to stem its spread. Agriculture officials have attributed the spread of the virus to wild birds such as ducks and geese, which migrate and can carry the virus and shed it through their feces or saliva.

Irwin said the turkey industry has fared better this year than it did seven years ago when bird flu hit 35 turkey farms affected. She attributed the drop in cases to producers stepping up their biosecurity measures, the things they do to keep germs, viruses and disease off their farms, like washing their boots.

“We do everything we can, from plowing fields near turkey coops if it’s a windy day,” Irwin said, “to make sure we’re just aware of any migratory birds and when the birds are migrating.”

Although cases of avian influenza have emerged in Iowa this fall, the last case of avian influenza detected in an Iowa turkey flock was found in late April.

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