As much as Thanksgiving is supposed to be about showing gratitude, let's face it: most folks are more concerned with bingeing on bird. The turkeys most families feast on are the Broad-breasted variety -- fowls that are bred to have unnaturally large chests and fast growth rates. While the white meat is undeniably tasty, breeding to attain beefier birds has left turkeys with a slew of health problems. This holiday, try a heritage turkey instead. These gobblers mate naturally, live a long life outdoors and grow slowly. They may be smaller than Frankenbirds, but they're still fingerlickin' good.
A few problems with Broad-breasteds:
- Unable to fly due to excessive weight.
- Can develop hypothyroidism -- a condition where the thyroid gland doesn't produce enough hormones -- from fast growth rates and lack of exercise. The disease leads to ailments like joint pain, infertility and heart disease.
- Center of gravity has changed from over the middle of the feet to over the toes, making birds wobbly.
- Unable to mate because breasts are too large and legs are too short -- the birds are artificially inseminated to fertilize eggs.
- May develop osteoarthritis and other joint diseases that can cause lameness.
- Breast muscle accounts for 25–30 percent of body weight, a seven percent increase over the last four decades.
- Farmers remove the tips of young turkeys' beaks to prevent cannibalism triggered by close living quarters in cages and warehouses.
Story by Alisa Opar. This article originally appeared in Plenty in November 2008. The story was added to MNN.com.