California Agriculture in the Classroom

A Rafter of Turkeys

Grade Level(s)

3 - 5

Estimated Time

2-3 one-hour class periods

Purpose

Students will learn about the domestication and life cycle of the turkey, recognize how turkeys are raised on farms, and identify turkey products.

Materials

Activity One: History of the Turkey

Activity Two: Life Cycle of the Turkey

Activity Three: Turkey Products

Essential Files (maps, charts, pictures, or documents)

Essential Links

Vocabulary

wild: living in a state of nature and not under human control and care

selective breeding: the process of breeding plants and animals for particular genetic traits

producer: a person who grows agricultural products or manufactures articles

predator: an animal that lives by killing and eating other animals

pigment: a natural coloring matter in animals and plants

heritage: something acquired from the past

genetics: a branch of biology that deals with the inherited traits and variation of organisms

extinct: no longer existing

domesticated: living with or under the care of human beings

diverse: differing from one another

consumer: a person who buys and uses up goods

conservation: the act of keeping in a safe or sound state

commercial: designed mainly for profit

breed: a group of animals or plants usually found only under human care and different from related kinds

Did you know? (Ag Facts)

Background - Agricultural Connections

The birds we know as turkeys are native to Mexico and the eastern United States. They were first domesticated by the Aztecs in Mexico. Early European explorers called them “turkey” after the country in Asia. Since turkeys looked similar to peacocks brought by explorers to Europe from Asia, they assumed that’s what they were. At that time, anything from the exotic East was given the name “turkey.”

In the 16th Century, explorers took turkeys from Mexico back to Europe. There the species soon became established as a common farmstead fowl. Turkeys provided excellent meat and eggs and helped control pests by eating large numbers of insects. In the 17th Century, English colonists brought turkeys back to the New World, introducing European-bred types to the native turkeys in eastern North America. The result was the Standard Bronze, the turkey we often see pictured in Thanksgiving advertisements. It had brown features with buff-colored feathers on the tips of the wing and tail.

The wild turkey is closely tied to the Native American culture and its history in the United States is sometimes misunderstood. It didn't become a traditional part of the Thanksgiving celebration until the 1800s. The wild turkey could have been served (in addition to venison) for the Thanksgiving meal at Plymouth in 1621, but it wasn't considered a tradition until later, after being championed by Benjamin Franklin. In a letter written to his daughter, Sarah Bache in 1784 his comments favored the turkey as the American symbol rather than the bald eagle. However, Benjamin Franklin never recommended the turkey as the American symbol to the seal committee.

Turkeys are considered to be a bird because of their feathers. There are two types of turkeys; common turkeys raised for food by farmers and wild turkeys that live in hardwood forests and grassy areas. In nature, wild turkeys live together in groups called flocks. There are nearly 7 million wild turkeys in North America and all states have populations that are hunt-able, except for Alaska. Turkeys raised by farmers for meat production are normally larger and weigh more than turkeys living in the wild. Due to their lower weight, wild turkeys are able to fly for short distances at speeds up to 55 miles per hour for about a quarter of a mile; however the common turkey is too heavy to fly. The wild turkeys diet consist of fruits, insects, and seeds. They are known as omnivores, organisms that eat both plants and animals. 

The turkeys most of us eat today have very little in common with the Standard Bronze turkey. The United States is the world's largest turkey producer and exporter of turkey products. The turkey we buy in the supermarket is a breed with white feathers, called the “White Breasted Tom.” Commercial producers prefer turkeys with white feathers because white feathers don’t leave pigment spots under the skin when they are plucked. The White Breasted Tom was the result of many years of selective breeding. In addition to having white feathers, the breed also has more breast meat and meatier thighs than early turkeys. Today, the White Breasted Tom is the only turkey in large-scale production in the US.

In 2017, the top five turkey-producing states included Minnesota, North Carolina, Arkansas, Missouri, and Virginia. More consumers are choosing poultry over red meats. Consequently, over the past 10 years, poultry consumption has increased rapidly. The consumption of turkey in the United States by individuals was recorded by the USDA to be 16.4 pounds per year. Other than the whole turkey, the variety of turkey products offered in the supermarkets expanded to include turkey bacon, turkey burger, turkey ham, and deli breast. This alternative white meat provides a high protein, low fat substitute over ground beef for the consumer.

White Breasted Toms are usually raised indoors so they will be protected from airborne bacteria, viruses, and diseases carried by migratory birds. Indoors, the flock is also protected from predators and lives in a temperature controlled environment. The turkeys are fed a diet of corn and soybean meal mixed with a supplement of vitamins and minerals.

Turkeys can live in three types of barns according to the stage of their life cycle. The mature female turkey, known as a hen, will live on a breeder farm and are bred, using artificial insemination, to lay fertilized eggs around 32 - 57 weeks of age. The fertilized eggs are transferred to a hatchery for incubation and normally begin hatching within 28 days. The young turkeys are known as poults. Soon after hatching, the young poults are moved to the last facility, known as the turkey farm, where they reach market weight between 11 and 17 weeks of age.

A heritage turkey, sometimes called an heirloom turkey, is a variety of domestic turkey raised specifically to help conserve some of the historic characteristics that have been bred out of turkeys raised for commercial purposes. Some of those characteristics include their diverse colors and their size. Heritage turkeys are raised in a manner that more closely match the way turkeys live in the wild. In the wild, turkeys roam free and eat grass, seeds, and large numbers of insects. Heritage turkeys are fed grains, like commercial turkeys, but are also put on pasture to eat grass and insects. They have longer lifespans and slower growth rates than commercially-grown turkeys. While White Breasted Toms grow to an average of 20 pounds in four months, heritage birds take seven months to reach their market weight of 18 pounds.

Interest Approach – Engagement

  1. Ask the students if there is a difference between wild and domesticated animals. Ask them to give you examples of domestic animals and their wild counterparts such as pigs and wild boars, or domesticated white turkeys and turkeys that live in the wild. Create a KWL chart on chart paper or white board. This should be displayed in the classroom for use throughout the lesson. Ask the students the following questions and place their answers in the first two columns. The third column will be filled in at the conclusion of Activity Three.
    • What I Know.
      • What do you know about the difference between wild and domesticated animals?
      • Have you ever seen a wild turkey? Have you ever seen a domesticated turkey?
      • What physical differences did you notice between a wild and domesticated turkey?
      • What do you know about any other differences between a wild and domesticated turkey?
      • What holiday is associated with turkeys?
    • What I Want to Know.
      • What do you want to learn about turkeys?
      • Why are turkeys important to people?
      • What differences do you want to learn about wild and domesticated turkeys?
      • How are turkeys raised on a farm?
  2. Next, access the Illinois Ag in the Classroom, Poultry Ag Mag and display it on the white board. Have students take turns reading the section titled "Turkey Talk" found on page three. Make sure to point out the picture at the bottom of the white domesticated turkeys and ask the students if they look different than turkeys seen in the wild. Refer back to the KWL chart and add any additional information that the students learned from the reading.

Procedures

Activity One: History of the Turkey

  1. Place the students into four small groups. Give each group a copy of one of the Turkey Reading Passages included with this lesson. Each passage is different and covers the following topics; Turkey History, Supermarket Turkeys, Wild Turkeys, and Heritage Turkeys.
  2. Each reading passage includes a set of questions. Have each group answer their questions after doing a shared reading of the assigned passage.
  3. Once they have read the texts and found their assigned information, student groups can report the information found in their readings to their classmates.
  4. Groups will then use the information to create a lap book about turkeys with a colored folder. Please refer to the video for directions on creating a lap book. Tell the students that they will be adding pictures to the lap book from the next two activities; The Life Cycle of a Turkey, and Turkey Products. Turkey images that can be used in the lap book are included in the Essential Files. You may also add your own.
  5. Have each group present their lap books to their classmates.
  6. For more sharing, rotate the lap books from group to group allowing each group time to read the information recorded in each book.
  7. Ask each group to report one thing they learned from reading their classmates lap book. These statements can be added to the third column of the KWL Chart found in the Essential Files.

Activity Two: Life Cycle of the Turkey

  1. Discuss with the students the concept that turkeys have a life cycle much like a chicken. Turkeys and chickens are both classified as poultry.
  2. Use the Cackle Hatchery website to show students pictures and videos of the White Breasted Turkey (described on the website as the Broad Breasted White Turkey), which are the types of turkeys raised by farmers to be sold in the supermarkets. The pictures and videos show both the poults (young turkey) and adults. The website also includes pictures and videos of the Heritage Turkey that can be shown for comparison.
  3. Place the students in the same groups from Activity One and have them add the Turkey Life Cycle Cards to their lap books.
  4. From the beginning to the end of the Turkey Life Cycle, the students should place the cards in the following order; Hen, Eggs, Poults, Adult.
  5. Once each group has completed this section of their lap book, ask the following questions:
    • What stage of the life cycle do turkeys live together in houses and grow to become adults? (Growing stage)
    • Why do you think the poults are vaccinated, claws trimmed, and top nook cut off? (keep turkeys from hurting each other)
    • What is the name of the farm where hens are raised? (breeder farm)
    • Where do the turkey eggs hatch? (at the hatchery)
    • Approximately, how many days does it take for a turkey egg to hatch? (28 days)
  6. Refer back to the KWL chart and ask students to add more information to the last column.

Activity Three: Turkey Products 

  1. Read the following passage, taken from the Background section of the lesson plan, aloud to the class.
    • The turkeys most of us eat today have very little in common with the Standard Bronze turkey. The turkey we buy in the supermarket is a breed with white feathers, called the “White Breasted Tom.” Commercial producers prefer turkeys with white feathers because white feathers don’t leave pigment spots under the skin when they are plucked. The White Breasted Tom was the result of many years of selective breeding. In addition to having white feathers, the breed also has more breast meat and meatier thighs than early turkeys. Today, the White Breasted Tom is the only turkey in large-scale production in the US. White Breasted Toms are usually raised indoors so they will be protected from airborne bacteria, viruses, and diseases carried by migratory birds. Indoors, the flock is also protected from predators. The turkeys are fed a diet of corn and soybean meal mixed with a supplement of vitamins and minerals.
  2. Ask the students what other food products contain turkey. Answers should include sandwich meat, soups, turkey burgers, and turkey bacon.
  3. Remind students that the White Breasted Turkey breed was the result of selective breeding with more white breast meat and meatier thighs and legs containing a darker colored meat.
  4. Take a student survey and find out how many students prefer white turkey meat to dark turkey meat. Conduct a second survey to determine which turkey product students most prefer to eat. Graph the results in two circle graphs and have the students include the graphs in their lap books.
  5. Place the students back into their groups from the other two activities and have them solve the following math problems:
    • White Breasted Tom turkeys grow to a marketable weight of 20 pounds in four months. Heritage birds grow to a marketable weight of 18 pounds in seven months. If you have a flock of 20 turkeys for each breed, how many turkeys can each group grow in a year?
    • In 2012, the average American ate 16 pounds of turkey. Determine how much turkey the entire class would have eaten, if each student ate that amount. Have students calculate the average amount of turkey eaten by their family in a year.
    • If you cook a 20-pound turkey for Thanksgiving dinner and each person eats 1.5 pounds of turkey, how many people can you invite to dinner?
  6. Once the answers are discussed, refer the students back to the KWL chart and add any remaining new information that they learned.

Concept Elaboration and Evaluation

After conducting these activities, review and summarize the following key concepts:

Enriching Activities

Suggested Companion Resources

Sources/Credits

Author(s)

Pat Thompson & Michele Reedy

Organization Affiliation

Oklahoma Agriculture in the Classroom and National Agriculture in the Classroom