Trimming the Cost of Thanksgiving Turkey

Trimming the Cost of Thanksgiving Turkey

University of Missouri research project focuses on more efficient turkey feed.

Americans eat 5.6 billion pounds of turkey each year, and all those Thanksgiving meals and other turkey dinners add up to a mountain of feed for fattening out those birds.

The turkey industry feeds about $2 billion worthy of turkey feed each year, however, there's potential for almost $100 million in savings each year, according to Jeff Firman, an MU Extension poultry scientist.

Research from the University of Missouri could help producers feed those turkeys for less, saving the industry millions of dollars. Those savings come from the Missouri Ideal Turkey Protein diet, a formula based on the exact nutrient requirements of turkeys.

The Missouri Ideal Turkey Protein diet was developed by looking at the exact nutrient requirements, specifically amino acids, needed for optimal turkey growth. Compared to standard industry feed, it costs about 8% less. Photo by Jessica Salmond/MU Cooperative Media Group

The average cost of a turkey feed ration is about $350 per ton. Firman says with the Missouri formula, producers will save about $30 per ton. "That's pretty significant when most guys would be happy to save a couple dollars per ton," he notes.

This diet shaves about 8% off feed costs compared to a standard industry diet thanks to nearly 20 years of research. Firman, an animal science professor with the MU College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources, is one of the few researchers nationwide who continues to tweak feed ingredients to the hundredth of a percent to eke out additional profits.

"Turkey feed is about 70% the cost of production and consists primarily of soybean meal, corn and distillers grain," he says. "It hasn't really changed that much over the years. What we've done is gotten a better idea of what those amino acid requirements are to reduce overfeeding and bring the costs down by not wasting nutrients."

Turkey feed balances amino acids like lysine for muscle growth, minerals like magnesium and complex vitamins like choline. Those are just some of more than 40 different ingredients mixed together to make the little brown pellets fed to the birds.

"We use a computer formulation program to adjust the amino acids, which lets us input detailed nutrient requirements and adjust that formula based on the cost of the ingredients relative to those nutrients," Firman explains.

In 2010, the U.S. turkey industry raised 244 million birds, producing more than $4 billion in economic output, according to USDA. Missouri is ranked fourth in the nation in turkey production, raising 17.5 million turkeys in 2010. Nearly 88% of people polled by the National Turkey Federation reported eating turkey at Thanksgiving.

"A typical tom turkey will be marketed at 40-45 pounds," Firman says. "It would take 110 pounds of feed to get that bird to market weight, so 1 ton of feed will only feed 15 turkeys. The profit margins are very small for turkeys, so anything you do to cut a little off the feed cost will really help."

Firman adds it might take some time for the industry to adopt these formula changes, but they will pay off in the end. "They have to prove that it works in their situation, but hopefully this will be adopted over time and some of those savings will be passed on to consumer," he says.


Find more details about the Missouri Ideal Turkey Protein diet at

Learn more about turkey nutrition from the MU Extension publication "Nutrient Requirements of Chickens and Turkeys" (G8352), available online at

Source: MU Cooperative Media Group
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