Why You Can Expect a Shortage of Small Turkeys This Thanksgiving

If you want a small bird for your festive dinner, you may be out of luck. 

It's not Thanksgiving without a roast turkey, but you may have to settle for another kind of bird for the big dinner this year. Turkey farmers all over the country are expecting a shortage of small turkeys (16 pounds and under) around Thanksgiving.

Shady Brook Farms, one of the nation's largest turkey suppliers, told The New York Post that supply of fresh turkeys would be tight this year. There technically won't be any fewer turkeys this year—just more people who want one, and not enough time or resources to breed more. Even Butterball (the company who runs the famous turkey hotline each year) weighed in to say if you want a smaller turkey, you'll have to act fast this year.

thanksgiving turkey in roasting pan
Brie Passano

So why do they anticipate that more people will be wanting turkeys? As with many holiday traditions over the past year, it all comes down to the pandemic. It changed the way we celebrate our favorite holiday traditions, Thanksgiving dinner included. Last year, we donned our Thanksgiving-theme face masks and celebrated at home or alone with a very small meal. My family embraced the odd circumstances and ditched the turkey dinner for a non-traditional meal. But as we go into our second Thanksgiving of the pandemic, people are determined to make this one as normal as possible.

While many Americans likely still won't be having huge dinners, they'll want to have all the basics: A roast turkey, green bean casserole, and pumpkin pie. Typically you should plan for 1 to 1½ pounds of turkey per person, so a 16-pound bird (which is the dividing line between 'small' and 'large' turkeys) would still feed around 10 people. But since there will be fewer people around the dinner table, most folks will be reaching for a small turkey at the grocery store—which means if you don't get one right away, you'll need to purchase a larger bird or go with an alternative option.

This will largely affect fresh turkeys, so there may be small options available in the frozen section. And if your local grocery stores are fresh out of both, you can always go with turkey breast or a non-traditional Thanksgiving main dish instead.

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