Farmers say bird flu, other issues causing turkey shortage ahead of Thanksgiving

Published: Nov. 2, 2022 at 6:29 PM EDT
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BOISE, Idaho (KIVI) - Chicken might be the bird of choice for some this Thanksgiving.

Farmers in Idaho are saying there aren’t enough turkeys to go around this year in their area due to various reasons.

“We started off the year as normal with 600 birds. They had not even left the rooting barn, but the bird flu came into the area,” said Cathy Cabalo, owner of Cabalo Orchard and Gardens.

Currently, there are about 225 turkeys at the farm but that is actually about half the amount it sees at this time of year.

The farm owner said workers had to sequester their animals after a nearby farm reported cases of bird flu.

“We locked them inside, 600 turkeys - the bread and butter to the season. We didn’t dare let them outside,” Cabalo said.

However, that forced her to leave her turkeys inside for an extra six to eight weeks

“It’s their natural behavior to cuddle very closely, and when they huddle closely they create a pile and unfortunately when they are small they will suffocate,” Cabalo said. “We lost almost half of our birds to a piling incident in the barn because they couldn’t go outside.”

Nearby Vogel Farms said its team had to do the same, bringing the birds inside to keep them safe from the disease.

“That kind of slowed their growth a little bit. We lost some that we normally wouldn’t have if they were allowed to go outside but it was a decision,” said Deborah Rae Engelhardt-Vogel, owner of Vogel Farms. “If they get bird flu, they are all dead. That decreased our numbers a bit.”

A heat wave that came through Idaho also hindered the birds’ growth

“The heat did not kill them off, but it slowed them way down,” Cabalo said. “They couldn’t continue to grow and live through the heat, so their bodies naturally reacted by slowing down their growth.”

When cooler temperatures finally arrived last month, growth started to pick back up but Cabalo said they’re already sold out.

“We usually sell out about the second week of November. If we have a year where there are no serious issues that cause them to go down, we don’t have a problem with selling out,” Cabalo said.

The farm owner said prices have also increased this year due to inflation, causing the prices of just about everything from feed to gasoline for equipment to go up which is impacting birds’ prices.

“The birds are a lot more expensive this year,” Engelhardt-Vogel said. “We had to increase our price, but I want everyone to be able to afford a turkey.”

According to the Department of Agriculture, frozen turkey inventories are 24% below a three-year average, with the shortage blamed on ongoing supply chain issues.

“Everything has gone up. We did have to raise prices,” Cabalo said. “Our world is changing, there’s a lot of supply chain issues. There are a lot of new diseases, and the weather changes have been immense. We’re doing the best we can.”