1. True. Since the modern domesticated turkey is a descendant of the
Wild Turkey, it is surmised that ancient Mesoamericans had chosen to domesticate
this species rather than the Ocellated Turkey which is found in far southern
Mexico. The Aztecs relied on the turkey (Mexican Spanish guajolote, from
Nahuatl huexolotl) as a major source of protein (meat and eggs), and also
used its feathers extensively for decorative purposes, as did many other
Mesoamerican cultures. The turkey was associated with their trickster god
Tezcatlipoca, perhaps because of its humorous behavior.
2. True. Turkeys were taken to Europe by the Spanish who had found
them as a favorite domesticated animal among the Aztecs and other Mesoamerican
peoples. After being introduced to Europe many distinct turkey breeds were
developed (e.g. Spanish Black, Royal Palm). Turkey was one of the many game
species hunted by early American colonists and is thought to have been served at
the first Thanksgiving, although there is little evidence to support this claim.
In the Midwestern United States in the mid to late 1800s, domestic turkeys were
actually herded across the range in a manner similar to herding cattle. In the
early 20th century, many advances were made in the breeding of turkeys resulting
in varieties such as the Beltsville Small White.
3. False. Suggestions have been made that the Mexican Ocellated Turkey
(Meleagris ocellata) might also be involved, but the plumage as well as
DNA analysis of domestic turkeys does not support this theory; in particular,
the chest tuft of domestic turkeys is a clear indicator of descent from the Wild
Turkey (the Ocellated Turkey does not have this tuft).
4. True. Prior to World War II, turkey was something of a luxury in
the United Kingdom, with goose or beef a more common Christmas dinner. (In
Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol, Bob Cratchit had a goose before
Scrooge bought him a turkey).
5. True. Intensive farming of turkeys from the late 1940s dramatically
cut the price and it became far and away the most common Christmas dinner meat.
With the availability of refrigeration, whole turkeys could be shipped frozen to
distant markets. Later advances in control of disease increased production even
more. Advances in shipping, changing consumer preferences and the proliferation
of commercial poultry plants for butchering animals has made fresh turkey
available to the consumer.
6. False. The Broad-breasted White is the commercial turkey of choice
for large scale industrial turkey farms, and consequently is the most consumed
variety of the bird. Usually the turkey to receive a "presidential
pardon", a US custom, is a Broad breasted White.
7. False. The Bourbon Red turkey is a smaller non-commercial breed
with dark reddish feathers with white markings.
8. True. Turkey droppings are being used as a fuel source in electric
power plants. One such plant in western Minnesota provides 55 megawatts of power
using 700,000 tons of dung per year. The plant began operating in 2007. Three
such plants are in operation in England.
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