(LIN) - Benjamin Franklin mused in a letter to his daughter the bald eagle was a poor choice as the centerpiece of the Great Seal of the United States.
Rather, he felt the turkey was a more appropriate representative of the U.S.
"For the truth, the turkey is in comparison a much more respectable bird, and withal a true original Native of America," he wrote in 1784. "He is besides … a bird of courage and would not hesitate to attack a Grenadier of the British Guards who should presume to invade his farm yard with a red coat on."
Franklin didn't get his wish (the design of the bald eagle was approved the same day it was submitted in 1782) but the turkey still serves as an important symbol for one of the nation's favorite holidays: Thanksgiving.
The average American consumes some 13.3 pounds of turkey each year, and at least 97 percent of all Americans surveyed by the National Turkey Federation eat turkey on Thanksgiving.
While not revered as a symbol of strength and prosperity — even Franklin admitted the turkey was somewhat "a little vain and silly" — the turkey has still ingrained itself in the U.S., consumed in mass throughout and year-round.
The National Agricultural Statistics Service — a division of the U.S. Department of Agriculture — reports that just over 254 million turkeys will be raised in the U.S. this year alone, beating out last year's statistics by two percent. By far, the largest producer of turkeys is Minnesota, hatching some 46 million turkeys this year.
While bringing in less money for farmers than cattle, broilers and hogs, turkeys still account for a large portion of the meat animal production in the U.S. and are the number four choice for protein, the agency said.
Along with Thanksgiving, two other holidays serve as big turkey eating events. Christmas sees some 22 million turkeys consumed, and Easter rounds out the top three with 19 million turkeys eaten.
Other interesting turkey facts from the University of Illinois include:
- Turkeys can see in color, but have trouble seeing in the dark.
- While wild turkeys are typically brown in color, turkeys raised on farms are white. They are bred this way to keep spots from appearing on the skin of a plucked turkey.
- Turkey breeding has caused turkey breasts to grow so large that the turkeys fall over.
- White, broad-breasted commercial turkeys (the most common type of turkey grown and consumed) are unable to re-produce naturally. Their large breasts prevent the male from mating with the female.
- Nearly 100% of all turkeys bred in the U.S. are a product of artificial insemination.
- Turkeys have heart attacks. The United States Air Force was doing test runs in breaking the sound barrier when nearby turkeys dropped dead with heart attacks.
- At least 50 percent of American consumers eat turkey each week.
- Turkeys have 3,500 feathers at maturity.
- Commercially raised turkeys cannot fly.
- Gobbling turkeys can be heard a mile away on a quiet day. While male turkeys — or "toms" — gobble, female "hens" do not: they cluck.
- The heaviest turkey ever raised was 86 pounds, about the size of a large dog.
- Turkeys' heads change colors when they become excited, and they can run up to 20 mph when frightened.
- June is National Turkey Lover's Month.
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