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Turkeys in turmoil: Bird flu, feed prices drive up cost and demand for Thanksgiving bird in Montana

Tom turkey
Posted at 6:57 PM, Nov 16, 2022

BILLINGS — More than 50 million domestic birds since the beginning of January have tested positive for a nasty strain of bird flu—including flocks in Montana.

Couple that with inflation, and turkeys are more expensive and harder to find this Thanksgiving than in previous years.

For local meat shops like the Meat Palace in Billings, turkeys sold out at lightning speed.

”Turkeys have been hard to come by this year," said Meat Palace owner Jason McKittrick. "For my smoked turkeys, I got a phone call a week before I was going to order and they told me they’re not going to have any because of the turkey shortage, and that kind of put us in a bind.”

McKittrick gets his smoked turkeys from a commercial producer, and it's commercial producers nationwide who are experiencing huge losses in their flocks due to bird flu.

On top of that, feed prices have increased due to inflation—so farmers are raising fewer birds.

“Turkeys are about a dollar more a pound this year because of feed prices. Bird flu, feed prices, all contributing to that price," McKittrick said.

McKittrick also buys and sells turkeys from the Mountain View Hutterite Colony near Broadview, and those birds flew off his shelves this year.

“We normally get our Hutterite turkeys here local, our fresh ones. Even they said they had their numbers down a little bit due to feed costs, a lot of variables in the whole turkey market this year," McKittrick said.

While McKittrick says he is turning away a lot of people looking for turkeys, loyal customer Jay Rosin has a solution of his own.

“I’ve already killed a turkey. I go turkey hunting every fall, every spring, and I’m cooking a wild turkey. I’m going to smoke it," Rosin said.

While bird flu has been found in flocks of wild birds as well as domestic, Rosin said he's not worried about it and it's more important to know where his food is coming from.

“They’re fresh, they’re not injected, you know where they come from, you know what they eat," Rosin said.

McKittrick says if you're out of luck on turkeys this year, he has alternatives.

“We have plenty of prime rib and ham.”