Fresh turkey for your table may be hard to find this Thanksgiving

Finding the perfect bird, especially a fresh bird, to go with your cranberry sauce, gravy, and cookies can be tricky this Thanksgiving.

Alberta’s turkey supply will be tight and getting one on the table is expected to cost more as a particularly deadly strain of bird flu continues to infect Alberta’s poultry flocks.

With 24 active outbreaks of avian flu in Alberta and more than 1.2 million birds killed, the virus is straining the turkey supply chain.

Kyle Iseke, owner of D’Arcy’s Meat Market Ltd., is struggling to find the poultry he needs.

He considers fresh turkeys one of his specialties. But many of his clients will be unlucky.

« A Perfect Storm »

One of the suppliers to Iseke’s butcher shops in Edmonton and St. Albert saw his herd wiped out last month during an outbreak.

Iseke tried to get another order, but other local farmers are exhausted, he said.

Fresh turkeys are becoming hard to find due to bird flu

The supply of fresh turkeys is tightening as outbreaks of avian flu prompt the culling of the traditional Thanksgiving bird. Alberta is hit hard by bird flu, making it difficult for local butchers to keep up with demand.

“The turkeys they had reserved for us and everyone else are not available,” he said. « So for them, Thanksgiving is a complete washout. »

Together, bird flu, inflation and ongoing supply chain issues have created a « perfect storm » for small butcher shops, delicatessens and grocery stores across the province, Iseke said.

The H5N1 subtype of the bird flu virus continues to spread. Cases are increasing alongside the fall migration of wild birds, which are natural carriers of the virus.

Since September 16, new outbreaks have been reported in commercial poultry flocks in Athabasca County, Smoky Lake County, Warner County, Municipal District of Wainwright and Taber MD.

Avian flu has hit Alberta’s poultry industry harder than anywhere else in Canada. Cases have been detected in 44 herds in Alberta. Nearly 30 business operations have temporarily closed to contain the spread.

When a case is detected, federal inspectors order the destruction of the entire herd. Production lines are shut down for weeks. After slaughter is complete and the barn is disinfected, the premises remain in quarantine for another 21 days.

Laurel Winter, owner of Winter’s Turkeys in Dalemead, Alberta, is director of the Alberta Turkey Producers, a farmer-run marketing board.

She said it had been a difficult year for growers and fear of additional outbreaks was high during the Thanksgiving rush. The migration of wild birds has increased the threat of new infections, just as many growers prepare for their busiest and most profitable season, Winter said.

However, suppliers should be able to ship product to Alberta from other provinces as needed to meet demand and fill gaps in supply, Winter said.

“Due to the nature of the turkey industry, it is possible to move the product around,” she said. “We have a turkey industry working together to hopefully alleviate any supply issues as we enter the new Thanksgiving season.

« Hopefully we can all find the turkeys we’re looking for for our Thanksgiving tables and celebrations this year. »

A man in a red shirt and apron is holding a frozen turkey.
Kyle Iseke, owner of D’Arcy’s Meat Market, is selling frozen poultry for the first time due to a shortage of fresh poultry. (Jamie McCannel/CBC)

Iseke normally sells about 500 fresh turkeys each Thanksgiving, but its stores are now short of about 300.

He resorted to storing frozen turkeys to fill the void. It also had to raise prices to reflect rising market costs. He fears losing customers.

« That’s the perception people will have when they see this shock sticker, » he said.

« That’s what really worries me right now, that they’re judging the whole store based on that experience with the turkey. »

I have my ducks lined up, my turkeys lined up.– Corey Meyer

At Acme Meat Market in south Edmonton, Corey Meyer has the inventory he needs to cover the Thanksgiving spike, but said the pinch is being felt across the province.

His orders have been placed but he is anxious. With demand so high, growers likely won’t be able to meet last-minute orders, Meyer said.

“Right now, you can say I have my ducks in a row, my turkeys in a row,” he said.

« I’m lucky that all of my birds are on order and still scheduled to arrive. Things may still go awry, but so far so good. »

Supply chain issues are expected to persist and with wild bird migration expected to bring another wave of infection, turkeys are likely to remain hard to come by during the Christmas season, Meyer said.

He urges turkey lovers to order or purchase their birds well in advance of any holiday gathering to avoid disappointment.

And if you want a fresh turkey for Christmas dinner, you might want to order one early.

Really early.

roast turkey
Industry insiders are predicting a possible shortage of turkeys and higher prices for Albertans planning a turkey dinner this Thanksgiving. (Bree Fowler/Associated Press)


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