Unnatural Turkeys (Ep. 49)

In our latest Freakonomics Radio on Marketplace podcast, we’re talking turkey, literally. (Download/subscribe at iTunes, get the RSS feed, listen live via the media player above, or read the transcript.) Americans are expected to eat more than 40 million of the big birds this month for Thanksgiving, so we asked the same question everyone's thinking: where do they all come from? The answer might surprise you – it certainly seemed to surprise Kai Ryssdal.

Specifically, the question is this: of all the commercially raised turkeys in the U.S., what percentage are the product of artificial insemination?

The answer, oddly enough, is 100 percent. Why? Well, it's a supply-and-demand story. Because Americans particularly love to eat turkey breast meat (a great delivery platform for gravy!), turkeys have been selectively bred over the years to have bigger and bigger breasts. So big, in fact, that when it comes time for a male turkey to naturally reproduce with a female, his massive breast prevents him from getting close enough to complete the act.