The Reason Your Thanksgiving Turkey May Be More Expensive Than Ever

Thanksgiving without turkey? Say it isn't so. And even if you manage to land the bird of your dreams, it's looking like it will cost a lot more than last year. According to The Wall Street Journal, a bird-flu outbreak earlier this year depleted the industry's stock by 6 million turkeys.

According to the University of Georgia Cooperative Extension, the United States produces more than 230 million turkeys each year. A whopping 46 million of those end up on Thanksgiving Day tables when 88% of Americans sit down to a traditional turkey dinner. Another 22 million turkeys take center stage on Christmas holiday tables and 19 million shares the limelight with the Easter Bunny. Clearly, a loss of 6 million turkeys, with the holiday season just around the corner, will have a noticeable impact on price and availability.

According to The Wall Street Journal, industry analysts are already noticing the cost of turkey hens, the most common variety to grace Thanksgiving tables, is up 57% over the 5-year average. It's the law of supply and demand — and it may get worse. The bird-flu outbreak that killed 6 million turkeys in 39 states last spring was the second-deadliest on record, but brace yourselves. The Wall Street Journal reports recent cases confirmed in California and Minnesota may indicate a second wave is coming. Because farmers have to destroy an entire flock if even one bird tests positive, the potential impact is staggering.

If it's not one thing, it's another

This year's bird-flu outbreak only exacerbates an ongoing situation. According to The Wall Street Journal, turkey farmers have already cut back in response to lessening year-round demand and higher maintenance and production costs.

While acknowledging challenges facing farmers and suppliers this season, a spokesperson for The National Turkey Federation told AllRecipes that supply is expected to meet demand, "While inflation and other economic factors have certainly contributed to increased food prices in recent months, we are confident there will be sufficient turkey products available at the holidays."

The Wall Street Journal reports that some farmers are sending their healthy turkeys to market earlier in an attempt to head off a bird-flu outbreak. Unfortunately, that means you may be in for a challenge if you're looking for a big bird. Suppliers are portioning their inventory, filling supermarket orders with smaller turkeys to more fairly distribute the 25-plus pounders.

With all of this bad news about cost and supply, there is a subtle light at the end of the tunnel. The secret to wowing your friends and family with a perfectly cooked traditional Thanksgiving turkey dinner this year may be as simple as planning ahead ... Way ahead. If you're in the market for a frozen bird and have enough storage space, start shopping now. Be ready to buy at the right price, tuck it away in the freezer, and start planning your sides.