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Texas-Sized Turkeys & Their Tie To The Lone Star State

Texas and turkeys have a strong connection.

There is the Texas panhandle town of Turkey, home of the late 1940s King of Western Swing and member of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, Bob Wills. Another town with turkey ties is Cuero, about 90 miles east of San Antonio.  According to the Cuero Chamber of Commerce, its big turkey farms are gone now, but the town — known as the “turkey capital of the world” — still celebrates its past each October with Turkeyfest, including a race between two turkeys down the main drag. The town's high school football team is even called the Gobblers.

WATCH | Cuero's annual Turkeyfest

Waco features the state's only commercial turkey processing plant, which is operated by Cargill and processes 27,000 birds a day, according to its website. While it doesn’t produce whole turkeys, it does process turkey slices for sandwiches and turkey legs for fairs and rodeos.

James Grimm of the Texas Poultry Federation said the popularity of turkey meat isn’t just because of high-protein, low-carb diets.

"It's very economical,” he said. “You know, cost savings is a big factor today, and turkey is very economical. As a matter of fact, in some places, you can buy a ham and get a turkey free, so you can't beat free."

Outside of commercially-produced turkeys, state wildlife officials say Texas is home to three subspecies of the North American Wild Turkey. The biggest of those three is the Rio Grande Turkey, and more than 500,000 of them roam the western region of the state.

Texas Parks and Wildlife expert Jason Hardin said turkeys will eat almost anything that will fit in their mouths, including vegetation, nuts, worms, insects, and small reptiles, which makes them highly adaptable to the various types of terrain. Turkeys also prefer to walk than fly and roost in tall hardwood trees at night to protect themselves from predators, like raccoons and foxes, he added.As for the parts of a turkey, Hardin said the red flap above its beak is called a snood, while the red flap under its beak is a wattle. Hardin said the top of its head is a turkey version of a mood ring, called a caruncle.

"It can actually switch from red to white depending on that bird's mood — if he's angry or looking to impress a female,” he said.

Brian Kirkpatrick can be reached at


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Brian Kirkpatrick has been a journalist in Texas most of his life, covering San Antonio news since 1993, including the deadly October 1998 flooding, the arrival of the Toyota plant in 2003, and the base closure and realignments in 2005.