Target Grade Level / Age Range:

Grades 3-5


30 minutes


Students will learn the differences between farm (domestic) and wild turkeys. They will resolve the problem with teamwork and problems solving skills while working as a group.


Create four boxes or totes filled with different supplies.

  • Habitat
    • Boot covers (biosecurity measure to prevent disease)
    • Neck pillow
    • Hand-held fan
    • Pictures of wooded and grassland areas
    • Cutouts of grass and a tree
  • Diet
    • Food-Farm Turkey: turkey feed, whole corn, whole soybeans
    • Food-Wild Turkey: nuts, seeds, berries (artificial to reduce allergy risk)
    • Magnifying glasses
    • Containers to hold feed samples
  • Instinct
    • Megaphone
    • Deck of cards
    • Camouflage apron
    • Binoculars
  • Characteristics
    • Long legs made from felt
    • Weight card *print 1 copy of Turkey Lesson Supporting*
    • Visors, feathers and foam to make beak/ snood combo
  • Printed copy of TurkeyTurmoil.ppt for each group

Suggested Companion Resources


  • Domesticated: tame and kept as a pet or on a farm
  • Wild turkey: living or growing in the natural environment; not domesticated or cultivated
  • Biosecurity: procedures intended to protect humans or animals against disease or harmful biological agents
  • Wattle: the colored skin on the neck of a turkey
  • Snood: the red skin on top of a turkey’s beak
  • Tom: male turkey
  • Hen: female turkey
  • Poult: baby turkey
  • Flock: a group of turkeys
  • Foraging: to search widely for food or provisions

Interest Approach or Motivator

Ask students what holiday we celebrate at the end of November. What are some important or favorite parts of Thanksgiving? Get them to answer fast… turkey, etc. Where does turkey come from? Tell students that in today’s lesson we will learn more about two kinds of turkeys: 1. Farm turkeys, and 2. Wild turkeys.

Background – Agricultural Connections

Turkeys haven’t always been white and plump. Turkeys have been in North America for more than 10 million years! They were first domesticated by the Aztecs in Mexico. European explorers called them “turkey” after the country in Asia. They were thought to be exotic birds from the East. The European explorers thought that turkeys resembled peacocks so they assumed that they were.

Beginning in the 16 th century, turkeys were domesticated. Explorers took turkeys back to Europe and they became common fowl on farms. They were great sources of meat and eggs. Turkeys also helped control pests by eating large numbers of insects. In the 17 th Century, turkeys were brought back to the New Would and the European-bred turkeys were introduced to the native North American turkeys. The Standard Bronze turkey was the result. The Standard Bronze turkey is iconic in Thanksgiving advertisements. It has brown features with buff-colored feathers on the tips of the wing and tail.

Turkey was not actually part of the Thanksgiving celebration until the 1800s. Benjamin Franklin was an avid supporter of the wild turkey and believed that it should serve as the American symbol rather than the bald eagle. However, he never recommended the turkey as the American symbol to the seal committee.

There are two types of turkeys; domestic turkeys and wild turkeys. Domestic turkeys are raised for food by farmers, and wild turkeys live in hardwood forests and grassy areas. Wild turkeys live in flocks. There are nearly seven million wild turkeys in North America. Wild turkeys weigh between five and 20 pounds. Because of their low body weight, wild turkeys can fly for short distances at speeds up to 55 miles per hour for about one quarter of a mile. A wild turkey’s diet consists of fruit, insects, and seeds.

When they were first domesticated, turkeys were black. Wild turkeys are also black. Consumers didn’t like the dark spots under the skin caused by the black pigments in the feathers, so producers started to raise a white breed of turkeys called “White Breasted Tom” through selective breeding. The white feathers didn’t leave pigment spots under the skin of the bird after the feathers are picked. Consumers also really liked this breed because they produced high-quality breast meat, and producers liked them because they produced a lot of meat. The White Breasted Tom produces more breast meat and meatier thighs than wild turkeys. Today, it is it the only turkey breed used in large-scale production in the United States.

In the 1980s, farmers started raising their turkeys inside large, open, environmentally controlled environments to keep the turkeys comfortable and safe from predators and diseases. Now White Breasted Toms are usually raised inside so they will be protected from airborne bacteria, viruses, and diseases carried by migratory birds. Their diets consist of mainly corn and soybean rations mixed with a supplement of vitamins and minerals that are fed to them through automatic feeders. They can eat and drink whenever they want too! There are three types of farms that turkeys can live in depending on their stage of life. Mature, female turkeys known as hens live on breeder farms. They are bred using artificial insemination to lay fertilized eggs. The fertilized eggs are moved to a hatchery for incubation. The eggs begin to hatch within 28 days. Soon after hatching, the young poults are moved to the turkey farm where they are fed for 11-17 weeks of age until they reach market weight (about 45 pounds). When the turkey reaches the desired weight, the farmer sends them on semi-trucks to get processed.

Iowa turkeys are processed at Tyson Foods in Storm Lake, Iowa or West Liberty Foods in West Liberty, Iowa. Iowa turkey products can be found at Subway, Jimmy John’s, and local grocery stores, mostly as turkey deli meat.


  1. Read the scenario prompt titled “ Turkey Turmoil.pptx, Slide #2”. This gives students an idea of the crime committed and their job in solving the mystery.
  2. Create and assemble in four student groups (habitat, diet, instincts, and characteristics). (2 minutes)
  3. Provide instructions for the students. (5 minutes)
    1. Each group will receive a box of “evidence” which includes clues and information to solve the problem. Students must use this “evidence” to help the turkeys remember:
      1. Farm and wild turkey habitat (Turkey Turmoil.pptx, Slides 3-10)
      2. Farm and wild turkey diet (Turkey Turmoil.pptx, Slides 11-14)
      3. Farm and wild turkey characteristics (Turkey Turmoil.pptx, Slides 15-19)
      4. Farm and wild turkey instincts (Turkey Turmoil.pptx, Slides 20-23)
    2. There will be “evidence” for both farm and wild turkeys in their box. They are NOT deciding which kind of turkey they have, but instead what does this evidence say about a farm turkey AND a wild turkey.
    3. Give each group a box. When they get their box they must:
      1. 1 st read case file in this order *students must read file BEFORE looking at other items
        1. “Turkey (habitat, diet, instincts, or characteristics)”
        2. “Farm Turkey”
        3. “Wild Turkey”
        4. “Consider the Evidence”
      2. 2 nd examine other pieces of evidence
        1. what do these items represent from the information we read in the case file?
  4. Students complete activity and examine evidence in the box (10 minutes)
    1. When students are done reviewing the evidence, they must return items to the box.
  5. Have the class come together and give each group an opportunity to share the “evidence” they studied. As the groups share, dress up two students in the appropriate evidence materials. (One farm turkey and one wild turkey.)
    1. Using the name tags, identify two students – one to be the FREEDOM turkey and one to be the LIBERTY turkey. Students will dress up each turkey to display the differences and similarities between farm and wild turkeys.
    2. Students complete the mission by returning the turkeys to the correct environment and restoring their memory.
    3. Talk through and explain what each of the items/props represents.
      1. Freedom Turkey: (wild turkey)-
        1. pictures of wooded and grassland areas (represents where turkey lives),
        2. nuts and seeds (food),
        3. camouflage apron (their instinct to hide from predators),
        4. binoculars (represents their great eye sight),
        5. long legs made from felt (represents their fast, strong, long legs),
        6. beak/ snood combo, black sticky dots (represents marks left behind when wild turkeys are plucked),
        7. weight card, (shows the size – smaller than domestic relatives)
        8. wild turkey feathers (example of plumage)
      2. Liberty Turkey: (farm turkey)-
        1. boot covers , (represents biosecurity measures to prevent disease),
        2. neck pillow (represents comfort in a turkey barn),
        3. hand-held fan (represents comfort from big fans used in turkey barns)
        4. whole corn, whole soybeans (turkey feed)
        5. megaphone, (represents loud animal),
        6. deck of cards (represents social animal),
        7. weight card, (shows the size – larger than wild relatives)
        8. feathered costume wings, white feather boa (represents white feathers),
        9. Visors, feathers and foam (beak/ snood combo)
    4. Ask students to thank the volunteers with a round of applause. Students can remove the props and return them to their appropriate box.

Essential Files (maps, charts, pictures, or documents)

Did You Know? (Ag facts)

  • The average U.S. turkey consumption was 16.7 pounds per person every year!
  • There are approximately 130 turkey farms in Iowa which raise 12.1 million turkeys each year.
  • Iowa is ranked 7 th in U.S. turkey production (#1 Minnesota, more than 41 million turkeys, and #2 North Carolina, more than 31 million turkeys).
  • The turkey industry in Iowa supports as many as 38,288 jobs.
  • Total economic impact of turkeys: $10.64 billion
  • In a turkey’s lifetime, they will consume about one bushel of corn and 1/3 bushel of soybeans. A bushel is about the size of a small laundry basket.
  • Turkeys have about 3,500 feathers. Feather boas are often made from turkey feathers.
  • It takes 28 days for a turkey egg to hatch into a poult, young turkey.
  • Nearly all the turkeys raised in Iowa are toms (male turkeys).

Extension Activities

  • Conduct a virtual field trip - FarmChat® - with a turkey producer.



Heather Collins and Melissa Nelson

Laura Mincks

Organization Affiliation

Siouxland Ag In the Classroom

Iowa Agriculture Literacy Foundation

Agriculture Literacy Outcomes

  • Theme 2: Plants and Animals for Food, Fiber & Energy
    • T2.3-5. d. Provide examples of specific ways farmers/ranchers meet the needs of animals.
  • Theme 4: Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics
    • T4.3-5 b. Describe how technology helps farmers/ranchers increase their outputs (crop and livestock yields) with fewer inputs (less water, fertilizer, and land) while using the same amount of space.  
    • T4.3-5 c. Identify examples of how the knowledge of inherited traits is applied to farmed plants and animals in order to meet specific objectives (i.e. increased yields, better nutrition, etc.)

Education Content Standards

  • Life Science:
    • 3-LS3-1. Analyze and interpret data to provide evidence that plants and animals have traits inherited from parents and that variation of these traits exists in a group of similar organisms.
    • 4-LS1-1. Construct an argument that plants and animals have internal and external structures that function to support survival, growth, behavior, and reproduction.

Iowa Core Connections               

  • Literacy:
    • SL.3.3. Ask and answer questions about information from a speaker, offering appropriate elaboration and detail.
    • SL. 3.4 Report on a topic or text, tell a story, or recount an experience with appropriate facts and relevant, descriptive details, speaking clearly in an understandable pace.
    • SL.4.3. Identify the reason and evidence a speaker provides to support particular points.
    • SL.4.4. Report on a topic or text, tell a story, or recount an experience in an organized manner, using appropriate facts and relevant, descriptive details to support main ideas or themes; speak clearly at an understandable pace.
    • SL5.2. Summarize a written text read aloud or information presented in diverse media and formats, including visually, quantitatively, and orally.
    • SL.5.3. Summarize the points a speaker makes and explain how each claim is supported by reasons and evidence.
    • SL.5.4. Report on a topic or text or present an opinion, sequencing ideas logically and using appropriate facts and relevant, descriptive details to support main ideas or themes; speak clearly at an understandable pace.
  • Social Studies:
    • SS.4.25 Analyze the impact of technological changes in Iowa, across time and place.
    • SS.4.26. Explain how Iowa’s agriculture has changed over time.

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