There should be plenty of turkeys in Maine for this Thanksgiving. Credit: BDN file photo

As COVID-weary Mainers head into their second Thanksgiving of the pandemic, one thing they won’t have to worry about is a turkey shortage this year.

The overall production of fresh turkeys is down 1.4 percent compared with last November, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. At the same time, ongoing supply chain disruptions, shortages in packaging materials and labor — issues all related to the pandemic — are driving turkey costs up.

That means people may need to be flexible on what size bird graces the holiday table and pay a bit more for it, but supplies look good both at the national and local levels.

“There are going to be turkeys, for sure,” said Scott Greaney of Greaney’s Turkey Farm in Mercer. “There are issues with the turkey processors around the country, but no one is going to let those turkeys just sit around.”

According to Rusty Friel, assistant meat manager at the Hannaford Supermarket on Broadway in Bangor, the large processors are having difficulty keeping up with demand. That means a lot of turkeys are sitting around getting bigger waiting to be butchered and processed.

“We should be fine having enough to supply our customers,” said Rusty Friel, assistant meat manager at the Hannaford Supermarket on Broadway in Bangor. “But from what I understand the smaller birds won’t be around.”

Last year saw an increased demand for smaller turkey due to pandemic restrictions on travel and gatherings. That trend appears to be continuing this holiday, but Greaney said people are also looking for the larger birds up to 30 pounds.

If you only need a smaller bird but all you can find is a large turkey, then you need to start thinking about your leftovers. The trick, according to Kathy Savoie, food safety professor with University of Maine Cooperative Extension, is planning ahead because leftovers have a finite shelf life.

“If you know you are going to have too large of a turkey for the people you are having over, make sure you have a plan of what you will do with the leftovers,” Savoie said. “You only have three or four days from a food safety standpoint to keep them refrigerated and reuse.”

Savoie recommends freezing leftovers. She likes to remove leftover turkey meat from the bones, chop or shred it and store it in 2-cup portions. She advises labeling and dating the packages before placing them in the freezer.

“Once it’s in the freezer it is safe to eat indefinitely as long as it stays at or below zero-degrees Fahrenheit,” she said. “But from a quality standpoint, you want to move it along within six months.”

Frozen leftover turkey meat is excellent to have on hand for casseroles, soups, stews or other warming winter comfort foods, Savoie said.

Once they get to the stores, those holiday turkeys are going to cost a bit more, Friel said.

“The bulk price for the Hannaford turkeys are going to be $1.69 and $1.79 for the Butterballs,” Friel said.

On the local level, Greaney said sales of fresh, farm-raised turkeys have been brisk.

“We started selling our Thanksgiving turkeys in September,” Greaney said. “In my 40 years of doing this I have never sold Thanksgiving turkeys in September.”

Greaney believes it’s fears around the disruptions in the national supply chains that is driving the local turkey market this year.

“People are saying turkeys may be in short supply, so why not buy them now?” he said. “So I have people ordering two or three at a time — one for Thanksgiving, one for Christmas and one to have later this winter.”

Even with those orders, Greaney is confident he can meet the demand. And he is happy to do so.

Whatever size bird people want this year, Greaney said he and other turkey farmers around Maine are happy to help.

“We really want to thank people for buying local,” Greaney said. “You just don’t know how much we appreciate it.”

And he said farmers are ready to do what they can to make this year a memorable holiday celebration.

“This is Maine,” he said. “We sell twin lobster dinners and we can sell twin turkey dinners so if we don’t have a 30-pounder we can sell you two 15-pounders.”

Julia Bayly

Julia Bayly is a reporter at the Bangor Daily News with a regular bi-weekly column. Julia has been a freelance travel writer/photographer since 2000.