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Butterball mystery: Turkeys wouldn’t fatten up

Butterball apparently has big fat mystery on its hands: The company says it doesn’t know why some of its turkeys wouldn’t plump up in time for Thanksgiving this year.

CEO Rod Brenneman says it’s the first time this has happened and that the company is investigating what went wrong. Butterball recently announced that it will have a limited supply of large, fresh turkeys that are 16 pounds or heavier for the holidays.

Like many other turkey producers, Butterball feeds its birds antibiotics to prevent and treat illnesses, which can occur from living in cramped quarters. The use of antibiotics, which also promote growth in livestock, has been the subject of concern that it could lead to antibiotic-resistant germs.

Butterball declined to say whether it made any changes to its feed this year. But the problem seems to have come up rather recently.

For much of the year, Butterball produces turkeys that are frozen and stored until they’re ready to be sold for the holidays. But then in October and November, it shifts into production for fresh turkeys. And that’s when the company ran into problems with the turkeys not gaining enough weight, Brenneman said.

Butterball declined to say whether the issue has been resolved or provide details on the extent of its shortage. But Big Y, a supermarket chain based in Springfield, Mass., said that it had been notified by the company that orders across the country were cut by 50 percent.

Butterball’s shortage shouldn’t be a problem for most since fresh turkeys only account for about 15 percent of sales, with frozen turkeys accounting for the rest. Butterball also makes only about one out of every five turkeys eaten on Thanksgiving.

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