U.S. turkey meat production in the third quarter of 2012 was 1.48 billion pounds, up 4 percent from 2011, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's latest report.  

The increase was due in almost equal parts to an increase in the number of turkeys slaughtered and to gains in the average weight at slaughter, said the USDA. The number of turkeys slaughtered in the third quarter was 63.5 million, an increase of less than 3 percent from 2011; the average weight at slaughter was 29.2 pounds, a gain of just under 1 percent from third-quarter 2011. 

Turkey meat production in the fourth quarter of 2012 is forecast at 1.55 billion pounds, which again would be a substantial increase from the same period a year earlier, up 3.7 percent, according to the USDA. Most of this increase is expected to come from a higher number of turkeys slaughtered, with only small gains in average weights. Turkey production in 2013 is forecast at 5.79 billion pounds, which would be a decrease of 3 percent from 2012 numbers. The decline in turkey production is expected to come from the combination of high feed prices, larger beginning stocks and lower year-over-year prices for whole birds in fourth-quarter 2012 and in the first half of 2013.

Turkey cold storage  

Relatively strong turkey meat production increases in the second and third quarters (up 2 and 4 percent) boosted cold storage holdings of turkey to 521 million pounds at the end of September, up 2 percent from 2011 numbers, according to the USDA report. The growth in overall stocks of turkey products hides a disparity in the direction of stocks level changes for whole birds compared with turkey products. 

Stocks of turkey products totaled 217 million pounds at the end of the third quarter, a decrease of 6 percent from the same time in 2011. This stock decrease has been partly due to strong exports of turkey products, especially in the third quarter of 2012. Stocks of whole birds have been moving in the opposite direction — at the end of September, stocks of whole birds were estimated at 305 million pounds, up 9 percent from 2011.

Overall turkey cold storage holdings at the end of 2012 are forecast at 250 million pounds, about 18 percent higher than in 2011. As with third-quarter 2012, almost all the increase is expected to come from larger holdings of whole turkeys, with little or no increase in stocks of turkey products, said the USDA.