Thanksgiving weekend is always a busy time with family and friends.

A time to gather, share memories and give thanks.

Darren Ference, Chair of the Turkey Farmers of Canada says it's also the time of year when a lot of people will be sitting down to enjoy a traditional turkey dinner.

"Last year, at Thanksgiving, there was 2.7 million whole turkeys that were purchased by Canadians, which equaled about 45 per cent of our whole turkey market. When you think of a whole turkey market, it's Christmas and Thanksgiving. There was 2.1 million whole turkeys sold for Christmas last year, which was 35 per cent of the whole turkey market."

Ference has been raising turkeys for about 21 years.

He owns and operates a turkey and chicken operation in Alberta, along with a grain crop and cattle operation. 

Ference puts through about 32,000 turkeys three times a year on his own operation.

Overall, Canada has about 558 turkey producers, growing about 146 million kilograms of turkey on a yearly basis.

About 32 million kilograms are raised by the 125 turkey producers in the Prairies.

Those birds are mainly processed at Granny's Poultry in Manitoba, Prairie Pride in Saskatchewan, Sunrise Poultry in southern Alberta and at Lilydale in Edmonton.

Ference notes that turkey is a very economical meal, that's lean and easy to cook.

"One bird can give you five meals for four or five people. It's an economical protein source. It's healthy. And in some studies that we've had done recently, turkey is very similar in cost to what it was last year at this time."

That's welcome news for consumers that have seen a dramatic increase in grocery prices over the last few months. 

Dr Sylvain Charlebois, with the Agri-Food Analytics Lab at Dalhousie University says they partnered with Angus Reid to find out what Canadian consumers are planning to do with their meal planning for Thanksgiving. 

He says among those who celebrate Thanksgiving, more than two-thirds (68%) say they will be eating the same meal/foods they normally do, although almost a quarter (22%) say they will be making some changes because of higher food prices. This is especially likely in BC (29%) and Alberta (25%), as well as lower-income households (30%).

The survey also found that turkey is widely considered essential for Thanksgiving dinner, with three-in-five (62%) ranking it as the #1 most important food, and three-in-four (77%) ranking it among the top three.
Ference says turkey is not just a good choice for Thanksgiving and Christmas, but a good meal option year-round.

"There's more and more supply of pieces and parts of turkey that you can barbeque and smoke. There's breasts, steaks, roasts, legs and wings that can be purchased at the stores to be cooked for individual meals."

The Turkey Farmers of Canada website offers a variety of turkey recipes ideas and videos for consumers.