Fun fact: Feather boas from turkeys

These masks were partly made from turkey feathers. Image from Zucker Feather ProductsWhat do Thanksgiving and Las Vegas have in common?

Turkeys, of course.

The same turkeys that become Thanksgiving dinner also supply feathers for products like feather boas, hair clips and corsages.

“I’m sure people in the store don’t realize they are turkey feathers,” said Shirley Davenport from Arkansas Valley Feathers, a company that collects turkey feathers from processing plants.

Collecting the turkey feathers is just the first step for Arkansas Valley Feathers. The company then ships containers of the feathers to China where workers will transform them into products for the American market. Arkansas Valley Feathers works with wholesale company Zucker Feather Products to sell these products to stores like Michael’s and Hobby Lobby. Besides boas, turkey feathers are also popular for costume masks, wreaths and cat toys.

“A lot of the turkey feathers are packaged and used in crafts,” Davenport said.

According to the National Turkey Federation, a mature turkey can have 3,500 feathers. Photo from the Animal Science Image GalleryTurkey feathers are not just recycled as costume accessories. Many turkey processors turn leftover feathers into feather meal or compost.

Feather meal is made of ground-up feathers that have been cooked at a high temperature. It is commonly fed as a protein supplement to many farm animals.

Composting feathers is another way to keep turkey production sustainable. Breaking down feathers is not easy, but special compost turners can help aerate compost piles, add water and manure, and help feathers become a valuable addition to pastures and fields.

Use of turkey feathers in fashion has a long history. Davenport said Zucker Feather Products has been selling accessories made of turkey feathers since 1872. That means Zucker was one company that supplied trendy boas to wealthy women in the Victorian and Edwardian eras.

“It’s amazing the different ways they can be used,” Davenport said.