SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4) – It’s that time of the year again, stuffing, pies, and of course, turkeys, but with the rise in turkey prices many families could face difficulties this holiday season.

According to the Farm Bureau Survey, Thanksgiving dinner cost is up 20% more than last year. The inflation feed cost contributes to the high price of turkeys, but the current Avian Influenza H5N1, known as bird flu, has also made a huge impact.

It is affecting domesticated chickens and turkeys, killing nearly 50 million turkeys nationwide, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. In Utah, nearly 700,000 turkeys have been killed.

“Wild turkeys aren’t affected because they aren’t in such close quarters with each other.” David Frame, USU Extension Poultry Specialist, said. “If a wild turkey gets sick, it’ll likely die before causing an outbreak.” 

Frame is hopeful that we’re now at a downtrend for the outbreak, thanks to the efforts of so many to cull and separate out contaminated birds. However, he does caution that, like many influenza viruses, H5N1 may be around for a while. 

“It’s not very easy to eradicate viruses, but with proper biosecurity methods, we should be okay.” Frame said. 

The origin of this strain is interesting, Frame said, because this particular type is exotic to the western hemisphere. The strain came from Southeast Asia and has worked its way through the Waterfowl, which then carried it over to Canada in December 2021, and then to the United States. 

“History has taught us that part of the world is a melting pot for [viruses],” Frame said. He gave examples of both the bird flu during the early 2000s and also the Hong Kong flu in the late 60s and early 70s. 

Frame said that the problem with the previous viruses was that society was naive and didn’t know how to react. Now that we understand bird flu, and also that the H5N1 strain of bird flu cannot be caught by humans, we just have to ride out the virus until things settle down. 

“It helps that farmers and producers have been pretty resilient throughout the whole process. They will bounce back okay,” Frame said. 

Until then, Frame hopes that many Utah families have already gotten their turkeys or plan to get them soon. 

“It may be a little late in the season, but my recommendation is to get your turkeys as soon as you can because there may be a certain shortage of sizes,” Frame said. “There will be turkeys available, but you might have to pay a lot to get the size you want.” 

And if that isn’t in the cards for you, here are some ideas to spice up Thanksgiving without the turkey: 

  • Enhance Side Dishes

There are tons of different foods that go with a turkey. For instance, cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, green beans, pies, baked beans, carrots, and more! Why not make the holiday more memorable by adding a slightly uncommon dish to the mix, like fried mash potato balls or roasted pumpkin soup?

  • Every Family Member has a Job

One person shouldn’t be in charge of everything because it can create stress and strain on that person. Consider breaking up the jobs so that not only do you have less stress, but maybe there’s a chance to have more side dishes or treats added to the mix. 

  • Thanksgiving is People First, Food Second

Remember what matters most when you sit down with your friends and family. It’s the people you surround yourself with that make the meal that much more memorable.

  • Combine Thanksgiving Meals

Is there someone in your neighborhood who may have a treat or dish that you don’t have and vice versa? Consider making the meal about community and friendship. Plus, the larger the group, the more the food. 

Thanksgiving is a time to reflect and connect. Build the holiday spirit together, and have a happy day, no matter what that looks like for you and your family.