At the start of 2019, 43-year-old Abu Rashed Khan set up a turkey farm on a patch of land in his father-in-law’s house in Sreepur, Gazipur. He bought 70 three-month-old poults to kickstart his new venture.
The birds began laying eggs after six months. He started selling 40 to 50 eggs per week to two customers via Facebook, one from Patuakhali and another from Jamalpur, who used to buy the eggs to hatch them for poults. In the beginning, he sold four eggs for Tk400.
“I was really excited about setting up the farm because people at that time were always talking about the profits of farming turkey and how others were making good money from it,” he said.
For the first six months, sales went well. But Rashed’s business did not last long. Within a year, he began to incur losses as the demand for turkey eggs fell all of a sudden. “When my turkeys started laying a lot of eggs, the market started to fall,” said Rashed.
He set up the farm with his own savings and some help from his father-in-law. He personally invested around Tk2.5 lakh. “The project was a total loss, I had to spend on the feed and keep on incurring losses,” he said.
Like Rashed, between 2016 and 2020, many young people began to rear turkey. There was a wave of success stories, and rearing turkey spread across the country. The hype, however, did not last long. The farmers got carried with hatching poults, ignoring the need to create a market for turkey meat and its final consumers.
“Very few people in our society have the ability to buy an eight-kilogram turkey. An eight-kilogram turkey costs at least Tk2,400 to Tk3,000,” said Rashed.
Rashed said his money has gone to waste as a result of being carried away by rumours. “I was also inspired by some videos on YouTube,” he added.
Finally, in February 2020, he sold off his last 50 turkeys in Karwan Bazar.
Amir Hamza, a private car driver, has a similar story to tell. He started rearing turkeys in Bhaluka, Mymensingh, in 2018 when the price of four eggs was Tk1,200 to 1,500. However, he managed to run his farm for only two years.
“I had to incur a loss of at least Tk2.5 lakh,” said Amir Hamza.
He started his farm with 12 turkeys and eventually the number reached 250. When the pandemic reached Bangladesh, the turkeys contracted different diseases.
During the pandemic, Amir found it hard to get a veterinary doctor and as a result, nearly 120 of the birds died. When he sold off the rest, their price was Tk350 per kilogram.
He said as turkey is a new variety of poultry for Bangladeshi farmers, most did not have much knowledge about its rearing, treatment and feeding.
“Some people made a huge profit selling eggs and turkey, but no one worked to create a market for its meat. As a result, the market eventually failed,” said Amir Hamza.
Amir had an incubator. He would hatch eggs and sell 10-day-old poults for Tk100-Tk200, depending on their size.
“If you compare it to other poultry, the production cost of turkey is high,” Amir said, adding, “most turkey projects have failed. I believe there are no more than 2% of projects which are profitable.”
Amir said turkeys do not grow in size proportionate to what they eat, as is the case with broiler chicken. The medicines are also expensive; there are no companies that make feed or medicine focusing on turkey. Turkeys in Bangladesh are usually given broiler and layer chicken feed.
Moreover, turkey meat is too expensive for everyday consumption. A male turkey weighs around 10 kilograms. “The per kilogram wholesale rate is Tk350, which makes the price of a turkey Tk3,500. A normal family cannot afford it,” said Amir.
In the West, turkey is popular for being leaner and thus a healthier option than red meat. Bangladeshis, however, appear to have not taken a liking to its taste.
Some tried to cook it with extra spice, like mutton, to disguise the ‘turkey smell’. A senior executive at a private company, Sanjay Dey, said that he tried turkey meat some years ago but it did not taste that good to him.
New Cheers Restaurant, a restaurant in Dhanmondi, sold turkey meat curry around four years ago. They no longer have it on their menu.
“There is no demand for turkey, so we no longer sell it,” said Mohammad Nadim Sheikh, a staff at the restaurant.
Professor Subhash Chandra Das of the poultry science department at Bangladesh Agricultural University conducted research on unconventional birds, including turkey, between 2016 and 2017.
The research, which took place under a project by Bangladesh Agriculture Research Council, was about the potential of turkey rearing in Bangladesh, with an emphasis on its nutrition.
Professor Subhash said that between 2016 and 2017, around 5,000 turkey farms mushroomed in the country.
The demand for turkey meat in the country never grew and so, its price saw a downfall. The farmers began to incur losses and now the number of turkey farms has come down to 20.
He said people in the beginning started rearing turkeys for recreation. They imported the eggs from India and hatched them for poults. They had no experience in rearing turkeys and did not have any knowledge of their diseases.
When asked why turkey farming fell, Professor Subhash said the main reason was farmers were solely engaged in egg hatching and selling poults.
“If everyone is whimsically running after hatching poults in incubators without thinking about the ultimate consumers of the meat, how is turkey farming going to sustain?” said Professor Subhash.
He also added adult turkeys did not look very pleasant and resembled vultures, which was also one of the reasons behind its unpopularity in the country.
However, he said there are still ways to revive turkey rearing in Bangladesh. The government has to come forward with a long-term plan and take up projects to ensure the birds’ treatment, ensure a market for the meat and assess the response of the final consumers.
Abdul Aziz Al Mamun, director (extension), Department of Livestock Services said for now, the government has no plans to take up any project or programme for turkeys.
“Once turkey farming flourished in the country, but it did not sustain. There are avian influenza-related issues and turkey meat was not well received. As a result, we are not going to take up any project,” he said.