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Downsized Thanksgiving plans are putting small turkeys in high demand, which some farms can't meet

Small turkeys in high demand this year
During the pandemic, Thanksgiving celebrations are smaller and so are the turkeys 03:36

As the pandemic forces many families to downsize their Thanksgiving plans, one highly sought-after item on the menu is running low. This year, there is a shortage of small turkeys, and declining demand for bigger birds is hurting some of the country's 2,500 turkey producers. 

At a family farm in Texas, the free range turkeys raised by Angela Smith and her son Colby sell out every Thanksgiving. There's usually a waiting list for their fresh birds.

Normally, the demand is highest for an 18- to- 20-pound turkey, Colby said. 

"18 to 20 all day," he told CBS News correspondent Janet Shamlian. "It feeds you know six, eight people, 10 people pretty darn good, you know?"

But this year, most of those turkeys are too big for a downsized holiday. At Smith and Smith Farms, they're still getting inquiries for 10-pound turkeys, something Colby wishes he could sell them.

"They're live animals. They grow just like me and you. I mean you can't put the pause button on it and say, hey, you know, you're stopping at eight pounds, sorry buddy," he said. 

For a small family farm like this, where margins are razor thin, it's devastating. The cost of buying the chicks, their feed and processing won't cover what they earn.

Some people won't buy a turkey at all this year.

"I'm only going to get a turkey breast because I'm the only one that likes turkey in my immediate family," said Kathleen Schena, whose Thanksgiving has shrunk from 12 people to four. 

"In the Leonard family, instead of one big Thanksgiving, there's going to be four smaller Thanksgivings," grocer Stew Leonard Jr. said. 

He's making big changes at home and in his seven stores in Connecticut, New York and New Jersey.

"We've ordered 20% less of the big turkeys and we've ordered 20% more of the smaller turkeys because we feel Thanksgiving's going to be smaller," he said.

Butterball, which typically sells a third of all Thanksgiving turkeys, ramped up production of smaller items like boneless turkey roasts.

Producers like the Smiths are adapting as well by dividing up turkeys, selling breasts and legs for people planning on smaller meals.  

They never imagined back in March that the holiday would turn out like this.

"We just kept hoping things would change, that it would get better with the COVID situation and people could be together," Angela said. "But, as we see, it's really not turned out that way."

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