TAMPA (FOX 13) - It's the marquee item of your Thanksgiving menu.
This time of year, at Mike Blaha's Marsaryktown farm, the birds are always big business. But this go-around, his inventory of farm fresh turkeys is even more coveted.
"We get them from a day old and raise them on up for about 20 weeks. That gives you the right size turkey that you want," Blaha said.
Fresh birds like his are hard to come by, after the bird flu wiped out 7.6 million commercial turkeys across the country this spring and summer.
Metropolitan Ministries in Tampa is already feeling the pinch.
"A year ago, it would have been about $13 a bird. Now we're paying $16.75 a bird in bulk and we're being told we can't get them at that price anymore," Metropolitan Ministries' CEO Tim Marks said Wednesday.
Experts say big retailers will absorb the extra cost before scaring savvy shoppers with a high sticker price. Publix told FOX 13 they buy in such high volume that their freezer surplus can ride out this year's storm.
Still, smaller distributors may not be as flush with their flock.
"We have to see not only what the market will bring, but also what it takes for us to turnaround and do things in the future," Blaha said.
In the meantime, Metropolitan Ministries is looking beyond the bird to chicken and ham to bridge the budget gap. They're counting on donations to keep the Thanksgiving tradition alive.
"If you're ever thinking about giving a donation, this would be a good year to help us out," Marks said.
The USDA says the average wholesale price for turkey is already up 20 cents per pound from last year.