Roughly 20% of all turkeys raised in the United States this year will be eaten on Thursday. Judging from previous years, that could mean over 50 million frozen and fresh birds (at roughly 800 million pounds) being delivered all across the country.

So, how do major turkey brands like Butterball, Honeysuckle, and Perdue make it happen?

Lots and lots of planning, especially for fresh turkeys.

In fact, some retailers begin the planning process up to 6 months prior by establishing relationships with large-scale producers and local farmers. Certain retailers even partner with 3PL freezer facilities to pre-position orders into market centers for local grocery stores. Since frozen birds account for around 90% of Thanksgiving sales, strong relationships between suppliers, logistics partners, and retailers are crucial.

The upside for frozen turkeys is that they are produced year-round, meaning any extra supply after Thanksgiving can be sold during Christmas (the second leading Turkey consumption day) or discounted between the two holidays. In fact, frozen turkeys are often still sold up to 3 years after hitting the freezer, making the process of keeping safety stock levels at a comfortable pace much easier.

Fresh turkeys, on the other hand, require a lot more legwork.

Typically, fresh turkeys have around a 21-day shelf life, which means that the producer must have the specific retailer’s label and often their specific pricing per pound while still ensuring that the bird was “shelf ready” upon delivery. With a timeline like that, fresh turkeys often only have 10-14 days left once they’ve been delivered, stocked, and sold.

Of course, all turkeys start on the farm. Butterball, for example, requires roughly 28,000 laying hens and 1,700 toms to produce the right number of birds each year. Because turkeys produce eggs in the spring, many farmers use artificial lighting to increase their production and ensure their birds are laying eggs year-round. Eggs need to be incubated properly for 28 days. Once hatched, the young birds head to the farm for 10 to 18 weeks before slaughter.

For grocery stores, fresh turkeys are often the only profitable turkeys sold during Thanksgiving. This is simply due to the higher logistical cost and lower value of frozen turkeys. Between the freezer warehousing, cheaper price per pound, and transportation cost (since most frozen birds travel much longer distances than fresh ones), they’re often sold at a loss.

Many organizations go so far as to offer free frozen turkeys around the holidays or simply accept that frozen turkeys will be a loss-leader for the chain. They know that if you’re getting a turkey cheap, you’re at least in the door and potentially spending money on other items. In fact, this tradition of offering free turkeys to entice customers dates back to 1887, when saloons in Ohio would offer a free turkey lunch as a way to attract patrons to their watering hole.

Amazon is following suit, leveraging its acquisition of Whole Foods earlier this year to get more people hooked on Amazon Fresh. They’re offering a free frozen turkey with orders over $100, and other grocery chains like Albertson’s are doing the same for orders over $150.

So as you enjoy your bountiful feast this holiday season, give a quick nod to the fine folks that brought that tasty bird to your table. (And shed a tear for the turkeys, if you are so inclined.)

Sources: National Turkey Federation | Forbes | Logistics Viewpoints