The Truth About Turkey Farming
The lives of wild turkeys are fascinating. With glorious iridescent feathers that shine in the sun, flight speeds of up to fifty miles per hour, and complex social groups of up to 200 individuals, these birds are truly an underrated treasure. It’s easy to be captivated by turkeys. It’s no wonder that the bodies of turkeys sold in stores for Thanksgiving are often packaged with illustrations of colorful wild turkeys proudly displaying their feathers.
But the life of a farmed turkey is a sad shadow of the lives their ancestors led.
For farmed turkeys, the suffering begins on day one. Wild turkeys raise their young (called “poults”) for up to four months, teaching the baby birds everything there is to being a turkey. But farmed turkey poults are hatched into incubated drawers. Rather than peeking out from the warmth of a mother’s feathers, the confused poults find themselves on a hatchery conveyor belt within hours of entering the world.
The poults learn very fast that humans can and will inflict pain on them. Poults’ toes are partially amputated using a hot blade or microwave technology. This process removes the toenail to prevent stressed and crowded birds from scratching one another and damaging the valuable carcass. The poults are also debeaked: another procedure designed to reduce injuries that tightly confined birds are prone to.
Debeaking can cause chronic pain, but increases profit on turkey farms.
Neither of these procedures are performed using pain relief.
The turkeys are then shipped as live mail to commercial growing barns. Live shipping is extremely dangerous for baby birds, and hundreds of thousands of baby turkeys and chickens alike are killed in this process every year. These are considered acceptable losses. Extreme weather events, postage delays, and shipping errors can easily cut a baby bird’s life short.
The windowless sheds that surviving poults arrive at generally resemble warehouses more than “barns”. It is only possible to clean these sheds between batches of birds, so the stench of ammonia is overwhelming. Factory farm workers and animals alike often fall into respiratory distress from exposure to such poor air quality. This is why many turkeys and other farmed animals are fed antibiotics from a young age: to keep them alive in conditions that would otherwise kill them.
A crowded shed hardly resembles a “barn”.
Broad-breasted white turkeys, the breed most commonly raised for commercial slaughter, have been selectively bred to grow incredibly fast. These birds are prone to health issues before they reach slaughter weight at around 16 weeks of age. The rapid weight gain makes turkeys likely to experience leg and foot problems.
In fact, these turkeys are unable to safely breed or reproduce without using artificial insemination.
When the young turkeys reach slaughter age, they will be loaded onto trucks to meet their end. With heavy bodies and sensitive legs, injuries are common during catching, loading and transport. The stressed birds are packed tightly into crates and transported to slaughterhouses.
Transport to slaughter on an open-air semi truck is incredibly stressful for a bird.
While the U.S. Humane Slaughter Act mandates that mammals be stunned before having their throats slit, this law does not include birds.
Turkeys are hung upside-down in shackles for slaughter. While some slaughterhouses use electrified baths to stun birds prior to slaughter, this is not a legal requirement. Even when this method is used, because turkeys’ wings sometimes hang below their heads, they often feel the painful shocks before being fully submerged.
Looking at the lives of most turkeys today, it’s hard to imagine these birds descended from flocks who freely roamed acres of land, foraging for insects on forest floors. Despite the drastic changes in their bodies, domestic turkeys are the same magnificent birds.
Isn’t it time we started treating them like it?
Rescued turkey Cypress and her dazzling eyes.
Want to make a difference for farmed turkeys? Take Animal Place’s pledge to have a turkey-free Thanksgiving today and take a stand for these gentle birds.
Written by Chelsea Pinkham