Society for the Advancement of Animal Wellbeing

- Protecting Animals and Conserving the Environment

Turkey for Thanksgiving?

There have been a lot of scientific studies on turkeys and their inner emotional and mental lives. Dr. Ian Duncan, a Poultry specialist at the University of Guelph in Ontario Canada stated that “turkeys possess marked intelligence as revealed by such behavioral indices as their complex social relationships, and their many different methods of communicating with each other, both visual and vocal.”

One particular emotional behavior that shows overwhelming loyalty is known as “the great wake”. It is an exhibition of sorrow for an injured or dying fellow colleague. This behavior has also been seen in factory farmed turkeys; when one bird dies other turkeys will come to mourn its loss and may also subsequently die from a heart attack due to overwhelming sorrow and grief. Turkey parents are also extremely loving and doting on their young. In fact famed inventor Benjamin Franklin said that the turkey was a bird of courage as well as resourcefulness and beauty and should have been the national bird of the US.

Wild turkeys used to be very populous in the southern US they numbered in the tens of millions. Flying free and walking around feeding on acorns, seeds and grass these bird friends could live for up to 15 years.

However to keep up with the excessive demand for their meat, the poultry industry uses factory farming methods in order to maximize profits and production. Let’s take a look at the torturous lives of turkeys raised for our plates.


In order to produce turkeys, females known as hens must be painfully and artificially inseminated. First a male stag is “milked” 3 times a week for his semen which causes undue stress to the bird.

The female is then caught and hung upside down at which point she will have a hypodermic syringe forced in to her reproductive system and then the semen will be injected.

Artificial insemination is emotionally and physically distressing and often causes the spread of diseases such as fowl cholera. After the eggs are produced they are kept in metal hatcheries where they will be incubated for approximately 28 days until the chicks emerge from the egg. These babies will never feel the warmth of their mother. For the chicks that hatch early they must wait for up to 3 days without food or water until they are processed.

Once they’re hatched they are tossed in to plastic trays like inanimate objects. The trays are then place in to a sorting machine which separates the broken egg shells from the chicks.

The machine flips the tray upside down as the chicks fall on to the sorter. The egg shells are dumped in to a bin and inevitably some chicks end up being dumped in to the bin too, even worse some turkey babies get caught up in the metal machinery and are subsequently crushed to death or torn apart, they die slow and excruciating and  deaths.

Chicks not fully hatched but still alive are called "hatch debris" and will be disposed of in bins. Injured chicks will also be dumped alive along with the egg shell waste. There is a total disregard for life of these sentient beings.

Desnooding and debeaking

With in the next few days these baby chicks will be prepared for raring as meat. First they will have their toes removed this is to prevent them from scratching at other turkeys in the highly cramped and stressful conditions. In nature these animals are very gentle and never harm other birds.

Their toes are removed by either being cut off with scissors or the toe tips will be micro-waved. The microwaves kill the tissue and the toes eventually shrivel and fall off.

Next the little chicks will be de-beaked that is they will have the top one third of their very sensitive beak removed. The usual methods for this include the use of an intensely hot infrared beam or a red hot knife that slices through the beak, sometimes clippers might be used instead to manually snip off the beak. The de-beaking may have to be repeated at 14 to 18 weeks old as the beaks usually grow back. A study conducted by Dr. Michael Gentle and published in the Journal of Applied Animal Behavioral Science observed that de-beaked birds showed behavior associated with long-term chronic pain and depression including “phantom limb pain” found in human amputees.

The final and equally savage procedure is called de-snooding, the snood is the fleshy part of the male turkey that arises from the forehead and hangs over the beak and is filled with blood vessels and nerves. Usually the snood is just ripped off with no equipment or surgical tools. All of these procedures are carried out by non-medical staff without the use of anesthetic or painkillers on few day old babies. All of this done to reduce stress induced cannibalism which is caused by the frustrating conditions imposed on these smart and caring animals by their human captors.

A small number of sample chicks will be sent for quality assurance testing, they are thrown live in to plastic bags which are tied at the top. The chicks grasp for air and slowly suffocate before being collected for transport.

  Raring for meat


The baby turkeys are now packed in to sheds called units and are denied all things natural including dust bathing, foraging and raising young. 25,000 birds are kept in these windowless sheds that are artificially lit and they will be fed high protein pellets with the aim of getting them as fat as possible as quickly as possible.

To this end the adolescent turkeys have been genetically manipulated to grow rapidly as well as to have unusually enlarged breasts, all this because consumers have a preference for breast meat. It has been calculated that if a 7 pound human infant put on weight as quickly as a turkey it would weigh 1,500 pounds after just 18 weeks.

This absurd rate of growth means that turkeys suffer from a number of obesity related adverse health conditions including heart attacks as the blood vessels get clogged, organ failure from the organs being squashed too tightly with in the body as well as liver failure to name but a few.

These beautiful animals also suffer form lameness in the legs and hips as they are crippled from the excessive weight of their own bodies. Unable to move some birds die of starvation and thirst just inches away from food and water. Yet some so psychologically disturbed by this unimaginable situation die from a condition known as “starve out”, this is when the young birds simply stop eating as they enter a state of shock.

For their entire time in these units the floors will never be cleaned; the feces and urine build up to toxic levels causing burns, ulcers and infections of the feet, legs and other parts of the animals. The ammonia levels get so high that it actually burns the feathers right off the birds' bodies.  Bacterial, fungal and viral pathogens run rife in such unhygienic and squalid conditions. These include E.Coli, salmonella, Campylobacter, Turkey Rhinotracheitis (TRT) as well avian influenza virus or bird flu. These diseases can also be transferred to humans and can be fatal.

In fact USDA statistics reveal that one in eight turkeys in the US has salmonella. In such circumstances, millions of adolescent birds do not survive to slaughter. Regular culls are also conducted in order to get rid of any sick or weak animals so that they do not eat any more food, which is considered wasteful as they will not make it to slaughter and thus will not be sellable. During these culls, workers will walk through the unit and select the sentient being to be removed then using a metal pole they will beat it to death. The bird is then discarded, this is considered to be a standard industry practice. 


Depending on what size bird is required the turkeys will be slaughtered from as young as 12 weeks old up to a maximum of 26 weeks which is only half a year. Considering they can live for 15 years, a 6 month old turkey is only two and half years old in human years, that’s a toddler!

When its time for slaughter, these "toddlers" are grabbed by their feet and stuffed in to crates. This rough handling results in many broken bones and other injuries. In excess of 2,000 birds are loaded on to a single truck often with out any protection from the elements. As the birds may travel through various weather extremes the birds may alternately freeze or over heat. These terrified birds that are transported over long distances will not be fed or provided water as this is considered to be wasteful.

On arrival at the slaughter house the birds are shackled by their feet. First they are dipped in to an electrified water bath in order to induce unconsciousness, this is quite ineffective as the birds sometimes duck to avoid the water. Next they have their throats cut by an automated knife so that they may be bled out. Finally the poor birds are dipped in a tank of scalding hot water in order to make it easier to remove their feathers. More often than not the bird may be conscious or semi-conscious when this happens and so is fully aware as they boil to death.

The extremely sick animals are ground in to sausages and reconstituted meats for supermarket foods. The rest are prepared and sold whole for us to celebrate Christmas, Thanksgiving and Easter. In fact during these peak demand times additional workers will brought in to help with the manual slaughter of these animal by the method twisting or dislocating the neck.


Here are some facts and figures on how we celebrate Christmas a time of forgiveness and love to all, as well as Thanksgiving and Easter a celebration of life and renewal. Canada produces 19.6 million turkeys a year and consumes three quarters of their total consumption at Christmas and Thanksgiving.

In the US more than 270 million turkeys are raised for food, 40 million of these are killed for Thanksgiving, 20 million for Christmas and 19 million for Easter. And in the UK approximately 35 million turkeys are raised for food of which 10 million are slaughtered for Christmas and the celebration of Christ’s birth.            

There are alternatives to this cruel meal, try a delicious and nutritious vegan tofu turkey with herb and onion stuffing served on a bed of wild rice with cranberry sauce. Some roast vegetables with rosemary, potato salad with egg-free mayo and salad. For more delicious recipes visit the vegan dad website.

Click here to find out how you can help!

Read more on factory farming or go to the section on other issues regarding animals here.










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