factory farmed turkeys


The life of a turkey is similar to that of a chicken raised for meat. Turkeys are housed with thousands of other birds in barns. In the wild, turkeys roam widely, searching for food. However, on the farm they are production units, fed and watered by machines.

Life in the barn

Turkeys live in crowded, barren environments. By the time they reach slaughter weight, each bird has only two square feet of space. Due to the stress of overcrowding, fighting and aggression, feather pecking occurs. As a result, turkeys usually have their beaks trimmed with a heated blade or laser -- without anaesthetic -- to prevent damage to other birds.

To reduce cannibalism, males may have their snoods removed, which can cause acute pain. (A snood is part of the bird's wattle, which arises from the forehead and lies over the upper beak.) Turkeys suffer other physical ailments, including respiratory diseases and liver damage.

Typically, there are no windows for natural light. Too much light is known to increase aggression in turkeys, so turkeys spend their lives in low light. According to the NFACC code of practice, the dark period is to be a minimum of 4 hours per day.

Turkeys are bred to gain weight quickly and may weigh 60 pounds at slaughter. Their joints may not support their weight, causing lameness. Turkeys stand on wet, dirty litter, which can cause ulcerations, contributing to lameness.

Some turkeys are kept as parent stock to produce fertile eggs from which meat turkeys hatch. Because turkeys have been bred to have very large breasts, males (toms) are not able to breed females naturally, so artificial insemination (AI) is used. Breeder birds are kept in densely packed single-sex pens, often on different farms. Semen is extracted from the males in a violent process, often twice a week. The semen is taken to the hen farm, where hens are inseminated, often once a week. Hens may be artificially inseminated up to 30 times the first year and the same in the second year. AI is very stressful for both male and female birds.

Breeding turkeys, the birds that provide the eggs for commercial production, are feed-restricted to minimize health and reproductive problems and to enhance fertility. They are given as little as half the food they would eat ad libitum -- a major stress for the birds.

When birds destined for consumers reach slaughter weight, they are transported to slaughter plants. The process of catching and loading is very stressful due to the birds' nervous disposition. Catchers pick up birds by their feet and shove them into crates. Birds are frequently injured, causing bruising, broken bones and internal injuries. More humane, mechanized catchers are used in Europe, but not in Canada.

In Canada, turkeys may be legally transported 36 hours without water, food or rest, plus food withdrawal prior to catching.

Though turkeys can live 10 years, they are typically slaughtered between 12 and 36 weeks, when they reach slaughter weight. At the kill plant, most Canadian turkeys are shackled upside down by their legs, and moved through an electrified water bath for stunning, then toward spinning blades to be killed. These birds can weigh 28 kilograms, so the pain of shackling is significant.

Controlled Atmosphere Stunning (CAS), using C02 to stun turkeys, is a better system because it eliminates live shackling. Some slaughter plants in Canada are using CAS to kill turkeys, but there is no requirement to do so.