The reality for turkeys
Turkeys, like chickens, have been manipulatively bred to grow much quicker than they would do naturally. Rearing them to reach slaughter weight in a much shorter time frame increases the industry’s profitability.
|Animal||Natural lifespan (on average)||Age at which they are typically killed|
|Turkey||10 years||10 – 12 weeks|
By the time they are slated to go to slaughter, some turkeys are so heavy that they are nearly—or completely—immobile, unable to even move far enough to get food and water. Their skeletal systems struggle to support their unnatural weight, resulting in weak legs, joint problems, and bone fractures. Additionally, increased pressure on their hearts and lungs means that many suffer heart attacks and die even before they are sent to slaughter. [i]
Is it more profitable to grow the biggest bird and have increased mortality….[S]imple calculations suggest that it is better to get the weight and ignore the mortality. — Tabler GT, Mendenhall AM, “Broiler Nutrition, Feed Intake and Grower Economics,” Avian Advice 5(4) (Winter 2003): 8–10.
Most turkeys are reared in large, windowless sheds with dimmed lighting in an attempt to reduce the aggression that frequently occurs in such barren, overcrowded conditions, including feather plucking and cannibalism. As they grow larger, these typically active birds have little space to exercise or move about, compounding the health problems and welfare issues mentioned above. They are allotted 46kg/m2 of floor space—equivalent to a sheet of A3 paper per turkey—or six birds per square metre. [ii]
These intensive conditions provide no opportunity for these active and intelligent creatures to carry out their instinctive behaviours, such as exploring, foraging, roosting and forming of social groups. Many of the birds are often neglected due to the lack of workers on the farms to take care of such large flocks. A single worker can be responsible for the care of thousands of birds.
See for yourself – watch Animal Liberation ACT’s video of Australian turkey farms:
Disease is widespread amongst farmed turkey flocks. The crowded living conditions and poor ventilation leads to breathing problems and hygiene issues, and the turkeys develop painful ammonia burns on their legs and feet from the buildup of faeces on the floor. [iii]
Turkeys within the industry suffer from a variety of diseases and ailments caused by both bacterial and viral infections as well as physical deformities.
Manipulation and mutilations
Farmed turkeys have been bred to have such large breasts that they cannot even mount and mate on their own. A method of artificial insemination is their sole means of reproduction. Breeding toms are kept in the dark for most of their lives and ‘milked’ for their semen once or twice a week, while females are “cracked open” (the term used by industry representatives) twice a week. Their legs are clamped into metal forceps and they are inseminated, one after the other, as workers hurry to inseminate between 1,200 and 1,400 turkeys within two hours. [iv]
One factory worker described how young turkeys are curious and friendly with employees “until the first couple AIs—and then they run from you…” [v]
This mutilation is carried out on young birds to prevent them from injuring each other when they are confined in their dim, crowded sheds. Turkeys’ beaks are delicate and packed with nerves; they are sensitive to temperature and pressure and are necessary for the birds to investigate their world. Debeaking involves partly amputating their beaks with a hot blade when they are just a few days old. No painkillers are administered, nor is there any follow-up treatment for infection.
Research at the AFRC Institute of Animal Physiology and Genetics Research in Edinburgh has indicated that debeaking results in both acute and chronic pain for many of these animals. A significant number of birds express depressive and pain-related behaviours in response to debeaking. Dr. Ian J.H. Duncan, Professor of Poultry Science at the University of Guelph in Canada, has compared these chronic pain responses to that of a human amputee experiencing the sensation of ‘phantom limb pain’. [vi],[vii]
The Australian Poultry Code of Practice also allows for the removal of the snood, a long piece of flesh that hangs from a turkey’s forehead and extends over his beak. These are often clipped off in order to reduce aggression and cannibalism among the birds. Again, this procedure causes unnecessary pain and suffering for the turkeys.
The last section of the inward pointing toe of male breeder turkeys is clipped off at just three days old; as usual, no painkillers are administered. [viii]
Like chickens, turkeys are caught by their legs to load into crates for transportation. During this process, many birds are bruised and suffer from injured heads and wings. They are transported in open-air crates, resulting in high mortality as the birds are exposed to all sorts of weather. Each bird is worth so little, however, that it is cheaper overall for the industry to use open-air crates. Some die from heat stress or are crushed during transport. Reports have also documented dislocated hips and haemorrhages.
The allowable transport time without food and water is 24 hours, and the industry does not recommend rest stops. Meanwhile, the crates in which turkeys are transported are just 32 centimetres high—the size of a standard ruler—and as a result, these large birds are in extremely cramped conditions for the entirety of the transport process. [ix]
Once the turkeys arrive at the slaughterhouse they are…
1. …hung upside down by their legs on metal shackles along a moving conveyor belt. A 2013 undercover video at the Inghams turkey abattoir (near Sydney) revealed the horrendous suffering which results from this process:
[These] 8-17 kilogram animals [are the] same weight as a three-year-old child and it’s being hung upside down by its ankles – we’re actually seeing its feet rip off.
–Emma Hurst, Animal Liberation [x]
2. …they move along the production line to a stunning tank, an electrified water bath meant to stun and immobilize them. These are sometimes set lower than is necessary to truly render the birds unconscious out of concerns that high voltage might damage the carcass and therefore diminish its value.
A study by researchers at the Farm Animal Welfare Council found that around 25% of turkeys received accidental painful electric shocks as a result of this water bathing system for stunning, with many of the birds’ wings touching the water before the full procedure had begun.
3. …the conveyor belt then moves the birds to a mechanical neck cutter that cuts the major blood vessels in the neck. [xi]
Often, struggling birds are cut improperly. As a result they are moved, fully conscious, to the scalding tank, where they are boiled alive.
Another method, known as Controlled Atmosphere Stunning, entails the use of gas to render turkeys unconscious while still in their transport crates before removing them for slaughter. It is expensive to install and maintain, as well as being somewhat complicated to get right—the wrong mixture or proportion of gases can result in significant suffering. Some research shows that if done correctly it may eliminate some of the usual traumas of the slaughter process. This method is not widely used in Australia for poultry; it is common, however, in Britain. [xii], [xiii]
Video of undercover investigation at Inghams turkey abattoir, 2013:
In 2013, Australian animal advocacy group Animal Liberation received undercover footage of Ingham’s turkey abattoir, located southwest of Sydney, and discovered rampant and intentional cruelty. As the birds were placed into shackles, workers punched and kicked them. Some coworkers would repeatedly hit and punch the same turkey as it moved along the production line. One even attempted to pull a turkey’s head off by catching it in the edge of a cage as it was carried along. Other workers bashed birds against walls and cages and stomped them into the floor until they stopped moving. [xiv]
You can see a total disrespect of these animals. There are scenes where they’ve put the music up very, very loud, the workers are screaming, jumping about, dancing, picking up the turkeys, dancing while holding onto the turkeys, throwing them onto the shackles, and just that whole mentality as though these animals don’t have feelings, that they’re objects.
–Emma Hurst, Animal Liberation [xv]
Intelligence and character
Turkeys are native to North America. In the wild, they are quick, cunning birds who can run 40 kilometres per hour. They are also powerful in flight, able to reach speeds of over 85 kilometres per hour! Turkeys spend their days foraging for vegetation and insects; in the evenings, they fly up into the trees to roost.
Female turkeys are great parents. Even before the eggs hatch, the mother turkey and her babies (known as “poults”) cluck to one another. Once they have hatched, the mother turkey guards her babies valiantly, gathering them under her wings to sleep at night as well as periodically during the day for warmth and protection. For the first month, it is rare for baby turkeys and their mothers to be separated at all, and for another five months after that, they remain under their mother’s care and teaching.
People who are fortunate enough to know turkeys have found that they are friendly, curious creatures with engaging personalities. They display strong affection towards humans and love to interact with us, responding in ways very similar to our beloved companion dogs and cats. They enjoy being pet and even make a purring sound when they are happy and content. [xvi] And as poultry scientist and animal science professor Tom Savage discovered, “If you throw an apple to a group of turkeys, they’ll play with it together…kind of like football.” [xvii]
They communicate their emotions to one another using a variety of vocalisations, up to 20 in fact, all with unique meanings. Observed by wildlife biologist William Healy: “turkeys recognise one another by their voices as well as their head characteristics. To turkeys, the voices of other turkeys are unique and recognisable.” [xviii]
Number consumed in Australia
Approximately 5 million turkeys are slaughtered in Australia each year, with the majority of them being consumed during the Christmas season.
A heartwarming video of eight turkeys, rescued from an Australian factory farm and now living at Edgar’s Mission, a sanctuary in Victoria:
[i] RSPCA Australia, What are the welfare issues relating to turkey production?. Available at: http://kb.rspca.org.au/What-are-the-welfare-issues-relating-to-turkey-production_431.html [Accessed 11 November 2014]
[ii] Primary Industries Standing Committee, 2002. Model Code of Practice for the Welfare of Animals, Domestic Poultry 4th Edition. Available at: http://www.publish.csiro.au/Books/download.cfm?ID=3451 [Accessed 11 November 2014]
[iii] Kristensen, H., and Wathes, C.M., 2000. ‘Ammonia and poultry welfare: a review’. World’s Poultry Science Journal 56(3) pp.235-45.
[v] Farm Sanctuary News, Unnatural Breeding Techniques and Results in Modern Turkey Production, Winter 2007
[vi] United Poultry Concerns, Debeaking: Poultry Researcher Speaks Out. Available at: http://www.upc-online.org/debeaking/poultry_researcher.html [Accessed: 11 November 2014]
[vii] Gentle, M., 1990. ‘Behavioural evidence for persistent pain following partial beak amputation’. Applied Animal Behaviour Science 27 pp. 149-157.
[viii] Primary Industries Standing Committee, 2002. Model Code of Practice for the Welfare of Animals, Domestic Poultry 4th Edition. Available at: http://www.publish.csiro.au/Books/download.cfm?ID=3451 [Accessed 10 November 2014]
[ix] Primary Industries Standing Committee, 2002. Model Code of Practice for the Welfare of Animals, Land Transport of Poultry, 2nd Edition. Available at: http://www.publish.csiro.au/Books/download.cfm?ID=5391 [Accessed 11 November 2014]
[x] Vincent, Michael, 21 March 2013. Footage shows ‘torture’ at Sydney turkey abattoir. ABC news. Available at: http://www.abc.net.au/news/2013-03-20/police-asked-to-investigate-turkey-cruelty/4585350 [Accessed 10 November 2014]
[xi] Primary Industries Standing Committee, 2002. Model Code of Practice for the Welfare of Animals, Domestic Poultry 4th Edition. Available at: http://www.publish.csiro.au/Books/download.cfm?ID=3451 [Accessed 10 November 2014]
[xii] United Poultry Concerns, 2004. Scientific Expert Urges Less Cruel Method of Killing Chickens and Other Birds; McDonald’s is Considering This Method. Poultry Press, Winter 2004-2005. Available at: http://www.upc-online.org/winter0405/drraj.htm [Accessed 11 November 2014]
[xiii] Primary Industries Standing Committee, 2002. Model Code of Practice for the Welfare of Animals, Livestock at Slaughtering Establishments. Available at: http://www.publish.csiro.au/Books/download.cfm?ID=2975 [Accessed 10 November 2014]
[xv] Levy, Megan, 21 March 2013. ‘Torture for fun’: police given shocking abattoir footage. Sydney Morning Herald. Available at: http://www.smh.com.au/national/torture-for-fun-police-given-shocking-abattoir-footage-20130321-2ggm2.html [Accessed 10 November 2014]
[xvi] Hatkoff, A., 2009. The inner world of farm animals: Their amazing, social, emotional, and intellectual capacities. New York: Stewart, Tabori and Chang.
[xvii] Hougham, Aaron, date unknown, OSU poultry scientist gets word out about Thanksgiving’s most underappreciated bird. The Daily Barometer. Available at: http://www.upc-online.org/turkeys/120403notdumb.htm [Accessed 11 November 2014]