The Secret Lives of Turkeys

Tessa: This weekend Taya and Ella, our nieces stayed overnight at our house. Life sure is different with kids. On Sunday morning at 10:00 am instead of lolling about in bed, we were standing at the gates of a petting zoo, Maple Wood Farms, which is just down the road from us. It was cool because you could see all these animals up close and pet them. They had these miniature pygmy goats that were amazingly sweet and friendly, horses, cows, bunnies, chickens, geese and one single turkey.

Dave joked and said “Oh here’s Christmas dinner.” It occured to me that I knew nothing about the lives of turkeys even though I had eaten many in the past. So I went hunting and found this article. It’s not for the faint of heart but it has some interesting facts about these birds.

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The Hidden Lives of Turkeys

In This Feature

Fascinating Facts

Nothing to Be Thankful for

Many people think of turkeys as little more than a holiday centerpiece, but turkeys are social, playful birds who enjoy the company of others. They relish having their feathers stroked and like to chirp, cluck, and gobble along to their favorite tunes. Anyone who spends time with them on farm sanctuaries quickly learns that turkeys are as varied in personality as dogs and cats.

When not forced to live on filthy factory farms, turkeys spend their days caring for their young, building nests, foraging for food, taking dustbaths, preening themselves, and roosting high in trees. Read on to learn more fascinating turkey facts.

Talkin’ Turkey
Ben Franklin had tremendous respect for their resourcefulness, agility, and beauty—he called the turkey “a bird of courage” and “a true original native of America.” Franklin even suggested naming the turkey, instead of the eagle, as our national bird.
Turkeys have been genetically modified to gain weight rapidly because fatter turkeys mean fatter wallets for farmers. But in nature, the turkey’s athletic prowess is truly impressive. Wild turkeys can fly at speeds of up to 50 miles per hour and run at speeds of up to 15 miles per hour. The natural lifespan of the turkey is between 10 and 12 years, but on factory farms they are slaughtered when they’re just 5 months old.
Male turkeys, or “toms,” are bigger and have more colorful plumage than female turkeys, or “hens.” The males attract females with their wattles, colorful flaps of skin around their necks, and tufts of bristles that hang from their chests.
Turkeys are born with full-color vision just like our own, and in nature they stay with their mothers for up to the first five months of their lives. These gentle birds are very bonded to their young—in the wild, a mother turkey will courageously defend her family against predators.
Many respected researchers have spoken out on behalf of this intelligent, social bird. Oregon State University poultry scientist Tom Savage says, “I’ve always viewed turkeys as smart animals with personality and character, and keen awareness of their surroundings. The ‘dumb’ tag simply doesn’t fit.”
Even a popular turkey-hunting guide admits that turkeys are far from feather-brained. According to the Remington Guide to Turkey Hunting, turkeys will “test your wits as they are rarely tested in modern life.”
Erik Marcus, the author of Vegan: The New Ethics of Eating, has spent a considerable amount of time with turkeys on farm sanctuaries. He reports, “Turkeys remember your face and they will sit closer to you with each day you revisit. Come back day after day and, before long, a few birds will pick you out as their favorite and they will come running up to you whenever you arrive. It’s definitely a matter of the birds choosing you rather than of you choosing the birds. Different birds choose different people.”

Nothing to Be Thankful for

In This Feature

Fascinating Facts

Nothing to Be Thankful for

More than 45 million turkeys are killed each year at Thanksgiving, and more than 22 million die at Christmas.

Before ending up as holiday centerpieces, these gentle, intelligent birds spend five to six months on factory farms where thousands of them are packed into dark sheds with no more than 3.5 square feet of space per bird. Turkeys on factory farms are denied everything that is natural to them, such as foraging for food, dustbathing, and raising their young.

To keep the overcrowded birds from scratching and pecking each other to death, workers cut off portions of the birds’ toes and upper beaks with hot blades and de-snood the males (the snood is the flap of skin that runs from the beak to the chest). No pain relievers are used during any of these procedures.

Turkeys are genetically bred to grow as fast as possible, and they often become crippled under their own weight. A PETA investigator videotaped one turkey farmer beating sick and injured birds to death with a pole, a killing method deemed “standard industry practice.”

Turkeys won’t breathe fresh air or feel the sun on their backs until they’re shoved onto trucks bound for slaughter. They are transported for hours without food or water through all weather extremes—and many will die on this nightmarish journey.

At the slaughterhouse, the survivors are hung upside-down by their weak and crippled legs before their heads are dragged through an electrified “stunning tank,” which immobilizes but does not kill them. Many birds dodge the tank and are still fully conscious when their throats are slit. If the knife fails to properly cut the birds’ throats, they are scalded alive in the tank of boiling water used for feather removal.


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