This year, 46 million turkeys will be slaughtered for Thanksgiving alone. Year round, it's between 250 and 300 million. The treatment of the turkeys and all animals seems to be getting worse by the year because demand is growing. Thanks to Farm Sanctuary, you can adopt a turkey instead of eating one:
Crowded by the thousands into huge, factory-like warehouses, female turkeys raised for slaughter in the U.S. are typically allotted 2.5 square-feet of space per bird, while toms are given a mere 3.5 square-feet of space each. The typical 50’ X 500’ factory farm warehouse holds approximately 10,000 hens or 7,000 toms. The overcrowded birds, who are unable to comfortably move, or exhibit natural behaviors, are driven to excessive pecking and fighting. To reduce injuries, factory farmers cut off the ends of their beaks and toes, practices know as debeaking and detoeing. These painful mutilations are performed without anesthesia and can result in excessive bleeding, infections and death.
Today's turkeys have been genetically altered to grow twice as fast, and twice as large, as their ancestors. Putting the growth rate of today's turkeys into perspective, Lancaster Farming reports, "If a seven pound [human] baby grew at the same rate that today's turkey grows, when the baby reaches 18 weeks of age, it would weigh 1,500 pounds." Although this rapid growth poses a serious threat to the animals’ health and welfare, the turkey industry continues pushing to grow bigger birds.
Between 1991 and 2000, the weight of the average turkey raised commercially in the U.S. increased by 20 percent, from an average of 21.5 pounds to an average of 25.8 pounds. In 2006, commercially-raised turkey hens weighed an average of 15.3 pounds at the time of slaughter. Turkey males (toms) weighed an average of 33 pounds. Overweight turkeys are susceptible to heart disease and their legs have difficulty supporting their unwieldy bodies. An industry journal laments “...turkeys have been bred to grow faster and heavier but their skeletons haven't kept pace, which causes 'cowboy legs'. Commonly, the turkeys have problems standing, and fall and are trampled on or seek refuge under feeders, leading to bruises and downgrading as well as culled or killed birds.” (Feedstuffs)
To meet consumer demand for breast meat, commercial turkeys have been anatomically manipulated to have abnormally large breasts. As a result, the birds cannot mount and reproduce naturally, and the industry now relies on artificial insemination as the sole means of reproduction. Unlike their wild ancestors, modern turkeys are white. The turkeys’ natural bronze color leaves pigment on the carcass, upsetting consumers, and so the birds’ natural color was removed through genetic engineering. Click here to read an eyewitness report from a turkey breeding facility.
Turkeys reach slaughter weight at 14 to 18 weeks, at which time they are transported to the slaughterhouse. Workers roughly grab turkeys by the legs and literally throw the birds into crates which are stacked on the back of trucks. The crates have open sides and do not protect the birds. During transport, the birds are exposed to extreme weather conditions and may die of heat stress in the summer or freeze to death in the winter. Turkeys and other farm animals may be legally transported up to 36 hours without food, water or rest.
The fully conscious turkeys are hung by their feet from metal shackles on a moving rail. The first station on most poultry slaughterhouse assembly lines is the stunning tank, where the turkeys' heads are submerged in an electrified bath of water. Stunning procedures are not monitored, and are often inadequate, leaving fully conscious birds to continue along the slaughterhouse assembly line. Some slaughterhouses do not even attempt to render turkeys unconscious, as turkeys and other poultry are specifically excluded from the Humane Slaughter Act, which requires stunning.
After passing through the stunning tank, the turkeys' throats are slashed, usually by a mechanical blade, and blood begins rushing out of their bodies. Inevitably, the blade misses some turkeys who then proceed to the next station on the assembly line, the scalding tank. Here they are submerged in boiling hot water, and turkeys missed by the killing blade are boiled alive.