12 Reasons You May Never Want To Eat Turkey Again

1. Newborn Turkeys Search And Call For Their Mothers, Never Get To Be With Them

Turkeys are very family oriented. In natural conditions, turkey hens are devoted mothers who care diligently for their babies. Young turkeys, known as poults, learn crucial survival information from their mother, including what to eat, how to avoid predators, the layout of the home range, and important social behaviors. But on commercial farms, turkeys are hatched in incubators and crammed into warehouses with thousands of other motherless poults. It is confusing and hard on baby turkeys to never know a mother figure. It is also very sad. Check out this amazing clip of a hatching newborn turkey immediately searching for, and bonding with, his adoptive mother—who just so happens to be a man.

2. Turkeys Love To Be Petted

Loving Beatrice the turkey vegan thanksgiving

Beatrice the turkey loves affection. Photo by Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary.

Many turkeys, even those who have known great cruelty at human hands, will happily sit for hours having their feathers stroked. Loving Beatrice, above, a former factory farm turkey rescued by Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary, is a huge snugglebug despite having been mutilated by humans as a baby. And Clove the turkey hen (pictured below) loves to cuddle with her rescuers at Animal Place sanctuary.

Clover the turkey vegan thanksgiving

Andrea White with Clove the turkey hen at Animal Place sanctuary.

3. Turkeys Form Deep Friendships And Emotional Bonds


The turkey industry would have you believe that all emotion and intelligence have been bred right out of domestic turkeys. This four minute clip quickly dispels these pernicious myths by focusing on the powerful friendships of rescued factory farm turkeys. Please don’t miss it.

Susie Coston has worked with rescued farmed animals— including many, many turkeys— for nearly twenty years. In a moving tribute to a turkey named Hildy with whom she shared an 8 year friendship, Susie writes: “Prevalent in our society are some deep misconceptions about turkeys: that they lack intelligence, that they don’t have personalities, that there can be no kinship between humans and these animals who appear so very different from us. For eight years, Hildy walked up to people bearing such assumptions and completely disarmed them. No one who met this bright, charismatic bird could doubt that turkeys are individuals with minds, feelings, and unique characters – individuals with whom we can have connections, individuals with whom we can share friendship.”

“Hildy loved people. Partial to having her feathers stroked, she would sit with visitors for hours soaking up attention…Her best friends were fellow turkeys Kima, Rhonda, and Feather. They all adored spending time together and, when they weren’t at each other’s sides, would call out to one another to stay in touch. The companions loved to wander beneath the willow tree in the yard by their barn.”

4. Turkeys are Sexually Molested And Abused

Modern day turkeys have been bred to be so grotesquely large that they can’t even mate naturally. Commercial turkeys are “artificially inseminated”: the industry euphemism for roughly restraining female turkeys, turning them upside down, and violently shoving tubes or syringes of semen into their vaginas. To collect the semen, workers known as “milkers” restrain male turkeys and forcibly masturbate them until they ejaculate.

One worker describes his brief stint at a turkey hen breeding facility in Missouri: “The birds were terrified, and beat their wings and struggled in panic…Having been through this week after week, the birds feared the chute and bulked and huddled up. The drivers literally kicked them into the chute…I have never done such hard, dirty, disgusting work in my life: 10 hours of pushing birds, grabbing birds, wrestling birds, jerking them upside down, pushing open their vents, dodging their panic-blown excrement and breathing the dust stirred up by terrified birds.”

A writer for The Independent describes observing the “milking” of males: “The turkey was already upside down in Paul’s hands. He swiftly uncovered a hole amidst the feathers, gave it a couple of tweaks, and there was the turkey semen, looking like a bit of crumbly old toothpaste. ‘We take this,’ said Paul, ‘and suck it into a rubber tube. It’s then blown into the vagina.'”

Many people have made the case that the practices described here constitute rape: forced impregnation, and the violent sexual invasion of overpowered victims. (Have a look at the video above to see how violent and invasive this procedure really is.) Whether or not you agree with the terminology, it is indisputable that turkeys and other farmed animals are sexually molested, and their reproductive processes perversely violated, for human greed and profit. This is morally indefensible. For a thorough analysis of the sexual violation of all farmed animals, see Bruce Friedrich’s article, “Does Eating Meat Support Bestiality?”

5. Young Turkeys Are Brutally Mutilated Without Painkiller

Debeaked turkey poults. Image courtesy of Farm Sanctuary

Debeaked turkey poults. Image courtesy of Farm Sanctuary.

The extreme and unnatural crowding of turkeys on commercial farms is highly stressful, and causes them to be abnormally aggressive. Rather than make improvements to the birds’ environment, producers instead subject turkey poults (baby turkeys) to excruciating mutilations without anesthetic, simply cutting off “non-essential” body parts that could inflict or sustain injury. De-snooding involves cutting off the snood, the fleshy red protuberance that dangles over turkeys’ beaks and is used to attract mates. De-toeing, or toe-clipping, is a painful debilitation inflicted with shears or microwaves, and is practiced despite the fact that it is associated with lameness and higher early mortality. Debeaking is performed using sharp shears, a heated blade, or a high-voltage electrical current. Turkeys’ beaks are loaded with sensory receptors, much like human fingertips, and this painful procedure severs and exposes nerves. Some turkeys starve to death before they are able to eat again; others die of shock on the spot.

An article in the industry trade journal Turkey World summarizes it this way: “Poults come in one side of the service room bright eyed and bushy tailed. They are squeezed, thrown down a slide onto a treadmill, someone picks them up and pulls the snood off their heads, clips three toes off each foot, debeaks them, puts them on another conveyer belt that delivers them to another carousel where they get a power injection, usually of an antibiotic, that whacks them in the back of their necks. Essentially, they have been through major surgery. They have been traumatized. They don’t look very good.”

Check out undercover footage of shocking cruelty at the largest turkey hatchery in the U.S.

6. Life On Factory Farms (Including Many “Free Range” Farms) Is Living Hell

Modern turkey farms, including many farms whose products are sold under “free range” labels (see Deciphering Humane Labels and Loopholes), crowd up to 75,000 individuals into a single shed, meaning each turkey is given as little as 2.5 square feet of space in which to move around. Turkeys can barely move past one another, and must wade through layers of excrement and urine, which causes painful ulcers on their feet and breasts. The air in these sheds is so polluted with dust, pathogens and ammonia that most birds suffer from painful respiratory diseases and eye disorders, including swelling of the eyelids, discharge, clouding and ulceration of the cornea, and even blindness. There is a high rate of viral and bacterial infections, and sick or injured individuals frequently languish unnoticed. When found, they are typically killed via “cervical dislocation or the crushing of the head or vertebrae by striking the birds against a wall or with an object.” Overall, the welfare of commercial turkeys is so poor that industry production rates are set to absorb a pre-slaughter mortality rate of 7-10%, which translates to an “acceptable” loss of between 20 and 26 million birds every year in the U.S. alone.

In addition to these miserable conditions, investigations into modern turkey farms reveal the same horrific abuse year after year (see footage above), including “workers kicking and stomping on birds, dragging them by their fragile wings and necks, and maliciously throwing turkeys onto the ground or on top of other birds; birds suffering from serious untreated illnesses and injuries, including open sores, infections, and broken bones; and workers grabbing birds by their wings or necks and violently slamming them into tiny transport crates with no regard for their welfare.” — Mercy for Animals

7. Domestic Turkeys Still Share Much In Common With Wild Turkeys

wild turkey vegan thanksgiving

Wild turkey, wikimedia commons.

Much has been made by farmers and food writers (namely, those who profit from exploiting farmed animals) about the vast differences between the noble, intelligent, wild turkey, and domesticated turkeys on industrial farms — whom, we’re told, are stupid, clumsy, and so cognitively deficient they could never survive in the wild. In fact, domestic turkeys display the same instincts as their wild counterparts, and it is only because of frankensteinian genetic interference by humans that they cannot fulfill certain instinctive behaviors. Domestic turkeys suffer much shorter lifespans than wild turkeys because selective breeding for rapid growth of breast tissue (“meat”) means their organs and skeletons cannot keep up with their outsized exteriors; rescued turkeys frequently die within the first couple of years because their hearts cannot produce enough oxygen for their unnaturally large bodies. Their heavy-chestedness is also why they cannot fly or mate naturally, and why they often move with a difficult waddle, many eventually succumbing to total lameness. But as we saw in this video, domestic turkeys maintain complex vocabularies, social structures, cognitive abilities, and emotional lives. They are still closely related, genetically, psychologically, and neurobiologically, to their wild cousins. Whatever “deficiencies” they may exhibit by comparison are entirely the result of their ruthless manipulation by profiteering humans.

8. Turkeys Suffer Horribly During Transport And Slaughter

Nearly 46 million turkeys are killed for Thanksgiving every year in the U.S. alone. Slaughtered between 4 to 6 months of age, turkeys suffer unspeakable cruelty during their final hours of life. “Loading and transport to slaughter are extremely traumatic. “Catchers” enter the sheds in darkness to collect the birds as quickly as possible, grabbing them roughly by their ankles, carrying them upside down and stuffing them into crowded crates which are thrown onto flatbed trucks. In the process, many of the turkeys suffer broken wings and legs. Turkey carcasses are often downgraded or condemned in post-slaughter processing as a result of bruises and injuries sustained during transport. In addition, birds are legally transported for up to 36 hours without food or water, in open-sided crates where they are exposed to weather extremes from scorching heat to freezing sub-zero temperatures. Many birds do not survive. In 2007, of the 260 million turkeys slaughtered in the U.S., an estimated 988,000–nearly 1 million birds–died during crating and transport to slaughter.”

“At the slaughterhouse, turkeys are shackled by their feet and dragged upside down through an electrified water bath designed to stun them before their throats are cut. But in commercial slaughterhouses, the killing lines move so quickly that many of the turkeys are not properly stunned. The next station consists of an automated blade that cuts their throats as they pass by, causing them to slowly bleed to death. Those turkeys who were not properly stunned either suffer a slow, painful death, or continue to flap and writhe, and miss the blade. Tens of thousands of fully conscious turkeys whose throats were not slit proceed to the next station on the assembly line: the scalding tank, that loosens their feathers for removal. They are boiled alive.” — Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary

9. Nearly 1 Million Turkeys and Chickens “Accidentally” Boiled Alive Every Year In U.S.

Nearly one million turkeys and chickens are boiled alive every year in the U.S. Photo courtesy of PETA.

Nearly one million turkeys and chickens are boiled alive every year in the U.S. Photo courtesy of PETA.

According to a new article from The Washington Post, nearly 1 million chickens and turkeys are unintentionally boiled alive every year in U.S. slaughterhouses, where fast-moving lines often fail to kill the birds before they are dropped into the scalding tank.

Now the USDA is set to approve a proposal that will allow poultry companies to increase slaughter line speeds for the sake of maximizing efficiency and profit. This will undoubtedly result in more birds being scalded to death. According to USDA inspectors assigned to the plants, much of the cruelty they witness is a result of the rapid pace at which employees already work, struggling to flip thrashing birds upside down and shackle their ankles to the constantly moving “disassembly line.” When birds are not properly secured, or are improperly stunned, they miss the automated blade which slits their throats, and are still alive when they enter the scalder.

See the full story here.

10. “Humane” Turkey Slaughter Isn’t

A few days ago, in an effort to draw attention to the egregious misuse of the word “humane” by animal farmers, I shared a video here which had been posted to youtube as an example of humane turkey slaughter; a video in which the turkey is, quite literally, tortured to death. My intention was to show how much violence this misuse of the word “humane” really masks, and to emphasize that when we have no need to kill animals for food, there’s no such thing as humane slaughter — just as there’s no such thing as humanely mugging someone in order to steal their sunglasses. I was also hoping the video might lead some potential purchasers of “humanely raised” Thanksgiving turkeys to reconsider their choices. I am aware, though, that that video is not representative of the slaughtering techniques on many small and so-called humane turkey farms. So I found one that is.

The above footage represents what most humane farming advocates would consider a “high welfare” death, a best case scenario slaughter that “exhibits respect and care,” with appropriate solemnity for the gravity of the deed. And while I have no doubt that this turkey hen had a nice life (albeit a breathtakingly short one), the quality of her life has zero bearing on the cruelty of her death, except to add betrayal of trust and affection to the list of injuries she endures at the hands of her caregiver-turned-killer. I don’t know what’s worse: the near pathological indifference to suffering displayed by the “humane” farmer in the previous video, or the sham piety displayed by this farmer, and the fabricated narrative of cosmic inevitability she imposes onto the turkey’s slaughter in order to feel okay about it: “They know — this is what they’re here for, is this amazing feast,” which is to say, Killing this turkey is something that had to be done, of course. Except, of course, that it didn’t. It bears repeating: decades of scientific evidence have irrefutably demonstrated that humans have no biological need to consume meat, milk or eggs. When we have plentiful access to plant-based foods, and a choice between sparing life or taking it — there is nothing remotely “humane” about inflicting violence and death on others just because we like the taste of their flesh and secretions.

Notice, too, the disingenuous maternal rhetoric: “I love these turkeys…they’re good babies…I’ll miss them a lot.” This is humane-washing at its best, and willful self delusion at its worst. Watch the video, then answer me this: what kind of person would do that to any creature they truly cared for and loved?

11. Compassion toward all animals doesn’t have to be taught; it is only untaught.

Which lesson are you teaching your kids this Thanksgiving?

To honor their compassion?

girl with turkey friend vegan thanksgiving

Photo by Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary

Or to destroy it?

little girl turkey compassion vegan thanksgiving

The Reuben R. Sallows Digital Library: “Killing turkey” by Reuben R. Sallows, Huron County, Ontario (Canada), 1912.

12. Delicious Plant-Based Turkey Alternatives Abound

Vegan Turkey Alternatives vegan thanksgiving

Delicious vegan holiday main dish ideas. Collage: Ashley Capps.

From frozen faux-turkeys that taste like the real thing, to mouth-watering, protein-packed grain roasts, there are tons of tantalizing Turkey Alternatives that can take center stage at any Thanksgiving table. Whether you’re looking for store-bought, order-online, or make-your-own options, it’s easy and delicious to veganize your favorite holiday main dishes. For a great list of options, check out Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary’s Guide to Turkey Alternatives and Other Delicious Main Dish Ideas.

Dishes pictured in the image above, clock-wise from top left:

1. Tofurky Roast: available in some stores and many stores will special order for you.

2. Maple-Apple Cider Tofu With Stuffing and Apple Cranberry Chutney, recipe from Vegan Dad

3. Vegan Pastrami Roast, recipe from The Vegbergers

4. Native Foods Wellington (large center image): A long, loaf-shaped, elegant puff pastry filled with savory Seitan, stuffing, orange-glazed sweet potatoes, kale, and herbed mushrooms. Served with mushroom shallot gravy. Available for order online or in select Native Foods stores.

5. Amazing Seitan Roast Stuffed With Shiitakes And Leeks, recipe from Isa Chandra/ The Post Punk Kitchen

6. Match Meats, Stuffed Holiday Roast: Match Meats creates some of the most authentic, realistic-tasting vegan meats out there. At only $13.99 (serves 6), the Holiday Roast is one of the budget-friendlier options. Available in some stores and for order online.

7. Field Roast, Wild Rice Cranberry Fig Roast En Croute: available in some stores, and many stores will special order for you.

8. Savory Country-Fried Seitan Cutlets with Spiced Breadcrumbs and Maple Marinade, recipe from Kathy Patalsky

NEW!! The wildly popular plant-based meats company, Gardein, has debuted a knock-your-socks-off-delicious vegan Holiday Roast, pictured below:

Gardein's mouthwatering Holiday Roast. Look for it in the frozen section of your grocery store.

Gardein’s mouthwatering Holiday Roast. Look for it in the frozen section of your grocery store.

Look for it in the frozen section of your grocery store. Many retailers like Target and Wal-Mart carry Gardein products as well. You can also ask your store to order the product for you. Visit the Gardein site to find out which stores nearest you carry their foods.

vegan turkey

Vegan Herb Roasted Chik’n from The Gentle Chef Cookbook.

Also check out this mouth-watering recipe gallery from Chef Skye-Michael Conroy’s The Gentle Chef Cookbook. Chef Conroy has pretty much veganized every meat, egg, and cheese dish on the planet, in an effort to make it as easy (and delicious) as possible for animal food lovers to go vegan without feeling deprived. His plant-based meat recipes are made from seitan, and include easy, step-by-step instructions for all the traditional holiday meat centerpieces, including vegan versions of Baked Ham, Herb Roasted Chicken, and Carving Board Roast Turkey. Other recipes include vegan bacon, sausage, sandwich meat slices, nuggets, meatballs…the list goes on and on. See for yourself!

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Please remember, it’s not just turkeys who suffer and die needlessly. Nearly 10 billion land animals are slaughtered for food every ear in the U.S. alone. 3 million of those are young dairy cows who are killed when their overworked bodies stop producing as much milk. Please visit our Guide to Going Dairy Free to learn about amazing plant-based milks, whipped creams, cheeses, yogurts and much more. And please learn more about the cruel dairy industry here.

About Ashley Capps

Ashley Capps is a poet, freelance writer and editor, and vegan activist. Her first book of poems is Mistaking the Sea for Green Fields. For more information on her poetry or advocacy writing, please visit http://ashley-capps.tumblr.com/. She also keeps a vegan/animal blog at Alpha Bêtes.

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20 comments

  1. Hey this is a great article! It lacks of quotes/references and links, though. People often believe that these facts are only referred to industrial-meet cases. The “humane” slaughter article is a good answer for them, but it would be a lot better to expose the facts in full transparency, if possible.
    Thanks.

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