Thanksgiving’s Toll on Turkeys

Thanksgiving’s Toll on Turkeys

Turkeys used for meat suffer horribly on factory farms. Most spend their entire lives without ever setting foot outdoors. Genetically manipulated to grow extremely fast in order to achieve “market weight” at a young age, they are slaughtered at a fraction of their natural lifespan. An estimated 46 million turkeys are killed each year for Thanksgiving alone. Here, we take a look inside the industrial machine.


With as many as 10,000 birds packed into a single building, turkeys are confined so tightly that each individual bird typically has only 2.5 to 4 square feet of floor space for her entire life. This space only becomes tighter as turkeys grow larger, and the air in these crowded buildings can become so dusty and ammonia-filled that birds have trouble breathing and suffer from irritated, swollen eyes.

Crippling Weight

Turkeys used for meat are selectively bred to grow rapidly and excessively. In just four months, they balloon to a size three times larger than full-grown, wild male turkeys. Because their skeletons are not adapted to support their rapidly growing bodies, domestic turkeys are prone to lameness, deformities, and crippling leg pain.

De-beaking and De-toeing

The incredible stress of being overcrowded on factory farms can cause turkeys to injure each other with sharp beaks and toes. Rather than give the birds more space, producers commonly address the issue by cutting off portions of turkeys’ beaks and toes with shears, a hot blade, or a high-voltage electrical current. These painful mutilations, which are inflicted on newly hatched baby turkeys, are unaccompanied by any pain relief or anesthetic.

Unnatural Behavior

Domesticated turkeys cannot reproduce naturally. Male turkeys are bred to develop such large breasts that they cannot mount females. Artificial insemination managed by humans is the only way breeding is possible in the turkey industry.


When they reach market weight, at about three to five months of age, turkeys are packed into crates and transported to slaughter. Reports indicate that rough handling during crating inflicts severe injuries, such as dislocated hips and wing fractures. Due in part to the stress of transport, each year hundreds of thousands of turkeys die before they even reach the slaughterhouse. The ones who make it alive are shackled upside down by their feet for slaughter while they are still alive and fully conscious.