It’s been said that art imitates life—but in the case of one of our most recent rescues, art saved a couple lives as well.

Tutu turkey was born on a factory farm and, had all gone to plan, she would have been slaughtered for someone’s Thanksgiving dinner. Instead, a New York City artist rescued her with the intent of featuring the poult in her latest project.

Of the approximately 240 million turkeys slaughtered in America each year, more than 46 million turkeys die at Thanksgiving alone. The artist hoped her project could inspire compassionate traditions instead; by sharing how special Tutu was, she hoped to inspire others to stop or reduce their consumption of farm animals like her.

The project never took flight, however, as the school wouldn’t let her keep a bird in her studio. Sympathetic to Tutu’s fate, they suggested she contact the Wild Bird Fund (WBF)—New York City’s sole wildlife rehabilitation center—to ensure that Tutu would get the care she needed. Although this meant the end of the student’s art project, Tutu still earned her 15 minutes of fame: local media shared her slaughter to salvation story, helping the artist’s message reach a larger audience after all.

Tutu on CBS New York

At WBF, workers patched up the scrapes and bruises that Tutu got from the slaughterhouse. While they were happy to provide a short-term respite, Tutu would soon need a permanent home. They asked Farm Sanctuary if we could take her … along with a stray hen they had named Cardi Beak! She might have faced trauma as well—perhaps surviving exploitation for her eggs, or escaping slaughter at a live market. We agreed to give both birds a safe place to land, and took them home to our New York Sanctuary.

Tutu at the Wild Bird Fund

We place all incoming animals on strict isolation, until we can confirm that they are healthy enough to live with others. Once Tutu and Cardi Beak’s results came back clear, we could think about which flocks would be best for them to join.

Now, social Cardi Beak lives with an outgoing flock of chickens, whose members spend their days roaming the path outside their barn. Tutu will soon join our turkey barn flock: a “girls only” space, with the exception of two roosters.

Cardi Beak settles into Farm Sanctuary life

While hens and roosters can often live together safely—there just needs to be a larger hen to rooster ratio—this is rarely the case for our turkey friends. That’s because today’s turkeys are unnaturally bred in such a way that most males and females cannot cohabit; due to their excessive size, “toms” can crush the “hens” while trying to mate. Not that they even can mate, by the way: their excessive size makes it impossible. Virtually all reproduction in farmed turkeys takes place through artificial insemination, a reminder that there is nothing “natural” about turkey production.

Slaughtered for food at just four to five months old, modern turkeys look very different from their ancestors. In the 1930s, for example, turkeys averaged 13.2 pounds at slaughter—not unlike the size of their wild counterparts. Tutu already weighed 16 pounds when she arrived at Farm Sanctuary … and most turkeys today weigh more than 30 pounds when they reach the kill floor.

As you can imagine, this weight puts incredible strain on a turkey’s growing body, and can have long-lasting repercussions. Few farmers care, however: they don’t mean for their turkeys to live for very long. So, when permitted to grow up and live out their lives at sanctuary, some develop serious health defects—from breathing issues to heart disease to arthritis—because of their genetics. Still, under proper weight management and individualized care, Tutu and the rest of her turkey friends can have a chance at the normal, happy lives they deserve.

Tutu, Cardi Beak, and farm animals like them all deserve to be free as a bird—not trapped within America’s cruel farming system. These two now have vibrant lives, thanks to one artist who spurred a chain reaction of compassion. Like art, farm animals—and the atrocities that occur at their expense—require visibility to bring about meaningful change. It’s time we see the worth farm animals possess, exactly as they are.