This time of year is supposed to be joyous, but it fills me with sorrow. As the cofounder of Animal Place, a sanctuary for rescued farmed animals, I’m mindful that tens of millions of turkeys are tortured and killed for the Thanksgiving table alone. The holidays are a time for us to express gratitude for family, friends and all the good things in our lives, yet how can we celebrate our good fortune when we’re gathered around the carcass of an abused animal? If everyone could spend time with these sweet, friendly birds, they would see that turkeys are unique animals with individual personalities and interests—not centerpieces.
The turkeys living at Animal Place are social, smart and curious. They have a wide repertoire of sounds—from soft, soothing cooing noises to gobbling greetings. Visitors are often amazed that the turkeys greet and escort them around the farm. One rescued turkey, Eliza, who is up for adoption through our foster parent program, loves trilling turkey songs to those who come to see her. Eliza’s upper beak has been removed, and the ends of her toes were severed—routine procedures on turkey farms—but she doesn’t let that stop her from enjoying life.
A number of these beautiful birds live at Animal Place. A colleague found a young male turkey outside a slaughterhouse in California’s central valley and brought him to us. We named him Taylor. Although he had no visible injuries, Taylor was covered in blood, presumably from his former “cell mates.” Years ago, a kind-hearted woman rescued 10 turkey chicks from a factory farm and brought them to the sanctuary. They were so small, we kept them inside a barn stall until they grew their primary feathers and were big enough to comfortably commingle with the adult birds in the poultry yard. Several are still here, all grown up, and the females get along quite well with the chickens I rescued from Mississippi after Hurricane Katrina.
It is heartbreaking to see how badly the turkeys brought to us have been abused. On factory farms, turkeys spend five to six months in dark, crowded sheds with tens of thousands of other birds. Flapping even one wing is practically impossible. The birds breathe burning ammonia fumes from all the waste in the polluted sheds. Their snoods (the fleshy appendage below the upper beak) are chopped off. The ends of their toes and part of their beaks are also cut off—without any painkillers—to keep the birds from injuring one another in the overcrowded conditions. These procedures cause chronic and acute pain.
Because they’ve been “debeaked,” many of our rescued turkeys cannot pick at the fresh corncobs that birds normally enjoy. We break up lettuce into bite-size pieces for them and split melons in half so they can peck at the soft flesh of the fruit. They adore grapes, which they are able to pick up and eat whole.
Factory-farmed turkeys are bred to grow quickly—they are slaughtered at about 18 weeks, weighing around 28 pounds. After they’re fattened for slaughter, they’re rounded up and roughly shoved into transport crates. When they reach the slaughterhouse, they’re hung upside-down by their legs onto a moving conveyer belt. They thrash and flail to right themselves, but to no avail. The exhausted animals are then electrocuted, their throats are slit and they are plunged into scalding-hot water and dismembered.
When you eat turkey, you are supporting this needless cruelty. There are other options, from enjoying all the trimmings minus the turkey to trying one of the ready-made vegetarian feasts available from Tofurky, Garden Protein and other companies.
This holiday season how about giving up the bird, even for just one meal? Your action will make this world a little kinder—and that’s the true holiday spirit.