The total number of turkeys raised for food in Canada is estimated at 6.1 million animals. There are over 2,200 turkey farms across Canada. While the vast majority of turkey is eaten during the holidays, turkeys are raised year-round all over Canada.
Life of a turkey
Similar to broiler chickens, the life of a turkey starts at the hatchery. Hatcheries produce fertilized eggs that will develop and hatch into baby turkeys called poults within 28 days. Poults are then sold to a turkey farmer who raises the turkeys until they are ready for market. Turkeys will reach market weight at approximately 11 to 17 weeks of age, at which point they are sent to slaughter.
The most common turkey breed farmed commercially is the Broad-Breasted White, which, like its name, suggests it has all white feathers. Today’s turkeys grow 120 per cent faster than farmed turkeys did in the 1930’s.
What are the main concerns for turkey welfare?
- Painful practices:
Beak trimming, toe trimming and de-snooding (removal of the fleshy bit covering a turkey’s beak) are painful practices turkeys may have to endure on Canadian farms. They are typically performed on poults at the hatchery to remove parts that are likely to be injured (snood) or to remove parts that cause injury to other birds (toes, beak). These practices are done without pain medication or veterinary supervision, and can cause lasting pain and distress to turkeys.
- Space and enrichment:
Turkeys need lots of space to move around and express natural behaviours. They like being able to perch up high to watch for predators, explore their surroundings and forage for food on the ground. Unfortunately, conventional farms often confine turkeys in cramped spaces and without enrichment. As a result, birds may become bored, frustrated and aggressive, and may pluck out each others’ feathers or even begin to cannibalize one another.
Like broiler chickens, turkeys have been carefully bred over the past few decades to grow as quickly as possible. While this is a step forward for efficient meat production and produces more meat in a short time, it has terrible consequences for the birds’ welfare. Similar to broiler chickens, these rapidly growing, top-heavy turkeys suffer from bone deformities and other abnormalities that can lead to death.
Many turkeys die while being trucked from farm to slaughter. Death by heat exhaustion or even freezing to death are far too common. Those birds that survive the journey are hungry, thirsty, crowded, dirty and wet after the long and arduous trip. How to safely transport thousands of birds at once is an ongoing problem for conventional farms. Learn more about farm animal transport.
Support a better life for turkeys
By choosing higher-welfare food products, you can help turkeys lead better lives and support the farmers who care for them. Learn more about shopping for higher-welfare turkey products.
We are always working to build a better future for farm animals in B.C. and across Canada, but we need your help. Help us speak for farm animals by taking action.
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