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Turkey farming in Canada

Canadian farmers raise almost 10 million turkeys each year (source: 2016 census). While the vast majority of turkey is eaten during the holidays, turkeys are raised year-round all over Canada. In fact, more turkeys go to market each year than beef cattle!

The most common turkey breed farmed commercially is the Broad-Breasted White, which, like its name, suggests it has all white feathers.

Turkeys typically live for about 5-6 months on farms before being sent to slaughter. Today’s turkeys grow 120% faster than farmed turkeys did in the 1930’s.

What are the main concerns for turkey welfare?

  1. Painful practices:
    Beak trimming, toe trimming, de-snooding: these are a few of the painful practices turkeys may have to endure on Canadian farms. Beak trimming, toe trimming and de-snooding (removal of the fleshy bit covering a turkey’s beak) are performed on turkeys to minimize aggression resulting from being overcrowded in a barren barn. These practices are done without pain medication or veterinary supervision, and can cause lasting pain and distress to turkeys.
  2. 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.
  3. Genetics:
    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 a faster flock turnover, 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.

Support a better life for turkeys

SPCA Certified farmers prove that it’s possible to meet the needs of farmed turkeys. SPCA Certified standards include stringent requirements, such as:

  • SPCA Certified logoPainful practices, like de-snooding and toe trimming, are prohibited
  • Enrichment items like perches, straw bales and litter flooring to help turkeys express important natural behaviours, like perching, foraging, exploring and spreading their wings
  • Significantly more space to move around comfortably than the minimum amount of space required by the Canadian turkey industry

Farmers who successfully meet SPCA Certified standards are able to sell their foods with the program’s stamp of approval – the little red barn label. If you or someone you know eats turkey, you can help turkeys lead better lives and support the farmers who care for them by finding a SPCA Certified retailer near you.

Understand your food labels

When shopping for humane turkey products, pay careful attention to the labels. Here are a few quick tips for finding the right turkey products:

  1. Green light: best choices for welfare.
    Certifications like SPCA Certified, Certified Organic and Animal Welfare Approved are your best options for supporting higher welfare farming practices. These farms have been regularly audited to strict requirements for animal care and welfare.
  2. Yellow light: next best choice.
    Free range turkeys come from farms that give the birds some outdoor access, weather permitting. Pasture-raised turkeys receive access to a seeded outdoor pasture to forage on and explore.
  3. Red light: these labels are misleading!
    Don’t be fooled by claims like ‘vegetarian fed’ or ‘natural’. Without a certification or a meaningful description of animal care, these labels do not mean better treatment for the birds. Further, free run and cage-free are empty labeling claims for turkey meat since turkeys are never housed in cages in Canada. Free run turkey labeling claims are often an attempt to make more money from your good intentions since many people assume if the meat is not free run, it must come from birds in caged housing. However, turkeys are always raised free run unless labeled free range or organic (both of which are also cage-free). You can take a stand against this misleading labeling by reporting it to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA).

Get the full story on ethical food labels.

Take action for all farm animals

Photo credit: We Animals

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 animals by participating in any of our farm animal welfare campaigns.

You can also learn where we stand on some of the key issues and subscribe to our quarterly FarmSense e-newsletter to stay up-to-date on our initiatives.

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