Over 242 million turkeys are raised for meat annually in the United States.
Turkeys suffer similar welfare problems as do chickens raised for meat. Industrial turkey farms confine birds inside huge sheds that are often windowless and artificially ventilated. Large industrial operations can house 10,000 birds in one building. The birds are packed tightly together with only about 2.5 square feet for females and 4 square feet for males. It is standard practice to perform painful mutilations such as beak, toe and snood (part of the waddle) removal to prevent turkeys from injuring or cannibalizing each other in the intensely crowded quarters. High mortality rates are common; millions of turkeys die on the farm before they can be sent to slaughter.
High levels of ammonia contribute to very poor air quality and painful irritations to the turkeys’ feet. Lighting is intentionally kept low to minimize aggression and activity so birds gain wait more rapidly. An especially serious welfare problems is that the turkeys are genetically selected to grow at such an abnormally fast rate that their bodies cannot keep up. Turkeys grow so big they are unable to mate naturally; the industry must use artificial insemination to breed them. Breeding turkeys have their feed rationed, leaving them hungry, just to keep down the rapid weight gain programmed into their genes so as to keep them alive longer.
High-welfare, pasture-based farms represent a dramatic welfare improvement for turkeys. They raise turkeys who mature at a normal rate in modest-sized flocks. Artificial insemination is typically prohibited. Birds on pasture can run, fly, stretch and flap their wings, and have access to forage, dust baths, fresh air and sunlight. Beak, toe, snood or other mutilations are usually prohibited.