Dark, filthy warehouses that reek of excrement. Masses of animals in distress. Mutilated beaks and toes. Sick, injured birds left to suffer and die without anyone to help them. These are not the kinds of images we tend to think about at Thanksgiving, yet they are indicative of the reality faced by more than 46 million turkeys raised every year in the U.S. for this holiday alone.
Selectively bred by the industry to grow extremely large and fast, and fed high-calorie diets designed for rapid weight gain, today's commercially-raised turkeys become so top heavy that their legs can barely hold them. The birds have been so profoundly altered that they also cannot breed naturally, and so the industry relies on artificial insemination as the sole means of reproduction.
Commercially-raised turkeys are packed by the thousands in factory farms, where each is allotted just three square feet of space. The crowded, stressed birds are unable to engage in natural behaviors and resort to pecking and fighting. To minimize resulting harm, the industry painfully removes portions of the birds' beaks and toes, leaving them disfigured for life.
And as if this were not bad enough, the deplorable conditions these birds are raised in, paired with their unnatural genetic makeup, lead to illness and injury, and many birds on factory farms are left to languish without care and die. Those who do survive are shipped to slaughterhouses where, exempt from animal protection laws, they meet an equally brutal end. For turkeys, this is the sad truth behind Thanksgiving.
Fortunately, there is an alternative, and more citizens are being inspired to embrace a kinder tradition. For more than two decades, Farm Sanctuary's Adopt-A-Turkey Project has raised awareness about the plight of turkeys on factory farms, and provided individuals who care about farm animals with opportunities to make a difference. And this year, with Ellen DeGeneres as our 2010 spokesperson, we expect to reach more people than ever before!
One of the principal aspects of this campaign is our turkey sponsorship program through which anyone can "adopt" one of our rescued Farm Sanctuary residents. For a one-time donation that goes towards the daily care of turkeys who live at our shelters and other efforts to protect farm animals, sponsors receive an adoption certificate that they can put on display, reminding everyone who sees it that behind every turkey dinner was once a living, breathing individual with desires, feelings and a life of his or her own. It is a powerful reminder that we can all make a different choice.
Through our Farm Animal Adoption Network, Farm Sanctuary physically adopts out rescued turkeys to loving, permanent homes too. This annual event, called Turkey Express, shatters conceptions that some animals are for eating while others are for loving. Like cats and dogs, turkeys are social, sensitive animals who deserve to be treated as part of a family and given a comfortable home to call their own. Through the years we have helped hundreds of turkeys from factory farms meet this far happier end.
The Adopt-A-Turkey Project also offers educational resources, as well as tips and ideas on how to open hearts and minds, for anyone who wants to join us in promoting compassion around the holiday. This year, we've created a new video, Thanksgiving's Toll on Turkeys, that incorporates all the investigations we've done at turkey production facilities throughout the years and offers solutions to end these cruel practices. We are also petitioning President Obama for the third year running to adopt a new tradition by sending the turkeys he pardons this year to Farm Sanctuary, where they can receive the best care possible.
Finally, we are hosting hundreds of people at our Orland, California and Watkins Glen, New York Shelters for our Celebrations FOR the Turkeys, where we serve vegan holiday meals not only to our human guests, but to our turkey residents as well. This Feeding of the Turkeys ceremony, in which rescued turkeys are fed a feast of their favorite treats, is a fun, and often deeply moving, experience for many people, and the attention the event draws from media helps spread our message of compassion far and wide.
Every year, all of these efforts work together to encourage millions of people to rethink the role turkeys play in the Thanksgiving holiday. The more our fellow citizens become educated about the cruelty that goes on behind the closed doors of our nation's factory farms, the less sense it makes that we feast on these maligned birds as symbols of gratitude, and the more natural it becomes to spare a life in the spirit of thankfulness that shines this time of year.