I grew up with turkeys on my dinner plate or as cartoon figures drawn around five little fingers.
Like any animal, there's always so much more to learn!
Like the Native Americans (Indians), turkeys are another victim of colonial naming confusion so great that I hope you can explain it to me.
400 years ago, the English market confused the American bird with an African bird that they already called a turkey because it was shipped via Turkey.
Wild turkeys live in woods in parts of North America. They were introduced to New Zealand (where I live) around the 1890s. The large park near my parents' house generally hosts a flock of wild turkeys.
They spend their days foraging for food like acorns, seeds, small insects and wild berries. They spend their nights in low branches of trees.
Yes, wild turkeys get to fly!
They weigh about 8 kgs and can live up to 13 years (average 3-4 in the wild). Turkeys have sharp full colour eyesight and fast evasive action when in danger including running (up to 29 km/hour) and flying (up to 88 km/hour).
Wild turkeys communicate using a wide array of different vocal calls, including gobbles, clucks, putts, yelps, and whistles. Strutting is also used by males as a form of communication, to attract females and intimidate other males.
Each spring male turkeys try to befriend as many females as possible. Male turkeys puff up their bodies and spread their tail feathers (just like a peacock).
They grunt, make a "gobble gobble sound" and strut about shaking their feathers to attract females for mating.
After the female turkey mates, she prepares a nest under a bush in the woods and lays her tan and speckled brown eggs. She incubates as many as 18 eggs at a time. It takes about a month for the chicks to hatch.
When the babies (known as poults) hatch they flock with their mother all year (even through the winter). For the first two weeks the poults are unable to fly. The mother roosts on the ground with them during this time.
Turkeys protect their poults from predators by hiding them in long grass. Turkey mothers will band together to attack hawks.
Basically, turkeys are large, intelligent birds. They are as varied in personality as dogs and cats.
Your holiday turkey
No prizes for guessing that farmed turkeys get the same raw deal as other farmed animals. Yes, the story is horrible. There is no happy ending...or beginning or middle. If you buy a supermarket turkey, you owe it to him to read this.
Factory Farm Turkey Life
Your turkey was bred, fed, drugged, and genetically manipulated to grow as large as possible as quickly as possible. He needed to be market size when he was slaughtered at 5 months - a tiny fraction of his natural lifespan.
Turkey feed generally contains antibiotics and animal by-products, and commercial turkey feed is designed to promote fast growth.
In 1970, the average live turkey raised for meat weighed 8 kgs.
Today, he weighs 13 kgs.
According to one industry publication, modern turkeys grow so quickly that if a 7-pound human baby grew at the same rate, the infant would weigh 1,500 pounds at just 18 weeks of age.
He never once got to fly.
Factory Farm Turkey love
Your turkey's mother was artificially inseminated because her male partners were too big to mate with her.
Factory Farm Turkey family
Your turkey was hatched in a large incubator and never saw his mother. When he was only a few weeks old, he was moved into a filthy, windowless shed with thousands of other turkeys, where he spent the rest of his life.
To keep your turkey from killing others in such stressful conditions, parts of his toes and beak were cut off, as well as his snood (flap of skin under his chin) - with no pain relief.
Factory Farm Death
Millions of turkeys die in the first few weeks of life in a factory farm from "starve-out" - they stop eating because of stress. Others die from organ failure or heart attacks because they're unnaturally big and fat. And slow-growing turkeys get killed right there in the shed by farm workers - so that unsaleable turkeys won't waste any more food.
Your turkey survived long enough to get to slaughter.
Factory Farm Slaughter
He was thrown by his legs into a large crate packed with other turkeys. He was lucky because his legs didn't break like other turkeys in the worker's hands. He also avoided dying during his truck trip with no food, water, or temperature control - millions of other turkeys aren't so lucky.
At the slaughterhouse, he was hung upside-down by his weak and crippled legs and his head was dragged through an electrified "stunning tank," which immobilized him.
Your turkey should be thankful to be successfully stunned - some of his neighbours dodged the tank and were completely conscious when their throats were slit. If the knife misses, they are scalded alive in the tank of hot water used for feather removal.
If you struggle to feel thankful for that bad taste in your mouth, remember that these millions of turkeys are only mistreated because people keep buying them.
Even if it is a long family tradition, you still have other choices.
Free range/organic turkeys
I don't wholeheartedly recommend this, because:
- I'm vegan
- You won't always know how much better a free range or organic turkey is, compared to the standard factory farm product. You will need to do your research.
But investing in an alternatively raised turkey is a blow struck against indefensible factory farming.
Go easy and cheap - go vegan
Yes, you can skip the bird and still celebrate until you burst!
Here are just a few samples: