Intensive farming practices are rife throughout the agricultural industry. The demand is simply too high. There are many examples we could focus on here, but with Christmas just behind us, let’s spare a thought for turkeys, the unfortunate key ingredient of many Christmas dinners.
Most of the turkeys you find on supermarket shelves come from intensive farms which pack the birds in, up to 25,000 in one building. Stocking densities depend on the birds’ weight. For example, in the UK, 13 kg turkeys are stocked at a density of 51 kg per m2. This overcrowding creates terrible living conditions and the birds often suffer mutilation, rapid growth, injury, and stress from rough handling.
The cramped conditions restrict the turkeys’ natural behaviours, which affects both their physical and mental health. To lead a happy life, a turkey needs to explore, forage, run, and even fly. But intensively farmed turkeys are selectively bred so that they grow bigger and more quickly. As a result, they are unable to fly and often have difficulty walking. They struggle to mate due to their unnatural size and females often need to be artificially inseminated.
The conditions on factory farms grow progressively worse as waste builds up. As a result, the birds often suffer from painful sores on their skin and feet, as well as eye and respiratory problems. Having so many turkeys in such a small space can also lead to really high temperatures, causing the birds to suffer heat stress.
When stressed, the birds are more vulnerable to disease and, because of the overcrowding, sickness can spread rapidly. In 2007, an avian flu outbreak in the UK caused the deaths of around 160,000 turkeys in intensive farms.
As you can imagine, the birds become frustrated in these conditions. To reduce aggression, the turkeys live in low light conditions, but pecking and cannibalism are still common. To prevent this, part of their beak is cut off, without using an anaesthetic, when they are just a day old.
Unfortunately, there is not much legislation regulating the way farms treat these intelligent birds. In the Christmas rush, some are even slaughtered by untrained staff without stunning. But you can act now to help turkeys in 2020 and to put an end to factory farming in general, so no animal has to suffer in such dreadful conditions.