Skip to Main Content

Turkeys: Torture on the Holiday Table

Benjamin Franklin called the turkey “a bird of courage” and “a true original native of America.”(1) He had tremendous respect for wild turkeys‘ resourcefulness, agility, and beauty. They can fly at speeds of up to 55 miles per hour, run at speeds of up to 25 miles per hour, and live for approximately 10 years.(2,3)

A British study found that turkeys showed a preference for different kinds of music and sounds, and a poultry scientist said, “If you throw an apple to a group of turkeys, they’ll play with it together.”(4,5) Some turkey farmers admit that the birds show “signs of personality.”(6) Hunters are advised that wild turkeys are “wary” and will “test your wits as they are rarely tested in modern life.”(7) The millions of turkeys who end up on American dinner plates are genetically manipulated animals who have brief, painful lives on factory farms that are far removed from the open spaces enjoyed by their wild cousins.

Factory Farms: Wall-to-Wall Misery
More than 228 million turkeys are raised for food every year in the U.S.; about 87 million of them are slaughtered and eaten for Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter.(8,9) Before ending up as holiday centerpieces, these gentle birds spend five to six months on factory farms, where thousands of turkeys are packed into dark sheds with no more than 3.5 square feet of space per bird.(10) To keep the extremely crowded birds from scratching and pecking each other to death, workers cut off portions of the birds’ toes and upper beaks with hot blades and desnood the males (the snood is the flap of skin that runs from the beak to the chest).(11) No painkillers are used during these procedures.

Genetic manipulation and antibiotics enable farmers to produce heavily muscled birds who can weigh 35 pounds in as little as five months, and “their internal organs are noticeably crammed together in the little bit of space remaining for the body cavity,” according to The Washington Post.(12) An industry magazine said, “[T]urkey breeders have created birds with huge, unnatural, outsized breasts, since white breast meat is where the money is.”(13) The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) confirms that the average turkey destined for today’s dinner table weighs a whopping 57 percent more than his or her peers did in 1965.(14) Factory-farmed turkeys are so large that they can barely walk, are unable to fly like their wild cousins, and cannot even engage in normal reproductive behavior, so all turkeys raised for food are conceived by artificial insemination.(15)

Millions of turkeys don’t even make it past their first few weeks before succumbing to “starve-out,” a stress-induced condition that causes young birds to simply stop eating.(16) Catching and transportation are particularly stressful procedures for birds, yet they are repeatedly moved during their short lives—from the hatchery to the brooding area to the growing area and finally to the slaughterhouse.(17)

At the slaughterhouse, turkeys are hung upside down by their weak and crippled legs before their heads are dragged through an electrified “stunning tank,” which immobilizes them but does not kill them. Many birds dodge the tank but then are still conscious when their throats are cut. If the knife fails to properly cut the birds’ throats, then they are dragged through the scalding-hot water of the defeathering tank while still alive and conscious.

Investigations Reveal Intentional Cruelty
In 2006, undercover PETA investigators worked at a Butterball plant in Arkansas and observed that live birds were slammed against transport trucks and walls, punched and kicked, hung by their broken legs, used as punching bags, and even sexually assaulted. One worker was seen crushing a live turkey’s head under his shoe until the bird’s skull exploded, and another slammed a bird against a handrail so hard that her spine was exposed. For more information about this investigation, please visit

A PETA investigation of Minnesota-based Crestview Farm revealed that the farm’s manager repeatedly used a metal pipe to bludgeon 12-week-old turkeys who were lame, injured, ill, or otherwise unsuitable for slaughter and consumption. Injured birds were thrown onto piles of dead and dying birds, and then they were tossed into a wheelbarrow for disposal. Birds who were still alive were kicked or beaten with pliers or had their necks wrung—all in full view of other terrified birds. When the Minnesota Turkey Growers Association came to the defense of the farmer, the local district attorney refused to prosecute. More details and photos from this case are available at http://www.peta.org

Turkey Flesh Linked to Disease
Turkey flesh is devoid of fiber and loaded with more fat and cholesterol than many cuts of beef. A turkey’s leg contains more than 700 milligrams of cholesterol and more than 1,600 calories—40 percent of which are derived from fat.(18)

USDA inspection reports reveal that an average of one out of eight turkeys served on Thanksgiving is infected with salmonella, a foodborne illness that sickens more than 1 million people each year and kills 500.(19) Campylobacter, a type of bacteria found in turkeys, causes the second most commonly reported food-related illness.(20)

What You Can Do
Spread some holiday joy to turkeys by sparing their lives. Look in supermarkets and health food stores or on the Internet for Tofurky, Tofu Turkey, Garden Protein’s Veggie Turkey Breast, Field Roast, and other widely available turkey alternatives. For more information on vegetarian holiday meals, go to for great recipes, nutritional information, and cooking and shopping tips as well as to order a free copy of our vegetarian/vegan starter kit.


Garden Protein International


Tofu Turkey

1) Benjamin Franklin, “To Mrs. Sarah Bache,” 26 Jan. 1784, in The Writings of Benjamin Franklin, ed. Albert Henry Smyth (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1905-1907).
2) National Wild Turkey Federation, “All About Turkeys: Wild Turkey Facts,” Nov. 2008.
3) Michael Seamster, “The Wild Turkey in North Carolina,” North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission, Sept. 1989.
4) Andrea Gerlin, “Researchers Examine Music’s Impact on Turkeys,” Knight Ridder Newspapers, 26 Nov. 2003.
5) Aaron Hougham, “Turkeys—Not as Dumb as You Think,” The Daily Barometer 26 Nov. 2003.
6) Arthur Hirsch, “Home Before the Holidays. At Springfield Farm in Sparks, Turkeys Roam Free Before Turning Up on the Thanksgiving Table”,” The Baltimore Sun 26 Nov. 2003.
7) Remington Arms Company, “”Basics of Turkey Behavior,” The Remington Guide to Turkey Hunting, 2003 <>.
8) National Agricultural Statistics Service, “Turkeys Raised,” U.S. Department of Agriculture, 30 Sept. 2015.
9) National Turkey Federation, “Turkey History & Trivia,” 2015.
10) John C. Voris et al., Turkey Care Practices (Davis, Calif.: University of California, Davis, 1998).
11) Jodie Karrow and Ian Duncan, “Starve-Out in Turkey Poults,” Farm Animal Welfare Research at the University of Guelph (1998–2000) Dec. 1999.
12) Rick Weiss, “Techno Turkeys: The Modern Holiday Bird Is a Marvel of Yankee Ingenuity,” The Washington Post 12 Nov. 1997.
13) Steve Bjerklie, “Perspective by Editor of Meat Processing North American Edition,”, 2 Dec. 2003.
14) National Agricultural Statistics Service, “USDA Reports an Increase in the Average Weight of a Turkey,” U.S. Department of Agriculture, 15 Nov. 2005.
15) Shelley Widhalm, “Gobble, Gobble; Fat Farm Turkeys Not So Dumb; Wild Ones Leaner, Quicker, Can Fly,” The Washington Times 23 Nov. 2006.
16) Karrow and Duncan.
17) Voris et al.
18) U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service, Nutrient Data Laboratory, National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference, “Turkey, Young Tom, Leg, Meat and Skin, Cooked, Roasted,” Release 21, 2008.
19) Todd Zwillich, “Consumer Group: 13% of U.S. Turkeys Carry Salmonella,” Reuters Health, 19 Nov. 2001.
20) U.S. Department of Agriculture, Food Safety and Inspection Service, “Foodborne Illness and Disease,” 27 Sept. 2006.

Connect With PETA