Animal Protection > Worldwide Actions > New Zealand

'The Reality of Turkey Farming'


As public consciousness of factory farming issues grows, more people are becoming aware of the inhumane conditions in which millions of animals are raised. Yet despite this dawning awareness, the idyllic image of the traditional turkey farm—massive birds, with beautiful brown and black plumage, who strut around in the shadow of the big red barn and gobble contentedly—still persists.

This mental image can drastically change when one is confronted with the reality of the intensive turkey farm where thousands of birds are crammed into long, dimly-lit sheds. The birds appear dirty and ragged even though they're white. (Farm-raised birds are bred specifically to be white, not the brown beauties many people imagine.) If you attempt to approach a confinement shed, the birds might try to back away, but they are so tightly packed, they can only move a few feet back. And the smell is terrible.

Turkeys are sensitive and intelligent creatures. However, the industrial production system into which these magnificent birds are trapped is anything but sensitive. Each year, millions of turkeys are subjected to painful mutilations, suffer from crippling leg and hip problems, and spend the entirety of their lives in toxic fumes with thousands of their brethren. This is the face of modern turkey production, a sea of white in barren and crowded conditions.

Why the trend towards intensification in the turkey industry? Quite simply, it's because New Zealander's are being persuaded to gobble more turkey than ever before. Tegel Foods are New Zealand's largest producer of turkey meat and are currently marketing turkey as an all year round food, as opposed to a Christmas specialty food. To meet this growing market opportunity, turkeys are intensively reared for their meat. Following the life of a turkey on a factory farm reveals the many welfare problems associated with raising birds in confinement.

Fertilized turkey eggs are incubated in a hatchery, and within 28 days, they hatch into baby turkeys (poults). These babies are raised in brooder houses from day one until approximately six weeks. These facilities typically contain up to 25,000 poults.

During the first two weeks of life, these baby birds are extremely vulnerable to disease and death, and mortality is highest at this point. Without their mothers for guidance, a number of these poults fail to learn to reach their food or water, which sentences the unfortunate creatures to starvation and death.

Around six weeks of age, the turkeys are moved to growing houses which typically have a capacity of about 50,000 birds. Every available space of these barns is crammed with turkeys, a high volume production that allows factory farmers to dismiss the loss or lower production of individual birds due to stress and disease. The conditions in these buildings are dim and crowded, and lead to damaging behaviors, such as feather pecking and cannibalism.